On March 27 a joint meeting of representatives from the Secretariat of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and members of the OSCE Center in Dushanbe discussed security measures with the Tajik government. Saidmumin Yatimov, Tajikistan’s first deputy foreign minister, described the OSCE as “a significant instrument of assistance to Tajikistan in its efforts to ensure security, including the fight against terrorism, religious extremism, drug trafficking, and other transnational threats and challenges.” The OSCE is particularly interested in offering further support to Tajikistan in solving border security problems, as well as assisting in resolving economic and environmental issues. The Tajik Foreign Ministry hailed the talks as representing “a remarkably constructive dialogue between the government and the OSCE,” and called the meeting “historic” (Avesta, March 29).
Yet, while strengthening existing ties with the OSCE, Tajikistan remains under the watchful eye of Moscow. Ramazan Abdulatipov, Russia’s ambassador to Tajikistan denied that Russia has “imperial intentions” in Central Asia. Addressing a conference in Dushanbe on Russia and Central Asia, he spoke at length on the complex issues surrounding Russian foreign policy in the region. Referring to the positive input Russia has offered Tajikistan since its independence, he pointed to the development of a strategic partnership between the two countries but stressed that Russia is not striving for “leadership in the region.” Abdulatipov elaborated, “We are for equality in analyzing threats and making decisions. Central Asia is closely connected with Russia, and that is why, we are more than others interested in peace and stability in the region and successful development in Central Asian countries.”
He proposed the idea that states such as Russia, China, the United States, European Union, India, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan have a significant role to play in helping Tajikistan’s security. However, he asserted that Moscow would oppose seeing the region dominated by blocs such as NATO or the OSCE and preferred to emphasize that a friendly relationship between Russia and Tajikistan provides a secure basis for future assistance to the Dushanbe government. “I can assure you on behalf of the Russian side that our policy on Tajikistan will be predictable. It will take into account the legitimate interests of Tajikistan and will be aimed at fraternal cooperation and the search for joint solutions to all topical problems facing our peoples and states,” Abdulatipov commented (Asia-Plus, March 29).
Tajikistan is continuing to foster close cooperation internationally in order to assist in its most sensitive security challenges. Border security, which has been subject to intense internal reform and foreign aid, illustrates clearly how the regime has to tread a careful path between receiving international help and inadvertently giving the impression that it is favoring “blocs.”
Tajik military engineers have begun clearing land mines in the Panj sector of the border with Afghanistan. “Sappers have to clear land mines in the six most dangerous sectors of the Tajik border area and make hundreds of hectares of land and irrigation canals safe for local farmers,” Jonmahmad Rajabov, director of the Mine Action Center, confirmed on March 27. Nonetheless, Tajikistan is able to achieve this only through the use of instructors from Germany, Switzerland, and Canada (Itar-Tass, March 27).
Border trade has also been suspended, owing to the security problems linked to the Tajik-Afghan border, which pose tremendous challenges to the Tajik security agencies, as well as compelling reliance on foreign assistance. Dushanbe naturally wants to explore the potential for developing assistance in this area from organizations such as NATO and the OSCE, while running the gauntlet of Russian foreign policy objections. Trade has been suspended in the Ishkoshim District in Mountainous Badakhshon Autonomous Region (Eastern Tajikistan).
Khushqadam Qadamov, a border officer from the Ishkoshim District, defended the decision to suspend the market operating in the area since the Afghan side allegedly had refused to observe border-crossing procedures set by Tajik legislation. “Every person has to undergo checks while crossing the border. However, the Afghan side does not want Afghan citizens to be checked by Tajik border guards while crossing into the territory of the market.” Qadamov explained (Avesta, March 29). The scale of the work facing local Tajik border guards can often be increased simply as a result of these disagreements as well as any upsurge in cross-border drug trafficking.
Tajikistan’s border guard service has its own personnel problems, complicating still further its capabilities to respond to the local narco-trafficking. A military court in Khulob recently sentenced an officer from Tajikistan’s border guards to eight years and six months in prison for bullying a private in the border guard unit. His actions, including persistent use of beatings and humiliation, led Private Farhodbek Ziyoyev to commit suicide (Asia-Plus, March 25). The existence of such cases not only causes embarrassment to the Tajik authorities keen to use court proceedings to demonstrate they are attempting to deal with such serious problems, but it also serves to highlight the deep crisis that persists within the weak Tajik security agencies.
The dichotomy is clear: at the micro level Tajikistan needs foreign help in its most pressing security matters, while at the macro level Russian foreign policy objections may resound in their ears. On the other hand, Abdulatipov’s comments in Dushanbe may be taken as an attempt to show that Moscow is willing to recognize that there is a role in Central Asia for foreign states, while putting forward its objection to the emergence of dominant Western “blocs.”