Talks held in Bishkek on September 18 between Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev and Tajik President Emomali Rahmon produced wide-ranging commitments to deepen bilateral cooperation. Significantly, both sides agreed step up cooperation involving their intelligence and law-enforcement agencies in order to combat terrorism, extremism, human and drug trafficking, and organized crime. Although these relations were given a solid basis through the treaties of July 12, 1996, and May 26, 2004, which established “Good Neighborly and Partnership Relations,” in practice security cooperation has proven weak. Rahmon’s two-day visit to Bishkek on September 18-19 was partly aimed at securing progress in this sphere.
Tajik President Rahmon wants to tie security cooperation against emerging threats to cooperation with the UN, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Commonwealth of Independent States, and other regional and international associations. He also suggested holding more frequent presidential meetings, including informal discussions in regional centers. He believes such gatherings would “give impetus and pour a new life into the development of bilateral cooperation in all directions” (Kabar, September 18).
Kyrgyz President Bakiyev responded positively to the idea of increasing the frequency of presidential contact and proposed extending bilateral talks to the ministerial level. Equally, he assessed highly the potential to implement such close security cooperation in the absence of any serious, politically contentious issues. “There are no political or other contradictions between our countries. The talks have confirmed a closeness and similarity of our positions on issues of regional security, economic cooperation, water and energy policy, as well as the strengthening of border relations” (24.kg, September 18).
The agreement signals a belief on the part of both leaders that Bishkek and Dushanbe can contribute positively to regional security by developing a common approach to security issues and deepening bilateral cooperation (Kabar, September 18). Stronger cooperation will also extend into energy, water issues, inter-parliamentary contacts, and promoting the interests of the banking and business sectors. The agreement expressed the following specific security cooperation goals:
“The sides express their readiness to strengthen military cooperation, which meets the requirements of tasks to ensure the security of the two countries and is not directed against third countries.
The sides attach great importance to the delimitation and demarcation of the state border between the Kyrgyz Republic and the Republic of Tajikistan and confirm the need to continue the work of the intergovernmental commission for delimitation and demarcation of state border.
The sides note the commonality of approaches in issues of regional and international security and think that cooperation should be stepped up between the security services and law-enforcement agencies in preventing and fighting manifestations of terrorism, extremism, transborder organized crime, drug trafficking and human trafficking which pose a threat to stability and peaceful future of the region” (Kabar, September 18).
Bilateral security cooperation between Bishkek and Dushanbe will focus on military cooperation with access to each other’s training facilities, border security, intelligence-sharing with possible exchanges of staff and police cooperation, all aimed at enhancing the capability of each state to counter adequately the various security threats that have proven challenging for national agencies. These aims, however, will have to be followed up by actual practical progress, otherwise the agreement will be considered just another “paper tiger.”
In terms of military cooperation, which also makes sense as both Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, there is clear interest in developing mountain warfare capabilities to correct an existing deficiency in their fragile militaries. The Kyrgyz-French military training partnership is developing rapidly in this area. Joint Kyrgyz-French mountain training, scheduled for September 5-28, is in progress near Bishkek and Osh. Special military teams from the Defense Ministry of Kyrgyzstan, totaling around 100 soldiers, and the 27th mountain infantry brigade of France are practicing special mountain climbing skills, live-firing with various firearms, and using mountain equipment including paragliders. France has provided such training for special detachments from the Kyrgyz army over the last five years, and Tajikistan is interested in developing such capabilities; both countries have strong military cooperation programs with France (Slovo Kyrgyzstana, September 12).
Pressure from Russia on the issue of the U.S. and coalition military presence at the Manas base in Kyrgyzstan has recently been coupled with Moscow applying pressure on Dushanbe to limit the role of India in Tajikistan’s new air base at Ayni in Tajikistan. India’s Ministry of Defense reportedly requested that its government give consideration on the precise circumstances under which India would deploy special forces to Ayni, in response to a deteriorating security situation (Asian Age, Delhi, September 20). The potential opportunities for Kyrgyz-Tajik security cooperation could pave the way for the creation of regional centers with access open to all Central Asian states, centers that are not explicitly U.S.-run, and, in that regard, less open to the objections presented by Moscow. Such cooperative solutions could defuse the growing tensions over foreign military and security rivalries being played out in Central Asia.