Tajikistan has recently implemented measures aimed at fostering its military and security cooperation with Iran, as it seeks to diversify its foreign sources for security assistance. On April 20 Tajik Defense Minister Sherali Khayrulloyev met his Iranian counterpart, Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani, in Tehran and signed a memorandum of understanding on the expansion of bilateral defense cooperation.
As the details began to emerge, it appeared that Dushanbe is particularly interested in promoting technical, logistical, and educational cooperation between the two countries. Shamkhani made clear Iran’s intention to utilize such opportunities for security cooperation in order to prevent external powers from gaining a foothold in the region at Iran’s expense. Tehran considers that the potential ceding of Central Asian bases to foreign third parties on the “pretext” of enhancing security could pose a threat to Iran’s national security — an unambiguous reference to the post-9/11 deployment of U.S. military personnel into Central Asia. Iran will therefore seek to offer further help to Tajik military personnel in maintaining and overhauling military equipment, as well as providing them with access to military educational courses in Iran and assisting in the strengthening of Tajikistan’s border guards.
The signing of the Memorandum between Tajikistan and Iran reflects Tehran’s growing geopolitical interests in Central Asia and Dushanbe’s continued search for assistance in adequately patrolling its sensitive border with Afghanistan. Having taken the bold step of scaling back its reliance on Russian support in its border security arrangements, Tajik security officials are rapidly realizing the scale and cost of the task ahead in creating successful border security forces.
This is painfully underscored by the imprisonment on April 28 of Narzullo Nasriddinov, a Tajik border guard officer convicted of illegal drug smuggling and sentenced to 21 years. Nasriddinov was detained as part of a large-scale Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) operation in the southern Farkhor District on the Tajik-Afghan border. Such incidents, no doubt causing embarrassment to the authorities in Dushanbe, point to the fact that often the security personnel themselves are part of the problem rather the solution to the challenges presented by illegal drug smuggling across the Tajik-Afghan border. While Iran’s assistance, combined with Western and UN financial support would be welcome, endemic corruption among Tajik border personnel will remain a serious issue for many years.
Simultaneously, Russia has reacted calmly to Dushanbe’s interest in developing future Iranian security assistance. Unsurprisingly, Moscow protects its own security interests via the threat of regional or domestic terrorism. Russian intelligence sources reportedly warned of possible terrorist attacks within Dushanbe to coincide with Victory Day (May 9). The Russian military warned Russian citizens in Tajikistan to avoid public places and exercise caution. On April 29 Tajikistan’s Interior Ministry began exercises code-named “Uragan” (Hurricane) near the capital, during which law-enforcement personnel drilled emergency actions to cope with riots and any worsening of the political situation.
President Imomali Rakhmonov may have tasked Tajik security bodies with other, more overtly domestic political policing, hence the emphasis on crowd control and rioting in the MVD’s current exercises. Rakhmonov’s potential rivals in the 2006 presidential elections appear susceptible to presidential fears over the specter of the “color revolutions” sweeping through the former Soviet republics. The arrest of the prominent opposition member Mahmadruzi Iskandarov, leader of the Democratic Party of Tajikistan, only serves to fuel speculation that Rakhmonov is more interested in clinging to power than in facilitating the gradual improvement of his impoverished country’s security.
Russia’s alleged concerns surrounding the terrorist threat in Tajikistan have not hampered the timing of its ongoing withdrawal and relocation of border personnel from the Tajik-Afghan border. Regimental tactical support groups from the 201st Motor Rifle Division have returned to their base in Dushanbe as the Moskva border detachment hands over key sections of the border areas to Tajik border guards (see EDM, April 21).
Tajikistan’ efforts to promote stronger security ties with Iran have made little impact on Russian military and security assistance arrangements or on Moscow’s assessment of the level of instability in Tajikistan. While international assistance grows in the direction of helping the weak and poorly organized Tajik security forces to develop suitable structures to deal with multiple soft security threats ranging from terrorism to border infringements, Moscow has calculated that its own security policy towards Tajikistan must range beyond Rakhmonov and his regime. Tehran’s keenness to step up its bilateral aid to Dushanbe is based on denying Western powers access to Central Asian bases as a foothold in the region.
The future fruition of Tehran’s policy will only be tested by the durability of Rakhmonov’s tenure in office. Iranian and Russian help is not tied to any commitment to democracy within Tajikistan, enabling Rakhmonov to hedge his bets.
(IRNA, April 20, 23; Itar-Tass, April 27; Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran, April 28; Nezavisimaya gazeta, April 29; Avesta, May 1).