Dushanbe’s efforts to stem the flow of narcotics through its porous borders have
been highlighted by the authorities in an attempt to reassert Tajikistan’s domestic
security credentials. Yet, despite these moves by the regime itself, security
officials continue to seek international help for Tajikistan’s security burden, and
in particular demonstrate their reliance upon potential Russian military assistance
in the event of a crisis. In this sense, it was entirely consistent for Tajikistan’s
Ministry of Defense to announce the imminent deployment of a Russian air group in
Dushanbe, apparently bolstering Tajikistan’s fragile security arrangements.
The air group itself will be deployed at Hisor airport in the settlement of Ayni,
outside Dushanbe, and will consist of six Su-25 fighters and 12 Mi-24 and Mi-8
helicopters. A Tajik Ministry of Defense spokesman confirmed details relating to the
scale of the deployment: “It is expected that the staff of the Russian air group
will be accommodated there on a permanent basis and amount to up to 1,000 servicemen
and civilian experts.” The air group in Hisor will form part of the Russian military
base in Tajikistan. The Su-25 fighters currently remain at Dushanbe airport, but the
helicopters have already been transferred to Hisor. It is clear that the air group
is developing out of the need to provide air support for the 201st Motorized Rifle
Division (MRD) based at Dushanbe. The increased air assets and support staff
underscore the importance of the 201st MRD in Russia’s provision of
emergency crisis support to its neighbor. These developments must be understood in
the wider context of recent patterns in bilateral security arrangements between
Russia and Tajikistan, which have witnessed the gradual transfer of control over
patrolling the Tajik-Afghan border back to the Tajik border guards, while Moscow has
secured a long-term presence in Dushanbe for the 201st MRD. Russian planners are
equally aware that the Tajik border guards lack air assets and, in the event of a
major anti-drug operation or an incursion into Tajikistan’s southern region by
militants, such air support would be vital and could only realistically be supplied
from Russia. (Interfax, October 14).
Rustam Nazarov, director of the Tajik Drug Control Agency, believes that Tajikistan
is making progress in the campaign to counter drug trafficking. However, he also
recognizes the need for improved regional coordination among the relevant drug
control agencies. “There are things that we cannot make public loudly. It is more
difficult to come close to the leaders of drug groups after information has been
made public. It is not them who directly deal with the transit of drugs.
Unfortunately, sometimes we learn about the detention of our nationals from the
media. I understand that everyone wants to brag about his success. But it would be
more effective to detain drug dealers without making it public and telling
colleagues in neighboring countries instead to discover the drug ring,” commented
Nazarov. In fact Nazarov is currently lobbying for enhanced coordination throughout
utilizing the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) (Avesta, October 14).
Nazarov has been particularly angered by Russian media reports that the situation on
the Tajik-Afghan border has deteriorated since the withdrawal of Russian border
guards from Tajikistan. According to Nazarov, Tajik security agencies, in close
cooperation with Russian border guards, detained 28 Afghan drug couriers and seized
over 400 kilograms of drugs in 2004. In contrast, 31 Afghan drug couriers have been
detained and more than 600 kilograms of drugs seized in the first six months of
2005, the difference being that the Tajik border guards now work solely in
cooperation with domestic security agencies. He also said that the number of
detained drug syndicates with regional ties had increased compared with 2004.
Moreover, the transit of drugs into Russia and Europe through this route (across the
Tajik-Afghan border) also had implications for other Central Asian states.
has been and is seizing the largest quantity of drugs among all the Central Asia
countries combined,” he asserted (Avesta, October 13).
Meeting in Dushanbe in October, the Drug Control Agency asserted that some progress
is being made in this area and released new data, albeit designed for public
consumption. Tajik special services found and destroyed over 2,500 hemp plants
during the “Poppy 2005 Operation,” and during the first nine months of 2005 more
than 700 kilograms of drugs were seized (126.5 kilograms more than the same period
last year). Heroin seizures totaled 407 kilograms, (200 kilograms more than last
year). Some 105 attempted drug smuggling incidents were foiled, and 68 criminal
cases were brought against 80 people that were sent to court. Tajik and foreign
security structures carried out 35 joint operations resulting in the seizure of
985,215 kilograms of drugs.
Tajikistan is undoubtedly making concerted efforts towards tackling the soft
security issues confronting its weak and under-financed security agencies. It will
demand real assistance, internationally and will also require greater regional
coordination as Nazarov emphasized. Russia appears interested in exploiting the
Tajik-Afghan border situation for political purposes, using it as a way to
criticizing U.S. efforts to strengthen security in the region. Nazarov must convince
his counterparts within the CSTO to do more to facilitate regional cooperation
against illegal drug trafficking. In this challenge he deserves Western support.