On April 21 a session of the CIS Council of Interior Ministers opened in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. The agenda included the routine security issues of combating terrorism, extremism, drug trafficking, and the arms trade. The meeting could lead to the creation of a single center holding information on criminals and their activities throughout the former Soviet Union, based on data from the Interior Ministries of the CIS countries. However, Moscow appears to attach particular importance to the meetings, believing it represents an opportunity to foster cooperation among its neighbors on key issues (Interfax-Kazakhstan, April 21).
At the outset Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev read a message from Russian President Vladimir Putin calling for greater unity of action in combating terrorism and extremism: “At present it is essential to join together the existing potential and to strengthen efforts in carrying out all tasks set before you: enhancing legislation and law and order, combating trans-border crime, drug trafficking, international terrorism, and extremism. I am confident that closer coordination among CIS law-enforcement agencies, as well as an ongoing exchange of information and joint operations will help their effective solution.” Putin regards the Council of Interior Ministers as a vital link in the complex network of various CIS interstate bodies, as well as a mechanism through which a Russian model of cooperation may be advanced (RIA News Agency, April 21).
Nurgaliev pointed out that Moscow believes a high level of effectiveness has already been achieved in joint operations among CIS law-enforcement agencies. In fact, he singled out a joint operation with Ukraine held in late 2005, codenamed “Passenger,” aimed at blocking international terrorist groups from entering Russia. “In all, 585 crimes were solved, 224 criminals, six of whom had been on the wanted list, were detained during the operation,” Nurgaliev reported. Drugs and arms trafficking were equally praised as areas where genuine cooperation has been seen thanks to a large-scale operation, “Arsenal,” that saw 10,000 small arms and more than 200 kilograms of explosives seized, and 7,250 people put on the wanted list, including 214 in CIS countries (Interfax, Itar-Tass, April 21). In his meeting with Tajikistan’s President Imomali Rahmonov, the Russian minister stressed the utility of such joint operations and their potential dividends in combating terrorism and transnational organized crime, clearly canvassing for Dushanbe’s future support for involvement in such operations. On April 22, continuing to demonstrate the theme of CIS cooperation, large-scale anti-terror exercises were held on the second day of the session’s work. Special subdivisions from the Russian, Belarusian, and Tajik Interior Ministries were joined with units form the Armenian police.
Tajik Prime Minister Oqil Oqilov told meeting participants that the stability of the region depended upon implementing plans to ensure effective cooperation in combating international terrorism, religious extremism, and other security challenges facing Central Asia. Colonel-General Khumdin Sharipov, Tajikistan’s interior minister, endeavored to distance the Council of Ministers from its past preoccupation with conceptual and general discussions on confronting the security issues facing the law-enforcement agencies in the former Soviet Union. Instead, Sharipov sought practical areas where cooperation may be realistic. Participants in fact, discussed problems relating to joint searches for criminals, sharing intelligence, and how a single central database could be formed. (Interfax, April 24).
Russian security officials evidently have a wider agenda in view, partly reflected in Putin’s message, and this is hardly surprising given Moscow’s geopolitical interests in Tajikistan. Talks between Tajik Defense Minister Sherali Khayrulloyev and the Russian commander of the Volga-Urals Military District, Army General Vladimir Boldyrev necessarily focused on Tajik-Russian military and technical cooperation. Boldyrev also visited the Russian 201st military base stationed in Tajikistan. During his week-long visit to the country, he assessed the results of the winter curriculum and inspected the military preparedness of troops (Asia-Plus News Agency, April 18).
In his annual state of the nation address, broadcast in Dushanbe on April 20, President Rahmonov designated Russia, China, and the United States as the main strategic partners of Tajikistan. Rahmonov believes Tajikistan’s relations with Russia are now marked by “a balanced strategic partnership that takes into account the long-term national interests of the two countries.” Russian investments in the Tajik economy could reach $2.5 billion within the next few years. Relations with Russia are strengthening, and he praised bilateral ties as well as security ties through the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
Nonetheless, Rahmonov singled out Washington for particular praise, skillfully leaving future cooperation options open: “Among the main achievements of the foreign policy of our sovereign state are broad relations and developing cooperation with the U.S. Our partnership in the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking and other global threats is valuable for regional and international security and stability,” affirmed Rahmonov. He also made reference to America’s no-strings assistance for Tajikistan’s fledgling border guard service. Future cooperation with China, in his view, would be most noticeable in the implementation of energy and construction projects (Tajik TV First Channel, April 20).
Balancing relations among these powerful states is a challenge for Tajikistan’s foreign policy. However, authorities in Tajikistan, as well as the country’s Central Asian neighbors, need tangible progress in cooperating within CIS structures against terrorism and other new threats facing the region. In the meantime, Rahmonov realizes that this depends on Moscow’s commitment to seeing through its promises of achieving new levels of security cooperation.