The Tajik newspaper Tojikiston Weekly has cast doubt on Tajikistan’s ability to protect its border with Afghanistan on its own. An editorial published in the paper on April 29 claimed that the withdrawal of Russian troops from Tajikistan was not in the latter’s interest, as poorly equipped Tajik forces would not be able to counteract drug trafficking or “terrorist and separatist” elements in the region. It went on to propose giving the border international status, so that interested countries could patrol the border in cooperation with the Tajik military.
Entitled “Golden Independence” and authored by Saolhiddin Fathulloyev, the editorial makes the point that: “All the media outlets have lately been reporting that Russian border guards are to leave Tajikistan and that the Tajik military are to take over this responsibility [the protection of the Tajik-Afghan border]. Some newspapers have even said: ‘Tajiks will take over the protection of the border.'”
Fathulloyev continues, saying that: “These reports have also been confirmed by the commander of the Russian border forces in Tajikistan, Maj-Gen [Aleksandr] Baranov. The action, regardless of whether it was initiated by the Russian or Tajik side, is not a clever thing to do. Because just a couple of years ago we were saying that this border belongs to all the CIS states, and that if the border is violated by any aggressor it poses a threat to all the neighboring countries” (BBC Monitoring, May 9).
This point of view coincides with Moscow’s position. In a recent interview with Nezavisimaya gazeta, Vyacheslav Trubnikov – the former head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service and currently a first deputy foreign minister – stated that: “Today we are, by and large, leaving Tajikistan. The border guards are leaving. As a result, there will be a porous border. And the porous border means that there will be a lot of drug trafficking. Therefore it will be necessary to establish security bands of some sort. We shall do so on the border with Kazakhstan at our discretion. By the way, the Americans are not happy about this. They know that if today we represent just a transit territory, then tomorrow the drug trafficking will expand further” (Nezavisimaya gazeta, May 12, 2004).
Though it is possible to hypothesize that Tojikiston Weekly is simply lobbying for Moscow’s favor (there are still many influential politicians in Tajikistan who are unequivocally oriented towards Russia), the point of view expressed in the article is not without merit. At present, Tajik border guards defend a 70-kilometer long section of the Tajik-Afghan border in the vicinity of the village of Kishlak, in Kalaikhumb (western Pamir). And as can be witnessed by this Jamestown correspondent, who happened to visit Pamir in November 2003, it is precisely at this section of the border that one finds the highest level of contraband trade with Afghanistan, including drug trafficking.
One of the main reasons for the apparent “porousness” of this part of the border is that Tajik border guards are very ill equipped as compared to their Russian counterparts. For instance, at some border control stations Tajik border guards have been forced to destroy parts of the infrastructure to obtain firewood because they did not have any fuel to heat their barracks at night. Under such circumstances, the idea expressed in Tojikiston Weekly – that those countries to whom drug trafficking is a concern should directly participate in patrolling Tajikistan’s borders by giving the border an international status – is perhaps not so far fetched. (Tojikiston Weekly, April 29, 2004)