Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 177

Unlike Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, both of which moved ahead of Moscow to support American-planned antiterrorist efforts in the region, Tajikistan seems to be looking to Moscow for guidance. Publicly at least, the Tajik government has not offered overflight rights or other forms of support for the planned military strikes in Afghanistan. Official Dushanbe claims that the internal “Islamic factor” constricts the government’s latitude. Implicitly or explicitly, it suggests that the former Islamic opposition might rise against the government if the latter sides openly with the West against the Taliban authorities of Afghanistan.

Such justifications are implausible. Ideologically and politically, as well as ethnically, Tajikistan’s former opposition–the Islamic Rebirth Movement–not only bears no relationship with the Taliban, but is in many ways close to the Afghan Tajik mainstay of the anti-Taliban opposition, the Northern Alliance. The Tajik government actively supports the Northern Alliance without any protest from the former Islamic opposition. The government, moreover, is well placed to control the opposition’s moves. It has in the last few years successfully disarmed the opposition, coopted some of its leaders and reduced other leaders to impotence. The government felt sufficiently strong last year to claim a 97-percent victory in national elections and to allot the opposition just two seats in the parliament thus elected.

Russia stations powerful military forces in Tajikistan, including the 8,000 strong 201st motorized division and some 15,000 border troops. The division is stationed mainly in Dushanbe and in the ruling group’s native area of Kulob. The border troops are using primarily Tajik conscripts under mostly Russian officers and NCOs. Most recently, elements of the 201st division have been deployed to the immediate rear of the border troops in a supportive role.

Official Dushanbe claims to fear a flood of refugees in the event that American aviation strikes Afghanistan. This claim falls on three counts. First, because the air strikes would almost certainly target parts of Afghanistan far removed from Tajikistan, and may cause refugee movements of Pushtuns to Pakistan, or conceivably of Afghan Turkmens to Turkmenistan. Second, the Tajik government itself supports the current offensive of the Northern Alliance in areas immediately adjacent to Tajikistan, without much concern for the possibility that Afghan Tajiks would head for Tajikistan. And, third, because Dushanbe itself has announced its firm decision to close the border. The mission of Russian and Tajik border troops, and that of Russian army units deployed near the border, is to keep out any civilian refugees, not any Taliban forces (Hovar, Tajik radio and television, Asia-Plus, Interfax, September 21-26).