Tajikistan’s defense and security structures, traditionally heavily influenced by Russian methods and Moscow’s assistance, depend on fresh intakes of Tajik conscripts to maintain their manpower levels. Potential conscripts are exposed to Russian military culture even before coming in contact with military recruiting centers or responding to the compulsory draft. Nurali Shoyev, director of the Tajik Education Ministry’s Center for Drafting and Distributing Textbooks, confirmed the ongoing nature of this orientation when discussing new textbooks in Tajik secondary schools.
He explained that 70,000 Tajik-language textbooks on basic military training, along with another 67,000 Russian-language textbooks, had recently been published for use in Tajik schools. The books were printed using Education Ministry money and will be distributed to schools in the near future. Although they replace Soviet-era textbooks emphasizing Russian basic military training, they still strongly mirror Russian military thinking (Avesta, January 29).
This military-cultural tradition is difficult to dislodge and permeates political and security thinking in Dushanbe. President Emomali Rahmon, speaking on Tajik television on January 28, praised recent advances made by the country’s military and security forces, although he highlighted several issues that confirm that the state remains weak in its capabilities to cope with the threats of terrorism, drug trafficking, religious extremism, and organized crime. Rahmon noted, for example, the rising number of Tajik citizens detained abroad for possession of drugs. Reflecting on progress made during 2007, he pointed to the decline in crime among the armed forces. Yet, he conceded that this problem continues to be a serious issue for Tajikistan’s military. A total of 92 corruption cases and 950 cases related to violations of disciplinary regulations were recorded across all branches of Tajikistan’s military in 2007 (Tajik TV First Channel, January 28).
Rahmon indicated that the heads of the country’s military and security agencies must “step up” efforts to systemically tackle and “enforce” the strict observance of disciplinary regulations. Unfortunately, Rahmon has been repeating this theme for several years, with little obvious demonstration of progress other than pointing to officially released figures. Indeed, while border security attracts the most foreign assistance, Rahmon used his televised address to suggest that “some ministries, departments, and bodies of executive power do not take serious measures in setting up and putting into operation posts for border guards.” This is an astonishing admission of the limited impact of international assistance for Tajikistan’s border security forces due to local bureaucratic inertia.
Rahmon’s growing confidence in Tajikistan’s relations with Russia reflects recent progress between Dushanbe and Moscow in energy issues. On January 20, Rahmon met with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Naryshkin and Anatoliy Chubais, head of Russia’s Unified Energy Systems, making a particularly overenthusiastic display of thankfulness to Moscow over the launch of the first unit of the Sangtuda-1 hydroelectric power station. “On behalf of all dear compatriots, on behalf of all residents of Tajikistan, I am expressing a world of gratitude to the government of the Russian Federation, to its president and my friend, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin,” Ramon gushed. Russian officials reciprocated only by promising to speed up the completion of future units in the venture.
Moscow’s assistance in resolving Tajikistan’s ongoing electricity problems will undoubtedly convince Rahmon that Russia represents a serious and enduring partner for Tajikistan. This firm connection has security implications for anyone who would seek to dissuade local regimes from such heavy reliance on Russia. Rahmon was emphatic when referring to Tajikistan’s strategic partnership with Russia: “This is friendship. This is cooperation! This is the first obvious and clear example of joint implementation of a project by the great states of Russia and Tajikistan in the field of hydroenergy in the former Soviet Union after 15 or 16 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union. This is strategic partnership! This is an alliance” (Tajik TV First Channel, January 20). His fulsome comments coincided with a decision by the U.S. energy company AES to close its office in Tajikistan and suspend its operations in the country.
Tajikistan’s government is also sensitive to Russia’s potential role in smoothing over problems between Dushanbe and Tashkent. Sayfullo Safarov, deputy director of the Strategic Research Center under the presidential administration, believes Russia is capable of playing a positive intermediary role. “From the point of view of geopolitical interests, Russia is interested in the fact that there were good relations between these two countries. Russia’s approach to the entire region depends on how relations are formed between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan,” Safarov explained (Regnum, January 29).
Moscow’s use of its energy muscle in conducting foreign policy is now well established; therefore, it is not surprising to see it surface as a factor in its relations with Dushanbe. These external stimuli, combined with Rahmon’s awareness of the sheer scale of the task confronting Tajikistan’s military and security forces, suggests progress will be painfully slow in achieving results in Western-led initiatives to enhance indigenous capabilities. In the meantime, this year’s Tajik conscripts are already well versed in Soviet basic military training, courtesy of their outdated school textbooks, while next year’s intake class will have been prepared by reading a hybrid work in Tajik. As Rahmon struggles to enhance Tajikistan’s defense capabilities, Moscow seems well positioned to present itself as an enduring and reliable partner.