There are growing signs of unease within Tajikistan’s Ministry of Defense over relations with Western militaries. While these ties are valued and needed in order to assist in reforming key military infrastructure, Tajik officials are becoming increasingly cautious regarding Western security-assistance ties. The Tajik Ministry of Defense displayed such guarded tendencies in their handling of the media ahead of U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s July 10 visit to the country. Initially evasive on the question of timing, and only reluctantly even confirming that the meeting was scheduled for July 10, officials wanted to downplay either the importance of the talks or the pressure they face from other sources. During his July 2005 visit to Dushanbe Rumsfeld discussed reconstructing post-conflict Afghanistan, maintaining security in Central Asia, and protecting the Tajik-Afghan border. However, both the Tajik Ministry and the media were more open ahead of the 2005 talks (Avesta, July 6).
The sources of pressure on the Tajik Ministry of Defense are easily traced. In stark contrast to the silence regarding the latest talks with Rumsfeld, the Tajik Ministry has promoted its close ties with Russia at every turn. Praise for Tajik graduates of higher military schools in Russia serves as a case in point. Faridun Mahmadaliyev, head of the Ministry of Defense press service, recently stressed the fact that more than 100 Tajik nationals have graduated from Russian military institutions and academies this year. Forty of these graduates have returned to Tajikistan and are now deployed in units for further service. The other 60 are expected to return by the end of July. Mahmadaliyev explained that although the Tajik military institute is currently providing training in 80 specialist areas, there are deficiencies that compel Dushanbe to look for Russian help. “An aviation department was opened at the institute last year. However, we are not yet capable of training officers for all branches of the armed forces. For instance, Russia prepares officers in the specialties we need the most, including air defense, air force, engineering, and communications,” Mahmadaliyev revealed. Tajik Defense Minister Sherali Khayrulloyev met these graduates on July 4 and wished them success in their difficult tasks ahead (Avesta, July 4).
According to the Tajik Justice Ministry, a new national public movement has been registered. “Friends of Russia” plans to open branches in all the regions of Tajikistan and wants to strengthen and boost social, political, economic, and cultural relations between Tajikistan and Russia. It hopes to counteract the spread of ideological and national extremism. Interestingly, the movement is led by retired Major-General Abdullo Habibov, and it is difficult to imagine him doing this without the tacit approval of the Tajik Ministry of Defense (Avesta, July 1).
Russia’s military activities inside Tajikistan still produce political leverage that Moscow can utilize. The Russian military newspaper Krasnaya zvezda reported in June the ratification of the 2004 agreement between Russia and Tajikistan relating to the Norak opto-electronic reconnaissance center, part of Russia’s space-tracking system. The Russian Ministry of Defense considers the Norak center to be among the best military units of the Russian Space Troops. Tajikistan now supplies the center with electric power, communication channels, fuel, water, and other services. Russia has introduced artificial intelligence into the “Okno” system, including precision optics and high-tech computer systems, making the facility among the best examples of technological innovation in Russian military-industrial research institutes (Krasnaya zvezda, June 10).
There are however, other signs of ongoing Western security interest in Tajikistan. French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie has scheduled a short working visit to Dushanbe later this month, before going on to Kabul. She is planning talks with President Imomali Rahmonov and Defense Minister Khayrulloyev. Paris is exploring ways to strengthen military and security collaboration between the two countries in combating terrorism, extremism, and organized crime. France currently has two military transport aircraft and six Mirage jet fighters deployed at the Dushanbe airport, supported by some 400 French military personnel. Alliot-Marie last visited Dushanbe in December 2005 (Avesta, July 5).
The Tajik Ministry of Defense is treating more cautiously its relations with Western militaries due to a number of related factors. The political opposition expressed within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, especially at its recent summit in Shanghai, opposes Western military deployments within Central Asia. Russia’s handling of its security interests in Tajikistan has also acted as an additional source of pressure, ranging from its Okno facility to providing advisors to the Tajik Border Guard Service. The cost effective training and education of Tajik military personnel in Russia cannot be measured comparatively with the small numbers of Tajik military personnel coming in contact with Western military methods and education. Equally, Dushanbe has learned lessons from Uzbekistan’s return to the fold, after its foray into pursuing its Western military ties. Tashkent’s return to the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) this year and the fact that it is now actively considering offering forces for the CSTO Collective Rapid Reaction Forces are measures of how far the rapprochement with Russia has gone. The Tajik Defense leadership may now calculate that Russia has more to offer Central Asian countries that are prepared to move closer to Moscow’s orbit or reaffirm existing ties.