Tajikistan has launched another serious diplomatic effort aimed at increasing its border security capabilities and addressing the long-standing international security issues presented by the weakness of the Tajik-Afghan border. Dushanbe is looking not only towards the United States and NATO, but also seeking funding from the EU, to beef up its Drug Control Agency strategy, which complements the work of the border guard service. Though it has intermittently held out hope of securing greater funding from Western organizations, Dushanbe has also raised the stakes in its whole approach to border security by demanding that Moscow honor past promises of equipment.
Dushanbe’s strategy is therefore two-pronged: searching for additional security assistance while applying pressure on Moscow. President Imomali Rakhmonov told an international conference on coordinating such assistance to protect the Tajik-Afghan border: “Border troops have not yet been provided with aircraft. This makes it difficult for border guards to carry out operations.” Rakhmonov believes that such technical aid from the EU could be of great significance for Tajikistan and appealed for help on the basis of the fight against international terrorism and the struggle to stem the flow of illegal narcotics through the Tajik-Afghan border, ultimately aimed at the European drug market (Avesta, September 27).
Despite the lack of sufficient military equipment, Tajik border guards had shown that they can protect the entire Tajik border on their own. “Over the first nine months of 2005 alone, they, jointly with the Afghan law-enforcement agencies, have seized more drugs from the illicit trade than over the past two years,” explained Rakhmonov during a two-day conference in Dushanbe. He strenuously denied that the security of the Tajik-Afghan border has deteriorated since the handover of control from Russia’s Federal Border Guard Service, which historically played a key role in patrolling the border and helping Tajikistan. The main priority for the Tajik State Border Protection Committee (SBPC) remains the training of highly qualified military personnel. According to Rakhmonov, the EU is needed in support of this endeavor, not least since the Tajik economy is so weak that it remains a fundamental challenge to properly finance the relevant security structures.
While attempting to establish the credentials of the Tajik border service and its capability to independently patrol and improve the security situation on the key border with Afghanistan, 40 Russian military advisers were presented to the leadership of the SBPC on September 30. The Russian advisors, whose ranks ranged from major to colonel, would form part of an operational border group of advisers for the Russian Federal Security Service in Tajikistan. It will help Tajik border guards protect Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan. By the end of 2005, Dushanbe plans to have around 280 Russian military advisors helping the SBPC (Asia-Plus, September 30). Such arrangements, while sitting well with the regime in Dushanbe, demonstrate the continued weakness of the host security structures and confirm the rather odd mixture of Western assistance, training, and help for the fledgling independent border guards. Yet simultaneously Russian teaching, standards, and operational procedures still apply and are sought after by the Tajik leadership.
Tajikistan also holds out the hope that Russia will fulfill its obligations to deliver military equipment to help the Tajik security agencies to protect the Tajik-Afghan border. Rustam Nazarov, director of the Tajik Drug Control Agency, publicly criticized Moscow’s willingness to help in such practical ways during a visit to Moscow on September 23: “The delivery of military equipment is covered in the protocol signed last year by the heads of the border guard services. I hope that this clause of the document is fulfilled. So far the Russian side has not supplied one piece of military equipment.” Russia had apparently promised to supply aviation equipment, armored vehicles, and communications monitoring equipment. Nazarov noted that without these military assets it is impossible for Tajikistan to adequately protect the border. Since the departure of Russian border guards, Nazarov has seen the authorities in Dushanbe doing their best to cope, though his assessment is dire: “There are difficulties: lack of experience, a shortage of well-trained specialists and a shortage of equipment.” He believes the United States, by supplying uniforms and training specialists, has helped this to some extent; but more is clearly needed. (Interfax, September 23).
Rakhmonov demands the respect deserved by an independent sovereign state, though he concedes the role played by Russia in upholding the frail security structures in Tajikistan; the public show of asking the Russian border service to hand over control of the border areas to Tajik border troops has now given way to recognition of the need for Russian expertise in developing the SBPC. Equally, through Dushanbe wants further American security assistance to target this vital area, it also senses the need to explore potential financial and materiel support from the EU. Tajikistan will therefore appear to establish itself as a reliable partner to Russia, actively supporting the multilateral bodies of common interest (CSTO and SCO) and asking for help from Western security donors. Meanwhile, as Nazarov admitted, with Russian military equipment being supplied in the near future, the protection of the Tajik-Afghan border will be undermined.