After 112 years, Russia’s military presence in the Pamir Mountains ended on December 5. Russia’s flag was lowered, and that of Tajikistan raised, on the Kala-i-Khum fort on the Tajik-Afghan border, where Russian troops are handing responsibility over to Tajik border guards. Similar ceremonies were held at the Ishkoshim and Khorugh forts on December 1 and 3. This completes the handover of all three sectors of the Pamir stretch of the Tajik-Afghan border from control by Russian troops to control by Tajikistan’s border guards.
The official transfer proceeded in a dignified manner with ceremonies attended by Russian ambassador Maxim Peshkov and Lt.-General Alexander Manilov, First Deputy Director of the Federal Border Service. Almost all Russian personnel are being repatriated.
According to Russian communiques, the all immovable property, cantonments, and all infrastructures are being handed over to the Tajik side. The latter, however, refuted this claim as “not corresponding to reality,” once it took possession of the installations (Tajik Television Channel One, December 6).
The Pamir stretch measures approximately 880km. Another 400km, in the Panj and Moskva sections, are to be transferred from Russian to Tajik control in the first half of 2005. Tajik border guards had already been operating autonomously in the Shuroobod section of the border.
The sector-by-sector transfer is proceeding in accordance with the agreements signed by Presidents Vladimir Putin and Imomali Rakhmonov on October 16 in Dushanbe (see EDM, October 19, November 16). In addition, the sides are preparing an agreement on the creation and functioning of an Operational Group of Russian Border Troops in Tajikistan. The OG will be a liaison and advisory mission, mainly tasked with training personnel from Tajikistan’s border troops for a transitional period.
However, the United States is providing (and funding) technical assistance that is likely to prove to be the main enabler of Tajik border guards. The head of Tajikistan’s State Border Protection Committee, Lt.-General Abdurahmon Azimov, held talks on this matter with the deputy head of the U.S. Central Command, Lt.-General Lance Smith, last month in Dushanbe.
On December 6, official Dushanbe and Russia’s Federal Border Service both vehemently refuted a documentary program, aired by state-owned RTR Russia Television, on the situation along the Tajik-Afghan border and the Russian border troops’ mission there. The television program insinuated that Tajikistan’s authorities are involved in the narcotics traffic from Afghanistan and are consequently interested in taking the Tajik-Afghan border under their control. The program portrayed drug-interdiction efforts on that border as Russian efforts, while implying that Russian personnel face an uncooperative local populace rife with armed drug-traffickers. The implicit conclusion was that the removal of Russian troops from that border was premature. In response, Tajikistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused the Russian channel of acting at the behest of circles that seek to revise the October presidential agreement and turn the handover of the border into an object of dispute between Russia and Tajikistan. For its part, the Russian border troops’ command in Tajikistan denounced the program as “grossly distorted” and expressed confidence that Tajikistan’s border troops are capable of interdicting the flow of narcotics from Afghanistan.
The change of guard in Tajikistan leaves Armenia as the only post-Soviet country where Russian border troops are in charge of the border by agreement with the host government. Russian troops are stationed unlawfully on the Georgian side of the Abkhaz and Ossetian sectors of the Russia-Georgia border, against Georgia’s will.
(Avesta, November 30; Asia-Plus, December 1, 3; Tajik Radio Dushanbe, December 5; Tajik Television Channel One, December 6; RTR Russia TV, December 5; Interfax, December 2, 3, 5).