On March 14 Tajikistan’s parliament finally passed legislation updating the country’s “Law on Combating Terrorism.” According to Rano Qayumova, a member of the Assembly of Representatives, the legal reform was designed to comply with recent changes to the structure of central state bodies tasked with fighting terrorism. “The current law was adopted back in 1999. Several years have passed since then, and the country has signed a series of agreements on fighting terrorism with foreign countries and international organizations,” Qayumova said.
Consequently, there are seven state bodies tasked with a counter-terrorist role in Tajikistan: the State Committee on National Security, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Defense Ministry, National Guard, anti-corruption agency, Drug Control Agency (DCA), and the state directorate for protection of state secrets. Coordinating these bodies and managing their use effectively places tremendous responsibility on the executive and raises issues relating to inter-agency cooperation. However, for the time being, the Tajik government can at least find solace in the legislative progress toward using these bodies in such a key role (Avesta, March 15).
The nexus among organized crime, terrorism, extremism, and drug trafficking has increased tension within the security agencies, which are too overstretched and inefficient to deal adequately with these threats. On March 9 Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rakhmonov encouraged the country’s security and law-enforcement bodies “to strengthen the protection of the Tajik-Afghan border, to improve its technical support, and to establish cooperation with law-enforcement agencies in border districts.” During a working meeting with these state security bodies, the Tajik president expressed his concerns over the ineffective nature of Tajik efforts to stem the flow of illegal narcotics across the Tajik-Afghan border. International experts recently reported that the 2006 poppy harvest in Afghanistan reached record levels — as much as 6,000 tons, and at least another ton was exported through the Tajik-Afghan border in the first quarter of 2007.
Rakhmonov believes this can only be addressed through “increasing the effectiveness of interaction between all security and law-enforcement bodies and toughening personal responsibility. All those involved in the drugs business must be prosecuted, regardless of their posts and titles,” he explained (Itar-Tass, March 9).
Rakhmonov’s plans to tackle these issues are unclear, but he will need support from within these structures as well as from abroad to strengthen such agencies. Traditionally close cooperation with Russia may not be the obvious source of help. Yet, Tajikistan relies heavily on the support offered by Russia, which takes various forms including humanitarian aid. Russia will provide $2 million in humanitarian aid to Tajikistan in 2007. The Russian Emergency Situations Ministry confirmed that this will take the form of foodstuffs and forms part of Russia’s planned $11 million aid package to six countries (Armenia, Sudan, Kenya, Indonesia, Cuba, and Tajikistan) within the framework of the World Food Program (Avesta, March 9). However, Rakhmonov has shown some unease with continued security reliance upon Russia and appears interested in developing stronger ties with countries in the South Caucasus as potential sources of security help.
In particular, Tajikistan has signaled interest in fostering close diplomatic ties with Azerbaijan. On March 15 Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev arrived in Dushanbe for the first Azeri state visit to the country since Tajikistan’s independence. Eleven interstate and intergovernmental agreements were signed, ranging from transport to cultural ties and a treaty of friendship and cooperation.
Rakhmonov commented on the significance of the visit: “We laid down a solid contractual and legal basis today. We are opening our doors. We signed an agreement on visa-free trips, which will provide good prospects. We laid down a very firm contractual and legal basis, and reviewed the development of our relations in all spheres,” he said.
Aliyev also favors good relations with Tajikistan. “We attach great importance to our bilateral relations. As a clear example of that I can say that Azerbaijan has decided to open its embassy in Tajikistan. I hope that the embassy will be opened in the near future. It is a striking confirmation of the seriousness of our intentions to strengthen our bilateral relations. There are very good prospects. We are linked by common culture and history, traditions, rich cultural heritage, the closeness of our nations, as well as the mutual support that has been felt by our countries and nations over all the years of independence,” Aliyev noted. Diplomatic groundwork has been carried out, with Aliyev inviting Rakhmonov to Azerbaijan later this year (Itar-Tass, Interfax, Tajik Television First Channel, March 15). One clear goal in improving bilateral Azeri-Tajik relations will be the exploration of security ties and how Baku could best help the security bodies in Tajikistan tasked with combating drug trafficking and terrorism.
Tajikistan is becoming increasingly important in anti-terrorist operations in Afghanistan, with France deploying three more fighter jets to reinforce its small air force contingent deployed in Dushanbe. Moreover, Tajikistan recently hosted an exercise of the elite U.S. “Shadow Wolves” unit, consisting of Native Americans; the unit subsequently moved to Afghanistan to track Bin Laden (Itar-Tass, March 16). With a sense of renewed strategic importance, Tajikistan seems willing to capitalize on foreign interest in promoting its security.
Rakhmonov understands that the security challenges presented by drug trafficking and terrorism demand an end to the corruption within Tajik security agencies and enhanced inter-agency coordination and communication. But in the regional arena, he is signaling his willingness to be flexible on the sources for helping him to demonstrate his credentials in this vital area.