Marking the fifth anniversary of the nominally “CIS collective peacekeeping” troops in Tajikistan, their current commander, Lieutenant-General Nikolai Pugachev, implied that the troops would remain in the country even after the settlement of the civil conflict. According to Pugachev, Tajikistan will need the Russian troops for protection against the Taliban movement which controls most of neighboring Afghanistan. While conceding that the Talibs are unlikely to pose a threat in the near term, Pugachev predicted that they “might in time try to spread their influence and ideology into Central Asia.” On this rationale, Russian troops will stay in Tajikistan “for another few years… in order to protect the CIS southern border from expansion of Islamic extremism.” Pugachev spoke only days after he had conferred in Dushanbe with Russia’s CIS Affairs Minister Boris Pastukhov–who is responsible for handling regional conflicts–and with President Imomali Rahmonov on the mission of Russian troops in Tajikistan (Itar-Tass and other Russian agencies, October 10).
Pugachev’s statement means that Moscow seeks unilaterally to broaden the mandate of its troops, transforming a temporary “peacekeeping” operation into an open-ended military presence. The troops’ mandate is confined to keeping the peace in the interior of the country (that is, protect the embattled Dushanbe government) until the civil conflict is settled, whereupon the Russian troops are supposed to leave. As the prospect of a settlement draws near, Moscow needs a new rationale for keeping the troops in Tajikistan. The Dushanbe authorities urge Moscow not only to keep the troops in place, but to increase them. The opposition, now in the process of joining a government of national unity, has all along demanded the removal of Russian army troops stationed in the interior, while accepting the temporary presence of Russian border troops.–VS
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