Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 78

On April 15 Russian border guards began their long-awaited withdrawal from the “Moskva” patrolled areas of the Tajik-Afghan border, handing over control of the sensitive area to Tajikistani border units. Despite Russia’s apparent step back from its well-established role in Tajik border security, Moscow will retain an important advisory role in the future development of the independent border arrangements now placed in the control of Dushanbe. What was once regarded as a regional issue, with the problems of illegal narcotics transiting the border areas, has become internationalized, resulting in less economic strain on Moscow. Tajik border officials will continue to look towards Russia for help and practical assistance while appealing for additional Western money.

The Moskva border detachment patrolled key sections of the Tajik-Afghan border for more than 70 years. Their stay on this dangerous stretch of border led to the apprehension of more than 100 trespassers and the seizure of 31.5 tons of narcotics (Itar-Tass, April 16). However, border guards captured only a fraction of the illegal goods transiting the area.

Although the majority of the border was handed over to Tajikistan in December 2004, the Moskva detachment retained responsibility for the most dangerous 232-kilometer (144 mile) stretch. Since these border guards experienced the brunt of narco-trafficking and attempted military incursions, Moscow seemed somewhat reluctant to surrender its vested interests in this section of border. Their withdrawal from this section is scheduled for completion by June, while the target for complete Russian withdrawal is late 2005, early 2006. In return, Russia will secure its long-term military basing in Dushanbe for the 201st Motorized Rifle Division, which would almost certainly be deployed in the event of serious border incursions. Russian security policy towards Tajikistan, as part of its broader approach in Central Asia, acknowledges the need to retain a presence of some kind, simultaneously open to Central Asian allies seeking Western funding for improvements to security, provided it does not lock out Russia’s vital interests in the region.

Tajikistan is taking seriously its new responsibilities in border security. In practical terms this has entailed consulting with Russian servicemen and exploring internal steps with foreign financial support. The Tajik Border Protection Committee (TBPC) has made arrangements to train sufficient numbers of border guards to replace the Moskva detachment.

Russian instructors will train these Tajikistani servicemen, preparing them in Russian methods and passing on routines long carried out in the region. To guarantee that an abiding Russian military ethos persists within the new Tajik structures, five to ten Russian military advisors will take up duties in each Tajik unit, officially serving as advisors. Thus, Moscow will ensure the dependence of Tajik border officials upon Russian security methods and techniques but not incur related costs (Channel One TV, April 19). The structures and practices are likely to reflect Russian approaches for many years ahead.

Moreover, the Tajik Presidential Drug Control Agency (DCA) will complement the border guard transfer by creating mobile groups to combat drug trafficking across the border. Colonel Fayzullo Abdulloyev, deputy chief of the DCA, plans to use these mobile groups in Khatlon and Soghd Regions and the Mountainous Badakhshon Autonomous Region, where most drug trafficking occurs. Tajikistan’s resources to carry out a successful transition are, of course, severely limited, which has encouraged closer cooperation between Tajik border guards and their Russian counterparts, who are meticulously explaining the mechanics of Russian border security.

Since 2002 the United States has given more than $13 million to strengthen Tajikistan’s border security. Such levels of aid will almost certainly have to increase in order to sustain the long-term viability of the experiment in independent Tajik monitoring of the region’s most crucial — and most porous — border zones. Western involvement in enhancing Tajikistan’s border security has often simply served to illustrate the shocking lack of professionalism and endemic corruption in existence. British officers, visiting Tajikistan in 2004, reported a lack of basic awareness of patrolling and manning border posts among Tajik personnel.

Russia’s timeframe for withdrawal from the Tajik-Afghan border, combined with their first-hand understanding of the weakness of Tajikistani security structures, has paved the way for future reliance upon Russian assistance, albeit in a reduced and modified format. The basing of the 201st Motorized Rifle Division in Dushanbe guarantees Russia’s stake in protecting its vital security interests. Withdrawing its border guards does not qualitatively alter that presence. Russia benefits from internationalizing the Tajik-Afghan border and can reasonably claim that it bore the lion’s share of the burden for many years.

American taxpayers may yet find more of their money being spent on Tajik structures as part of the overall strategy in the war on terror, while Russian border guards know fully the limits of Tajikistan’s ability to properly man and patrol its own borders. The TBSC and DCA cannot function adequately without foreign assistance. Once again, Russian security policy demonstrates the long view; no one state can stem the flow of drugs across the Afghan border. Until that fact is realized internationally, efforts to help Tajikistan in this venture will fail.

(Interfax, April 18;, April 19)