TAJIKISTAN PLAYS IT CAUTIOUSLY IN THE AFGHAN WAR.

Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 201

The extent of Tajikistan’s cooperation–current and intended–with the United States cannot yet be judged from the available information on the antiterrorist campaign. In the wake of September 11, Dushanbe repeatedly declared that it would take its guidance from Moscow with regard to possible use of Tajik airspace and territory by U.S. forces. On October 8, however, the Tajik government offered to make the country’s airspace–“and, if necessary, its airports”–available for American-led military actions in Afghanistan. Some high-level official comments implied that the offer covered the Dushanbe military airport, which is capable of accommodating strategic aviation.

President Imomali Rahmonov reached those decisions independently of Moscow, though informing it along the way. He was swayed by intensive American diplomacy, coupled with a substantial offer of Japanese economic assistance to Tajikistan and to Afghan Tajiks. During the second week of October, Dushanbe officials confirmed on the record the arrival of a few U.S. military advisers in Tajikistan to support American antiterrorist strikes in Afghanistan.

The Tajik government has officially ruled out–as has the Uzbek–any American use of the national territory for ground troop movements into Afghanistan. It has also ruled out sending its own troops across the Afghan border. Tajikistan’s troops, unlike Uzbekistan’s, are in any case not battle worthy.

Politically, in contrast to Tashkent, the government in Dushanbe seems reluctant or unable to capitalize on the opportunity of aligning itself with the United States. Even assuming the will to do so, Dushanbe’s leeway is constricted by Russia’s massive military presence in the country under bilateral pacts. The international antiterrorism war has added to those constraints. Tajikistan’s territory is now being used by Russia and Iran for stepped-up military assistance and arms transfers to the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. Military leaders from Moscow, including the Armed Forces’ Chief of Staff, General Anatoly Kvashnin, are visiting Tajikistan frequently to inspect Russian troops there, oversee the arms transfer operation, consult with the Afghan Northern Alliance representatives in Tajikistan and presumably assist in planning the expected offensive of mainly Afghan Tajik forces on Kabul.

On October 22 in Dushanbe, Russian President Vladimir Putin, his Tajik counterpart Rahmonov, and the ousted Afghan president, Burhanuddin Rabbani, who is nominal leader of the Northern Alliance, held talks that appeared to solidify their common front. At the concluding briefing, Putin announced a further expansion of Russian arms deliveries to the Afghan Northern Alliance, as well as the initiation of humanitarian aid deliveries by Russia’s Ministry for Emergency Situations which is a military agency. Both flows are being channeled via Tajikistan. All this highlights the growing importance of Tajikistan as a Russian base of operations in the region.

At least for now, Dushanbe has sided with Moscow, Tehran and New Delhi, against Washington, London and Islamabad, with regard to postwar political planning on Afghanistan. The first-named group favors the capture of Kabul by Afghan Tajiks, seeks a disproportionately strong role for them in a postwar central government in Kabul, and–to advance the latter goal–rules out the participation of Taliban defectors, also described as “moderate Taliban,” in that future government. The United States, Britain and Pakistan, on the other hand, seek a balanced central government, reflecting the Pushtun plurality share of Afghanistan’s population and recognize that much of current Pushtun support for Taliban, while seemingly broad, may well be thin and reversible.

Dushanbe is urging an early start to the Northern Alliance’s offensive on Kabul, not only for political reasons, but also in order to move the frontline as far as possible from Tajikistan’s border. At present, the Northern Alliance only holds a narrow territory along that border, itself a theater of combat with the Taliban. Dushanbe fears that the fighting there can trigger an exodus of Afghan Tajiks in the direction of Tajikistan. To forestall such a turn of events, the Tajik government wants the earliest possible offensive on Kabul as well as substantial relief aid to the Afghan Tajik population.

Meanwhile, Tajikistan’s authorities remain not only tolerant of, but complicit with the Afghan Tajik drug trafficking networks, some of them linked to the Northern Alliance’s local commanders. The traffic uses Tajikistan as a way station to Russia and beyond. On October 17, Russian Internal Affairs Minister Boris Gryzlov became the latest official to admit publicly that Tajikistan forms the main route for Afghan drugs to Russia and that only an estimated 5 percent of the drugs pushed are being seized (Interfax, October 17). On October 30, Russia’s Federal Border Service Deputy Director Aleksei Kozhevnikov stated that “narcotics are being transported across the Afghan-Tajik border by both the Taliban and Northern Alliance forces.” According to Kozhevnikov, the drug catch for the last nine months at the Afghan-Tajik border is 2.2 tons of heroin and 2.9 tons of raw opium (RIA, October 30). Within that total, the ratio of opium is at an all-time high and can only be explained by a substantial increase in the capacity of processing laboratories on Tajik territory.

Tajikistan’s Islamic Rebirth Party (IRP) remain basically supportive of the anti-Taliban war. That attitude stems partly from the IRP’s doctrinal differences with the Taliban’s version of Islam, partly from the IRP’s tactical connection with Iran, and partly from solidarity with the Tajiks in the Northern Alliance. During the years of civil war in Tajikistan, the IRP had sanctuaries in the Afghan Tajik territory controlled by the late Ahmad-Shah Massoud, who remains a hero to many in the IRP. That also colors the party’s attitude to the Northern Alliance today (“Dushanbe Finally Backs U.S. Campaign,” Institute for War and Peace Reporting (London), Central Asia no. 74, October 12; Asia-Plus, Dushanbe radio, Interfax, Western news agencies, October 21-31; see the Monitor, September 18, 24, 26, October 2-3, 8, 12, 30; Fortnight in Review, September 28, October 12).

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