Landmark agreements on border security and combating the narcotics trade were signed on September 26-29 in Dushanbe with a view toward stemming the Afghan heroin flow, the world’s largest. Afghan drugs are being trafficked via Tajikistan to Russia and Europe. Following the mid-2005 completion of Russia’s handover of the border protection mission to Tajikistan, Western countries are now stepping in as principal assistance donors to Tajik border guards on the Tajik-Afghan border to stem that flow.
On September 27-28, a general donors’ conference was held in Dushanbe in conjunction with the European Union’s twin programs, Border Management Central Asia and Central Asia Anti-Drug Proliferation Program. Representatives of the United States, the European Commission (the executive arm of the EU), Germany, France, the UN, and Russia took part, with Britain chairing in its capacity as current holder of the EU presidency. The EU launched those twin programs this year in connection with the departure of Russian border troops.
The conference yielded an agreement of intent on management and security for the Tajik-Afghan border. Under the agreement, the donors pledge to provide or finance prefabricated and mobile homes for Tajik border posts and their personnel, transportation and communications equipment, and training activities. For its part, the Tajik government pledges to earmark the necessary funding for proper maintenance of installations built or renovated with funds from donor countries. Tajikistan will regularly account to the donors for its use of the assistance received and for its efforts to suppress corruption among border guards.
On September 26, Tajik Minister of Foreign Affairs Talbak Nazarov and the U.S. ambassador to Tajikistan, Richard Hoagland, signed an updated bilateral agreement on border security measures for the Tajik-Afghan border. Under this document, the United States pledges an additional $9 million worth of transport and communications equipment, power generators, and other supplies to Tajik border troops, as well as training programs. The United States had already provided $4 million worth of assistance under an earlier version of this agreement.
The preceding week, a delegation from the U.S. Defense Department’s Office of International Counter-Proliferation Programs met in Dushanbe with the Tajik Border Guards’ Chief of Staff, Lt.-General Nuralisho Nazarov to discuss the provision of American detection equipment and training to improve border-screening procedures on the Tajik-Afghan border.
With U.S. assistance, Tajikistan’s Drug Control Agency has begun setting up mobile groups to interdict the movement of large Afghan drug consignments through Tajikistan. The U.S. State Department partly finances the two-year program. According to the Tajik State Border Protection Committee chairman, Saidamir Zuhurov, the mobile groups’ personnel is to be selected on a competitive basis by a commission that includes representatives of the United States and the UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention in Tajikistan.
On September 29, Nuralisho Nazarov and Afghanistan’s Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs in charge of anti-drug programs, Lt.-General Mohammad Daud, signed an agreement on setting up inter-agency groups of the two countries to jointly combat the cross-border drug trade. The agreement provides for joint operations and exchanges of intelligence. Dushanbe would prefer a more ambitious program that would include joint patrolling and search missions by Tajik-Afghan joint groups.
Afghan drug traffickers regularly abduct Tajik citizens in border areas for unpaid debts and hold them in what amounts to debt serfdom on Afghan territory. Approximately 30 of them were freed this month through negotiations or joint operations by border and security agencies from both countries. Another 30 are known to be held captive in Afghanistan, and the practice of seizing debtors during cross-border raids continues.
The Russian side does not seem to live up to earlier pledges of assistance to Tajik border guards and anti-drug programs. The Director of Tajikistan’s Drug Control Agency, Rustam Nazarov, complained on September 23 at a Moscow news conference that Russia has “not supplied even one piece” of the equipment pledged under an October 2004 agreement on Russian assistance to Tajik border guards. The agreement had mainly envisaged donations of armored vehicles and communications equipment. Tajikistan is now receiving American support, Rustam Nazarov pointedly told the Moscow news conference.
In his speech to the donors’ conference, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov underscored that stopping the narcotics flow through Tajikistan is a short-term imperative, but the real solution is suppressing the narcotics production at the source in Afghanistan.
(Avesta, Khovar, Tajik radio first program, Interfax, September 23-29)