Tajikistan’s border security agencies, severely challenged by the continued flow of narcotics and arms across the country’s porous borders, have released official statistics and details on their successes over the past year. On January 7 Colonel-General Khayriddin Abdurahimov, chief of the main border directorate within the State Committee for National Security (GKNB), highlighted the improved performance of the border service in seizing narcotics and arms on the Tajik-Afghan border. He noted that 916 kilograms of narcotics, including 110 kgs of heroin, 752 kgs of cannabis, and 53 kgs of raw opium had been seized by border guards. In 17 border skirmishes in 2008, 10 alleged drug smugglers were killed and two others wounded, while 21 couriers were arrested in the same period (Asia-Plus, January 9). Abdurahimov referred in passing to 79 special operations carried out during the year in coordination with other power structures, which indirectly reveals the source of improved border security based on greater interagency coordination and use of intelligence.
Skirmishes on the Tajik-Afghan border are a regular occurrence prompting the GNKB to publicize its successes in apprehending criminals. Three Afghan drug traffickers were killed in a skirmish on the border in Khatlon Province on January 6. Servicemen from the Panj border unit on a routine patrol encountered a small group of Afghan drug smugglers attempting to cross the Panj River and seized 22 kgs of narcotics, including 14 kgs of heroin, four kilograms of raw opium, and four kilograms of hashish (Asia-Plus, January 7). Although such “chance” incidents confirm the enhanced capabilities of Tajikistan’s border guards, the GNKB seizes disproportionately more cannabis than heroin or raw opium.
Another aspect to the annual “number crunching” in which the Tajik authorities indulge seems linked to raising morale among the state’s weak military and security structures. The purpose is to give the impression, however incorrect, that the state has the capacity to cope with such overwhelming security issues. Morale is apparently a problem. Six soldiers from a military unit in Sughd Province committed suicide last year, according to the Sughd military prosecutor Qurbonali Mirzoyev. In 2008 12 fatalities were reported among servicemen from military units in northern Tajikistan, six of which were recorded as suicide. “Many of the draftees are married, and the suicide cases were reported among married servicemen,” said the military prosecutor. “They committed suicide following bad news from home.”
Azam Qosimov, chief of the Sughd regional military registration and enlistment office criticized the ineffectual work of medics from the local draft boards. “Last year more than 100 draftees were given an early discharge from military service on medical grounds; but because of the negligence of the draft board medical workers, even a young man suffering from epilepsy was conscripted last year,” Qosimov complained (Asia-Plus, January 6). The conditions these conscripts face are harsh, and the challenge presented by narcotics trafficking remains a critical burden on the Tajik state.
Other agencies appear to compete in the statistics battle. In 2008 officers from the Drug Control Agency (DCA) seized 1,316 kgs of narcotics, representing an increase of 8.6 percent over 2007. This included 368 kgs of heroin, 574 kgs of raw opium, and 374 kgs of cannabis. The DCA also instituted 106 criminal cases on drug charges last year, of which 83 have reached the courts. Whereas the GNKB attributes its improvement to better coordination with other agencies within Tajikistan, the DCA links its seizures to more active intelligence cooperation among the intelligence services of the CIS and directly with Afghan intelligence (Asia-Plus, January 6).
Russian assistance to the Tajik security structures goes beyond providing mere intelligence. Aware of the weaknesses within Tajikistan’s defense forces, which can be called upon to offer support to its border security agencies, Moscow has sought to step up military-technical assistance. Tajikistan’s Air-Defense Force has now acquired the Russian Pechora-2M air-defense and missile system (ADMS), according to Tajikistan’s Ministry of Defense. Faridoun Mahamdiliyev, a chief spokesman for the MoD, confirmed on January 5 that Russia had now supplied the system. “Tajik specialists have taken a special training course in Russia to operate the system,” he said. The Pechora-2М air defense system provides defense against all aerial means of attack, can detect low-flying and small targets, and is capable of launching without using radar. The UV-38 optronics system locates an enemy in the air at a distance of up to 60 kilometers, and the Pechora-2M uses the ECM-125 to protect the system against high-speed, anti-radiation missiles (HARM), thereby reducing the system’s vulnerability.
While it seems reasonable for Russia to assist its southern neighbor in such security matters, it is entirely unclear what connection exists between the real and present security challenges facing Tajikistan, mostly emanating from Afghanistan, that requires the deployment of sophisticated Russian air defense technology. President Rakhmon has stated publicly that he sees no potential resolution for the Afghan problem through the use of force and is promoting a politically centered approach to stabilization efforts. He nevertheless wants the trappings of more advanced military technology, and his cheapest route will always be procurement from Russia.