Afghan troops loyal to the Kabul government detained December 25 a group of Tajik resistance fighters subordinate to field commander Nazim Karimov. They were held for one day after firing mortars and grenade launchers on a Russian border guard post from just inside Afghan territory. According to a spokesman for the Russian border troop command in Tajikistan, the action of Afghan troops was part of a plan for "joint measures by Afghan and Russian border troops to stabilize the situation on the Tajik-Afghan border." On a visit to Dushanbe December 21, Russian border troop commander Army General Andrei Nikolaev urged Tajik president Emomali Rakhmonov to cooperate with the Kabul Afghan government and its authorities in border areas opposite Tajikistan. Earlier in December, Afghan authorities in the border area handed over a group of Tajik resistance fighters who had killed several Russian border guards in a single cross-border attack. (16)
The two actions of Afghan authorities are the first known cases of cooperation between Kabul troops and the Russian military against the Tajik resistance. Remarks by Nikolaev and the border troops spokesman suggest that the Russian side, and not its Dushanbe proteges, seeks rapprochement with Kabul. Moscow has signaled a clear preference for the Kabul government, dominated by ethnic Tajiks, over its more strictly religious and predominantly Pushtun antagonist, Taliban. Tajik president Rakhmonov had himself made an overture to Kabul, publicly describing president Burhanuddin Rabbani last month as "father of Tajiks" and Dushanbe as the "capital of all Tajiks."
Rabbani and his chief military commander and fellow-Tajik, Akhmad Shah-Massud, share a long record of struggle against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the two men may find themselves pushed into limited cooperation with Russia and Dushanbe by pressure from Taliban. Restrictions on the use of Afghan territory for staging cross-border raids would simultaneously deal the Tajik resistance a severe blow, relieve pressure on Russian troops, enable Dushanbe to stonewall any power-sharing arrangements, reduce the significance of inter-Tajik negotiations, and increase the influence of Iran on the Tajik opposition.