Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 189

On October 12 in Tashkent Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Islam Karimov signed a “Declaration of all-round cooperation” among Russia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, envisaging military and security cooperation up to mutual assistance in regional conflicts. Tajik President Imomali Rahmonov, who figures as a subject but is in reality an object of this undertaking, had signed, the preceding week in Dushanbe, the declaration into the hands of Russia’s CIS Affairs Minister Boris Pastukhov. Yeltsin and Karimov therefore could and did dispense with Rahmonov’s company at the Tashkent meeting.

The agreement confers a military dimension on the anti-Islamic “troika,” the pact concluded last May in Moscow by the same three leaders, who vowed to resist the “expansion” of Islamic “extremism” in Central Asia. Without defining that “extremism” with any accuracy–and indeed misrepresenting it as “Wahhabism”–the three leaders have since identified the alleged threat explicitly with Afghanistan’s Taliban and implicitly with the Tajik Islamic Opposition. Rahmonov was not invited to the Moscow signing ceremony any more than he was invited to Tashkent. He adhered to the troika when told by Yeltsin to do so by telephone from the Kremlin (see the Monitor, May 6 and 12; and the Fortnight in Review, May 14).

The October 12 Tashkent document provides for “interaction” among the three countries in the sphere of defense and of military industry, joint support to “political stabilization” in Tajikistan and coordinated efforts to uphold regional security in Central Asia. Should any of the sides consider that a threat has arisen to regional security–or its own security, sovereignty or territorial integrity–the three sides will immediately consult on joint measures to eliminate the threat. In the event of military aggression from another party against any of these three countries, the three are obligated to give each other military assistance. The document remains open for signing by other Central Asian countries.

The stated commitment seems essentially declarative, but it can be invoked to justify intrusion into a weaker country by a stronger one. Whether that happens down the line depends mainly on Moscow’s ability to deploy combat-ready forces in Central Asia. At present, Russia seems unable and unwilling to commit more forces than it already has in the region (some 25,000 troops in Tajikistan). Uzbekistan, for its part, can use the document as a license for interfering in Tajik internal politics more openly than it already has. Karimov seeks to restrict the Islamic Opposition’s influence to a minimum in post-civil war Tajikistan. He objects to some of Rahmonov’s limited concessions to the opposition.

A further Yeltsin-Karimov declaration in Tashkent pillories the Taliban as the cause of the continuing civil war in Afghanistan. It offers joint Russian-Uzbek mediation, either bilaterally or in the UN-sponsored “six plus two” framework, to settle the inter-Afghan conflict. It also proposes a meeting of that forum in Tashkent. The document’s tenor suggests that Russia and Uzbekistan will continue supporting armed groups in Afghanistan. The two countries already cooperate with Iran against the Pakistan-supported Taliban.

An accompanying Russian-Uzbek agreement, signed in Tashkent, covers economic cooperation for the ten-year period 1998-2007 and seems essentially hortatory. On this occasion at least, Karimov muted his familiar attacks on the CIS (Russian agencies, October 12, 13).

Uzbekistan will hardly allow this defense agreement with Russia to affect its own military relations with the United States and commitment to CentrasBat in the NATO framework. However, Karimov’s alarmist perception of Islam offers Russia an opportunity to reenter Central Asia, this time in the guise of protector against an alleged threat, and can even help turn that myth into a self-fulfilling prophecy.–VS