Tajikistan’s border guard service, with enhanced and independent responsibilities for Tajik border security since the withdrawal of Russian border units, continues to be hampered by internal corruption and poor discipline. On August 4 senior officers serving in the State Border Protection Committee (SBPC) were arrested on charges of abusing their office. The charges relate to receiving bribes. Unfortunately, the incident is not unusual, denoting the depth of problems faced by the SBPC as it endeavors to reform and meet the security challenges confronting Tajikistan’s weak security agencies.
Captain Gurez Mirzoyev, from the SBPC’s Military Unit 9828 based in Sarband, allegedly received 900 Somoni ($284) from Nurbek Sobirov a resident of Bokhtar. Mirzoyev promised Sobirov to arrange the exemption of Sobirov’s 19-year-old son, Abdulhamid, from military service. Mirzoyev was caught in the process of receiving the money, and a criminal investigation is underway. The case draws attention to the endemic corruption of the border guards as well as the unpopularity of military service, it also points to the types of activities present within the border service that will have to be overcome if tangible improvements to Tajikistan’s border security are to be implemented (Avesta.tj, August 4).
These arrests follow reports in the Tajik media of the arrest and detention in Kulob on August 2 of Colonel Ramazon Emomov, Commander of an SBPC military unit deployed in Shuroobod District. The unit itself, number 2931, is deployed on the sensitive Tajik-Afghan border and, given its primary task of stemming the illegal narcotics flow across the border, it is particularly embarrassing for the authorities in Dushanbe to find its commander arrested on charges of drug trafficking. Emomov was detained along with two other senior officers from the same unit and has been charged with trafficking more than $140,000 worth of drugs. Emomov served in the Popular Front during Tajikistan’s civil war, and he had more than a decade of experience in the SBPC. Such officers were considered the bedrock of improved independent border security, passing on their expertise and organizational abilities to a younger generation of recruits (Asia-Plus News Agency, August 4; Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mashhad, August 6).
On August 5 a Tajik border patrol on the Tajik-Afghan frontier detained two Afghan drug smugglers while they attempted to cross the River Panj. Colonel Abdusattor Gulahmadov, a member of the SBPC press service, praised the work of the unit and said it had seized 27 kilograms of heroin and about 16 of kilograms cannabis from the drug couriers (Interfax, Moscow, August 5). Although a typical find at this border point, the SBPC press service was keen to emphasize the more positive publicity to be gained for their service from this type of incident, coming as it did during period of discomforting scandals for the border guards.
Problems stemming from low pay, corruption, and the woefully inadequate example presented to the ranks by many officers contribute to a persistent undermining of the work of the SBPC. Among the five-recorded accidental deaths of servicemen in the first six months of 2005, four had served in the SBPC. The military prosecutor’s office has also launched an investigation into the hospitalization of a serviceman from an SBPC unit currently deployed in Hamadoni District (southern Tajikistan). His injuries are believed to be the result of bullying by his seniors; the victim was a recent recruit called up for his military service in May 2005 (Asia-Plus News, August 4; Avesta.tj, August 5).
By any standard of measurement, Tajikistan’s border service has made little progress towards successfully addressing some of its key problems. Many of these, according its officials, are external issues such as the trafficking of narcotics from Afghanistan through its territory, which has become a key route for exporting heroin. Tajik officials are less inclined to admit that their security structures are deeply involved in these soft security dilemmas. For many years locals have confirmed how easy it is to transit the porous border and bribe the relevant border guard. Now Dushanbe must face the reality that, while it wants more Western funding and international assistance to prop up its ailing state security structures, many of its senior officers are profiting from a lucrative market by either turning a blind eye to drug smuggling or directly engaging in the very activities they are supposed to prevent.
Emomov’s arrest will, no doubt, be utilized by his political paymasters in Dushanbe as evidence that something is being done about the existence of such corruption. But there will be little interest in investigating the extent of officer networks and SBPC complicity in the chronically weak nature of the border areas, nor will there be a great appetite for rooting out the culture of bullying and ill-discipline that plagues Tajikistan’s border security structures.