On November 16, Russian border troops began the handover of sections of the Tajik-Afghan border to Tajikistan’s border guards. The handover is regulated by the intergovernmental agreements on Cooperation on Border Protection and On Procedures for the Transfer of Border Units and their Property, signed on October 16 during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Tajikistan. The transfer, due to be completed by mid-2006, will proceed sector-by-sector from east to west along the 1,400 kilometer border.
Tajikistan is due to take over the Ishkoshim, Khorug, and Kala-i Khum border sectors and the eponymous troop detachments by mid-December. In each of them, a checkpoint is scheduled to be opened this month for cross-border travel and trade with Afghanistan’s districts opposite. These three sectors make up the border’s Pamir stretch, which accounts for more than half of the total length of the Tajik-Afghan border. A 70 kilometer, relatively safe section of the Pamir border had been handed over by Russian to Tajik border troops two years ago as an experiment, which proved satisfactory.
The remaining border sectors and corresponding troop detachments, Moskva and Panj, are scheduled to pass from Russian into Tajik hands in late 2005 and by the summer of 2006, respectively.
The transfer process seems well planned and orderly. A Russian-Tajik Joint Commission for Border Handover, co-chaired by Maj.-Generals Valery Rubyanin and Nuralisho Nazarov, chiefs of staff respectively of Russian border troops in Tajikistan and of Tajik border guards, is overseeing the ongoing transfer in the three Pamir sectors. Russian border troops are handing all fixed and movable assets, including surveillance equipment, arms, and ammunition, to the Tajik border guards. Some Russian officers are staying on with Tajik units as advisors. Moreover, Russia’s Border Troop Service is retaining an Operational Group — in essence, a liaison and assistance mission — in Tajikistan for a transitional period.
The border detachments now being handed over consist largely of Tajik enlisted ranks that were serving mostly under Russian officers in the Russian-flagged border units. With the upper ranks mainly Russian and lower ranks overwhelmingly Tajik, those units are now being re-flagged Tajik, without dramatic changes in personnel, while some of their Tajik personnel are moving up to warrant officer and officer rank. Several units of Tajikistan’s Defense Ministry are being placed under the State Border Protection Committee’s command and deploying alongside the border guards.
The Deputy Head of Russia’s Border Troop Service, Lt.-General Alexander Manilov, is overseeing the start of the process on-site. In remarks quoted by Tajik media, Manilov is expressing confidence that Tajik border guards will generally be up to the task, assuming that the situation in northern Afghanistan remains stable. Indeed the Afghan districts opposite the Pamir border are under the control of Afghan Tajiks friendly toward Russia. By the same token, on the strength of that relationship, Afghan Tajik commanders profit massively from the cross-border drug trade, posing major challenges to the Russian border troops and, henceforth, their Tajik successors.
In what looks like a last-minute move to complicate the transfer, Russia’s Audit Chamber issued a report on November 9, claiming a shortfall of 263 million rubles (nearly $10 million) in Tajikistan’s financing of Russian border troops as of June 2004. Under bilateral agreements, Dushanbe was obligated to defray 50% of the operating costs of Russian border troops in Tajikistan. Russia’s Audit Chamber has officially referred the issue to the cabinet of ministers, Finance Ministry, Federal Security Service (which has the border troops under its jurisdiction), and both chambers of the Russian parliament for possible action. Some in Moscow blame General Andrei Nikolayev, former commander of Russia’s border troops and currently a presidential aide, for inspiring the decision to hand over the border protection to Tajikistan as a cost-cutting measure. (Itar-Tass, November 9; WPS Defense and Security, November 15).
Western assistance to Tajik border guards seems likely to materialize. On November 10, Lt.-General Lance Smith, deputy commander of the U.S. Central Command, held talks with Tajik State Border Protection Committee chiefs in Dushanbe and offered U.S. assistance. Several French warplanes, based at Dushanbe airport, are temporarily reconnoitering Afghan territory.
The incipient withdrawal of Russian border troops from Tajikistan leaves Armenia as the only post-Soviet country where Russian border troops are in charge of the border by agreement with the host government. Russian troops are stationed unlawfully on the Georgian side of the Abkhaz and Ossetian sectors of the Russia-Georgia border, against Georgia’s will.
(Interfax, Khovar, Asia-Plus, Avesta, Tajik Television First Channel, November 10-15; see EDM, October 19).