Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 6

Russian-dominated Tajikistan struck a discordant note at this week’s Central Asian Economic Community summit in Almaty, even adding to its record as a destabilizing factor in Central Asia. Uzbek President Islam Karimov, furthermore, hinted publicly that the Russian troops in Tajikistan form a part of that problem. In his remarks at the post-summit briefing, Karimov warned against a repetition in 2001 of the “scenarios of 1999 and 2000,” when detachments of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) moved freely through Tajikistan to attack Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Karimov, moreover, admonished “powerful Russia, with its 201st motor-rifle division and its border troops deployed in Tajikistan, that we have the right to raise this question. We must under no circumstances allow that scenario to be replayed for a third time.” The Uzbek president disclosed that he had issued a similar warning during the closed-door meeting of heads of state in Minsk at the recent summit of the CIS (see the Monitor, December 4; Fortnight in Review, December 15, 2000).

Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev almost certainly seconded Karimov at both summits behind closed doors. His officials have also repeatedly identified Tajikistan as the corridor IMU guerrillas used to attack Kyrgyzstan on their way to Uzbekistan. But Kyrgyzstan’s vulnerability and dependence on Russian security assistance restrict Akaev’s latitude to speak out the way Karimov does. In the closed-door part of the Almaty summit, Akaev probably supported Karimov’s call for joint antiterrorism action in Tajikistan. Karimov drew the distinction between “preventive actions” against Afghanistan, which he opposed, and “joint efforts” by Central Asian countries including Tajikistan and Russian troops in that country to suppress the IMU in Tajikistan itself.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, like Karimov, declined to criticize Afghanistan’s Taliban authorities as a source of threat to Central Asia. Nazarbaev drew attention to the turmoil in northern Afghanistan and the absence of effective control there which breeds instability. Tajik President Imomali Rahmonov alone attacked the Taliban authorities and their sponsor Pakistan. Rahmonov, moreover, vehemently ruled out the admission of Afghan refugees to Tajikistan. Those refugees are for the most part Afghan Tajiks, and most of them have been displaced by the recent counteroffensive, mounted against the Taliban by the Afghan Northern Alliance with Russian materiel supplied via Tajikistan. Several tens of thousands of those refugees are currently concentrated on islands in the Panj River, which forms the Afghan-Tajik border. But the Tajik government and the Afghan Tajik leaders of the Northern Alliance oppose the admission of those refugees into Tajikistan on both economic and security grounds. “No. Quite simply no. Not a single refugee will be allowed into Tajikistan,” declared Rahmonov in his post-summit statement, broadcast live from Almaty.

Rahmonov, furthermore, threatened to veto Pakistan’s request to join the Shanghai Forum for regional security, the members of which are Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and China (as a common neighbor of those countries). Uzbekistan last year became an observer to the Shanghai Forum. Pakistan, a neighbor of China, announced on the eve of the Almaty summit that it has applied to join the Shanghai Forum. The member countries signaled that they would consider the request with varying degrees of benevolence. Rahmonov however came out publicly not only against granting, but against considering the request–apparently because of Pakistan’s support for the Taliban. With the exception of Tajikistan, the Forum’s Central Asian member countries consider that Pakistan’s admission could promote a political solution to the Afghan war. (Itar-Tass, RIA, Khabar news agency, Uzbek Television, January 5-6; BBC, January 6; see the Monitor, September 26, October 13, 30-31, November 9-10, December 13, 22, 2000).

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