Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 185

On October 8, the government of Tajikistan announced its readiness to open the country’s air space, “and if necessary its airports,” for American-led military actions in Afghanistan. The announcement followed a telephone conversation between U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Tajik President Imomali Rahmonov the preceding night.

Dushanbe’s official communique on that conversation included a reference to U.S. assistance to the “civilian population of Afghanistan.” That undoubtedly means the Tajik-inhabited area in Afghanistan under the control of the Northern Alliance, along the Afghan-Tajik border. Such targeted relief will benefit Tajikistan itself in two ways: by forestalling an exodus of Afghan Tajiks in the direction of Tajikistan, and by strengthening the hold of the Northern Alliance–Dushanbe’s allies–on that part of Afghanistan.

Relief to Tajikistan itself must have been the main topic at Rahmonov’s October 8 meeting in Dushanbe with Muneo Suzuki, who is Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s special envoy on antiterrorism issues. Only hours earlier, Japan’s Foreign Affairs Minister Makiko Tanaka announced Tokyo’s readiness to “provide urgent economic assistance to Tajikistan in the framework of antiterrorist operations in Afghanistan.” Japan enjoys special clout in Dushanbe as a leading aid donor to Tajikistan since the end of the civil war. It was Suzuki himself who, after meeting Rahmonov, broke the news of the decision on the airspace and airports, preempting Dushanbe’s official announcements.

The Tajik Foreign Affairs Ministry’s spokesman confirmed on the record that some U.S. military advisers were already in Tajikistan, and that the country would share intelligence with the antiterrorist forces. A Defense Ministry spokesman ruled out any participation of Tajik troops in operations on Afghan territory.

On the same day in Dushanbe, the Committee of Secretaries of Security Councils of the CIS Collective Security Treaty member countries opened a two-day meeting, chaired by Russia’s Vladimir Rushailo. Neither the meeting participants nor Moscow reacted publicly to Tajikistan’s decision on air space and airports.

From day one of the U.S. war on terrorism, Tajikistan had declared that it would take its guidance from Russia with regard to possible use of Tajik territory by U.S. forces. On September 26, Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov declared that Moscow “would not rule out allowing the U.S.” to use the Dushanbe military airport. Ivanov’s remark reflected the Russian view that the airport is under dual Russian-Tajik jurisdiction, with Russia entitled to dispose of it. In an unusual row between allies, Tajikistan’s Security Council Secretary Amirkul Azimov publicly retorted that “the Dushanbe airport, as well as the communications necessary for its operation, are the property of Tajikistan and are under its jurisdiction. Any decision to make them available for the antiterrorist operations planned by the United States can only be taken by Tajikistan’s political leadership.” At that juncture, the Tajik government was willing to allow U.S. overflights, but was still ruling out any “stationing” of American planes or military personnel in Tajikistan (Asia-Plus, Interfax, September 26).

In the ensuing days, the U.S. charge d’affaires in Dushanbe held a series of meetings with the political and military leaders, and Powell conferred with Rahmonov by telephone on October 3, four days before their conversation which helped precipitate Rahmonov’s decision.

Tajikistan’s Islamic Rebirth Party (IRP) seems basically supportive of the government in the matter of antiterrorism. The IRM’s status is an ambiguous one of a semi-coopted opposition, legal yet often repressed, and a moderate alternative to the radical Islamist underground. The IRP is the sole Islamic party officially tolerated in any Central Asian country. On October 8, IRP leader Saidabdullo Nuri issued a statement condemning Osama bin Laden and rejecting the latter’s calls for a Jihad against the United States. Nuri invoked his and other IRP leaders’ credentials as Islamic scholars in arguing that bin Laden has no authority to interpret Sharia or to declare Jihad. At the same time, Nuri seemed to object to discretionary U.S. military actions. He urged that any antiterrorist operations be placed under the aegis of the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

Nuri’s stance lays to rest the apprehensions that the IRP might display solidarity with the Taliban. Those apprehensions had in any case disregarded the fact that the IRP’s links in Afghanistan were with the Tajiks of the Northern Afghan Alliance, who are currently allied with official Dushanbe against the Taliban.

Elsewhere in Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan’s Foreign Affairs Minister Muratbek Imanaliev declared his country’s “full support for the large-scale international antiterrorist action” in Afghanistan. Imanaliev approved of the use of force as “necessary in order to quash international terrorism at its very root.” Kyrgyzstan had on September 25 granted overflight rights to U.S. aviation.

For his part, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niazov has distanced himself from the U.S.-led effort. Speaking on October 6 at the foundation stone laying for Central Asia’s largest mosque, in his native village, Niazov obliquely criticized the “countries that speak a great deal about terrorists,” and admonished those countries that it was “wrong to attack a whole nation just because of one person”–an allusion to bin Laden. “We believe that everything can be arranged by negotiation,” said the Turkmen president. He reaffirmed Turkmenistan’s neutrality in the war on terrorism, without commenting on the U.S. position which precludes neutrality in this matter (Kyodo, Asia-Plus, RIA, Western news agencies, October 8; Turkmen Television, October 6; see the Monitor, September 18, 24, 26, October 2-3, 8; Fortnight in Review, September 28).

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