Tajikistan, painfully aware of the weaknesses within its border security structures, is embarking on key strategic and operational changes to the Tajik border guard service. These will be evident in the new level of cross-border cooperation with Afghanistan, which has been long overdue in Dushanbe’s vision for enhancing the security of the Tajik-Afghan border. The border service itself will engage in more proactive tactics designed to target drug traffickers and detain them using special task detachments, rather than taking a more passive patrolling approach.
Faced with the seemingly insurmountable task of guarding difficult terrain, the Tajik border service will avoid placing border posts at the endless crossing points for narcotics traffickers. On July 28 General Safarali Sayfulloyev, first deputy chairman and chief of staff of the Tajik State Border Protection Committee, explained, “Only close cooperation between border guards and inhabitants of border areas will allow appreciable results to be achieved in the fight against trespassers.” Sayfulloyev confirmed that in order to strengthen the Tajik-Afghan border areas, cooperation between Tajikistan and Afghanistan is now regarded as a pivotal part of Dushanbe’s border security strategy. Tajik and Afghan border areas will be guarded jointly from August. “Afghan border guards will allocate a 300-strong battalion for this purpose,” Sayfulloyev concluded. “Special task detachments have been set up to search for such violators, rather than waiting for them in a certain area. It must be mentioned that this is yielding appreciable results,” he explained. The level of cooperation is not yet large-scale, but both sides expect the level of cross-border cooperation to develop steadily, allowing for differing operational procedures and establishing suitable inter-agency communication (Asia-Plus News Agency, July 28).
Sayfulloyev, in fact, seems confident about the prospect of greater success in this vital area of national security. Measuring success in border security is fraught with problems, however. Sayfulloyev bases his own assessment partly on number crunching and arguably more reliably on the capability of the border service to coordinate and cooperate with other important agencies in combating drug trafficking. First, the number crunching: in the first six months of 2006 the Tajik border service, working closely with other law-enforcement and security agencies, seized 1,360 kilograms of drugs, including over 650 kg of heroin, compared with only 320 kg of drugs for the same period in 2005. The agencies involved in working with the border service were the Tajik Security Ministry, Interior Ministry, Drug Control Agency, and Ministry of State Revenues and Tax Collection. In the task of achieving greater coordination of the efforts of these various bodies, Tajikistan has clearly made progress, which the chief of the border service is equally keen to apportion the lion’s share to his own service, promoting his corner at the expense of the very organizations his personnel are increasingly relying upon.
Moreover, Sayfulloyev is showing a degree of transparency about the thorny issue of corruption within the border service, revealing that one warrant officer and two soldiers from the border service were arrested for aiding drug traffickers in the first six months of 2006. “We still have a personnel problem. This is especially true of the higher-ranking officers such as the heads of border posts,” he said. Equally, an embarrassing incident relating to the Lakkon border checkpoint (on the Tajik-Kyrgyz border) has served as an opportunity for Sayfulloyev to establish his reputation for dealing resolutely with such intuitional deficiencies (Avestsa, July 28). On May 12 militants attacked the border post and its deputy head is now the subject of a criminal investigation. “After the attack, appropriate conclusions were drawn and the leadership as well as the entire staff of this border post were replaced. This event taught us a lesson and we will do everything to prevent such incidents from happening again,” Sayfulloyev asserted.
Despite Sayfulloyev’s official enthusiasm for assistance from the United States and other Western countries aimed at improving the standards of the Tajik border service, he has been very careful not to publicly credit Western countries with contributing to force development. Instead, he chooses for political reasons to emphasize the ongoing role played by Russian military advisors, which he believes remain crucial in forming and training his personnel. Russian advisors, currently numbering around 70, are involved in all aspects of the work of the Tajik border service, including operations, intelligence gathering, and training.
Reports about intercepting drugs on the Tajik-Afghan border are common and reflect both the evolving nature of Tajikistan’s border security as well as the scale of the activity of traffickers from Afghanistan (Itar-Tass/Interfax, August 4). Sayfulloyev is undoubtedly playing a role in the improvement of the border service, which can be seen in its improved inter-agency cooperation and its willingness to be open and determined concerning internal corruption. Appreciative of Russian advisors and privately recognizing the understated assistance received from the United States, Dushanbe now looks to cooperate with Afghanistan as a less controversial way forward in its efforts to counter the narcotics trade. Combined with the more pro-active work of its special detachments, there are grounds for believing that the current rethinking of Tajik border security will yield long-term results.