On January 15 Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmonov arrived in Beijing for talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao. During this visit the two presidents signed a treaty on good neighborliness, friendship, and cooperation. Seemingly benign, fostering greater trade and economic cooperation as well as developing Tajikistan’s hydroelectric resources, communications, and transport infrastructure, some clauses of the treaty indicate that Beijing has successfully restricted the potential for future cooperation possibilities between Tajikistan and the West.
Trade links certainly formed the basis for Beijing’s consolidation of its bilateral relations with Tajikistan. Chinese investments in Tajikistan now total around $720 million, which has greatly expanded in the past five years. China is currently carrying out important projects such as the construction of the Dushanbe-Chanak road and building power lines. China is engaging heavily in the Tajik economy, with contracts for the construction of a hydroelectric power station on the Zarafshon River; cement and glass container processing plants in the south; and a heating plant at the Fon-Yaghnob coal mine (northern Soghd Region). Such ventures will be safeguarded through the framework of the new treaty (Itar-Tass, January 15).
China has gained support from the Rahmonov regime for its stance on the issue of Taiwan. Namely, the Tajik government will not appear in any way sympathetic to the idea of Taiwan’s independence. However, Article 5 of the treaty reads: “Neither side to the Treaty shall enter into any alliance or bloc that undermines the other side’s sovereignty, security, or territorial integrity or take part in any actions that undermine the other side’s sovereignty, security, or territorial integrity, including not signing treaties with a third country that undermine the other side’s sovereignty, security, or territorial integrity. Neither side to the Treaty shall allow a third country to use one’s territory to engage in activities that undermine the other side’s interests, including not using one’s territory to undermine the other side’s national sovereignty, security, and territorial integrity.”
The wording of these elements of the treaty gives Beijing a say in the formulation of any Western-orientated security policy and most certainly reflects China’s concern that NATO or the United States may seek to gain a military footprint in Tajikistan, deemed to be against China’s own interests.
Of course, through cooperating closely with China on a bilateral basis and within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Dushanbe secures more political freedom for action against what are perceived as potential internal and external enemies. Another ten organizations have recently been outlawed in Tajikistan, according to Prosecutor General Bobojon Bobokhonov. These groups are usually designated as Islamic extremists and, in addition to Hizb-ut-Tahrir, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), and Bayat, originally banned in 2000, the list now also includes the Islamic Party of Turkestan, Harakat-e Tablighot, Sozmon-e Tabligh, and Tojikiston-i Ozod (Free Tajikistan). “In particular, Tojikiston-i Ozod was set up in Uzbekistan in 1998 by Tajik anti-government forces, which are now outside the country. The organization has been declared extremist after its program was reviewed, and we are talking here not about crimes committed by its members. We nipped the activities of Tojikiston-i Ozod in the bud, stopping the spread of anti-government ideas,” Bobokhonov stated.
Abduqodir Muhammadiyev, head of the Prosecutor General’s department for the observance of law in the national security agencies, noted that in 2006 Dushanbe prosecuted 61 individuals (including 19 women) for involvement in Hizb-ut-Tahrir, confirming that much of the work of the security agencies is directed against this avowedly non-violent Islamic group. These figures are down slightly on the previous year, and authorities are consequently convinced that there has also been a decline in the number of Tajik citizens joining such extremist groups (Asia-Plus, January 15).
These initiatives are certainly in the spirit of the friendship and cooperation treaty, and observers can expect more such attempts to ban various organizations. Again, Article Five of the new treaty states: “Neither side to the Treaty shall allow organizations or groups that undermine the other side’s sovereignty, security, and territorial integrity to be established in one’s territory. Activities of such organizations or groups shall be banned.” It suggests that each country’s intelligence agencies will monitor closely the activities of individuals and groups of interest to the other, and report and possibly act cooperatively against these targets.
Tajikistan’s interest in China, reflected economically and in the treaty arrangements, may presage more Tajik support for SCO initiatives. The newly elected SCO Secretary-General Bolat Nurgaliev believes the SCO should ensure that the peace and security of its six member countries is placed at the top of its agenda. Nurgaliev, the former foreign minister of Kazakhstan, considers the key task facing the SCO is to further crackdown on terrorism, separatism and extremism. “The organization has achieved great progress in this aspect, with the whole region currently in a stable and predictable situation,” Nurgaliev said. He wants to further the recent trend towards the SCO increasing its international standing and credibility by negotiating to establish partnerships with more international organizations. Dushanbe may look to the example of its large Central Asian neighbor to follow this trend towards greater reliance on the SCO, as another factor that runs parallel with its growing bilateral friendship with China (Xinhua, January 17).