On June 12 Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon held meetings with high-ranking officials from the country’s law-enforcement agencies. These included the recently appointed head of the Internal Affairs directorate of the southern Khatlon region, as well as the heads of Internal Affairs departments from other towns and districts. Rahmon reminded these officials that their primary task is to fight drug trafficking and transnational crime (Avesta, June 12). Rahmon may be signaling a renewed sense of determination to make progress in these vital security sectors, while reaffirming his complete control over these agencies.
Reports from the Tajik media suggest strains in the relationship between Dushanbe and Moscow. The was initially observed during a meeting between Rahmon and Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of a recent Commonwealth of Independent States summit in St. Petersburg. Rahmon focused on developing closer cooperation in the energy sector, while the Russian media concentrated only on the fact that it was the first meeting since Rahmon’s name change, which dropped the Russian ending from his surname (Rahmonov). Some experts in Dushanbe have suggested that Putin’s aloof attitude toward Rahmon is based on his antipathy toward Tajikistan’s efforts to expand cooperation with foreign countries. Rahmon asked Moscow to honor existing energy commitments toward Tajikistan, yet Putin’s reassurance through a signed agreement has not quelled suspicion in the Tajik media.
Khurshed Atovullo, a Tajik journalist, commented, “In fact, despite the recent meeting between Tajik President Rahmon and Russian President Vladimir Putin, I think that not only meetings, but also the process of every transaction and reaching every agreement between Tajikistan and Russia have become difficult. That is to say, today we cannot say that there is an optimistic feeling about the outcome of relations between Tajikistan and Russia, including the issue of migrants” (Voice Khorasan, Mashhad, June 13).
Rahmon has long used the drug issue in the region to establish his credentials as a solid partner for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and Collective Security Treaty Organization, while keeping Moscow content about Tajikistan’s security policies. But relations with Moscow have been far from easy since Rahmon’s name change in March. These tensions underpin the drive to emphasize the existing work of the UN and not concentrate on bilateral relations with countries beyond Central Asia. The UN organized a training course on drug interdiction, running June 11-15, for officers from Afghanistan’s police force and Tajik law-enforcement agencies, including the Drug Control Agency (DCA), Interior Ministry, and the border and customs services. The course was organized by the UN in cooperation with the French embassy in Tajikistan.
French law-enforcement officials continue to commit their expertise in combating drug trafficking to help their counterparts in Tajikistan, and they are involved in promoting joint efforts across the Tajik-Afghan border. Paris wants to encourage contacts between the border security officials and other departments involved in stemming the flow of drugs in the region, as well as developing a sense of professional and “business-like” conduct among the officers in these agencies (Avesta, June 11).
On June 14 Tracey Ann Jacobson, U.S. Ambassador to Tajikistan, and Major-General Sharaf Fayzulloyev, first deputy head of the Border Guard Troops of the Tajik National Security Service, opened two refurbished border posts on the Tajik-Afghan border.
The United States has carried out this security assistance through the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in Tajikistan. Funding for these projects totaled $640,000, and also included three vehicles and spare parts. “The U.S. Embassy looks forward to continuing close cooperation with the government of Tajikistan to better defend Tajikistan’s borders, strengthen its sovereignty, and combat threats such as narcotics and terrorism. The border guards service at these outposts protects the safety and well-being of the Tajik people and is recognized beyond Tajikistan’s borders,” according to Ambassador Jacobson. This is a small, but significant, part of ongoing efforts by Washington to bolster Tajikistan’s weak security agencies and thereby strengthen their border security capabilities (Avesta, June 14).
Despite the removal of Russian border guards from Tajikistan, many Russian border personnel continue to act in an advisory capacity. However, Moscow has its own security concerns. On June 13 Russian law-enforcement bodies confirmed they were looking for the mastermind behind a delivery of around half a ton of Afghan heroin to Russia, who allegedly fled to Tajikistan. “A search is currently underway for the other members of the group, whose organizer escaped to Tajikistan as soon as he learned that the consignment had been seized. We are now looking for him with the help of our Tajik colleagues,” commented Viktor Khvorostyan, chief of the Moscow directorate of the Federal Drug Control Service.
Monitored closely by various agencies, Moscow alleged that the consignment was tracked from its entry into Russian territory across the border with Kazakhstan, although the alleged route involved transit though Tajik territory. “The criminal group engaged in the delivery of heroin to the Moscow area and to St. Petersburg came to the attention of the drug control staff at the end of last year. In April, we received information that a large consignment of drugs would be sent to Russia, and we established afterwards that the heroin would be transported in a lorry with a consignment of cabbages,” the directorate chief explained (RIA-Novosti, June 13).
Tension over border security will persist while Putin exerts pressure on his neighbors for his own political purposes. It appears that Moscow wants to squeeze Dushanbe’s foreign cooperation plans as part of Russia’s efforts to reassert Moscow’s ascendancy within Central Asia.