BROADENING OF THE TALIBS’ SPHERE OF INFLUENCE MAY SERIOUSLY ENCROACH ON RUSSIA’S INTERESTS IN CENTRAL ASIA

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One gets the impression that only Russia and Tajikistan of the whole CIS are seriously worried over the Talibs’ military victories. Turkmenistan remains carefully neutral, Uzbekistan is waiting for something. It appears that Uzbek president Islam Karimov’s semi-secret trip to Termez wasn’t made because of the capture of Uzbek-populated and strategically located towns (Mazari-Sharif and Khairaton) by Talibs and their atrocities, but because of the possibility of an exodus of refugees to the right-hand bank of Amu Darya. Tashkent’s behavior today doesn’t resemble its behavior in the summer and autumn of 1996 when Talibs occupied northern provinces of Afghanistan. That time it was precisely Uzbekistan that initiated active measures aimed to fortify the border with Afghanistan. Russian General Staff and the Uzbek Defense Ministry worked out plans of countering possible Talib aggression and hasty assistance was given to Uzbekistan in he rearmament of its regular army.

Many observers then commented on Uzbekistan’s military assistance to Dustum. It was said that an Uzbek autonomy, independent of the “pro-Tajik” Kabul and relatively stable, existed in the north precisely thanks to this assistance. Subverting men from Dustum’s closest circles, in 1996 Talibs succeeded in wrecking this autonomy even though their presence in the Uzbek areas was not very long.

Now Talibs are occupying northern Afghanistan once again, but the general situation is entirely different. Virtually all “Uzbek areas” are under their control but Tashkent remains undisturbed. Perhaps this whole situation can be attributed to the fact that the Uzbek leadership no longer plans to support the “Uzbek autonomy” and has come to terms with the idea that northern Afghanistan is controlled by Talibs.

Meanwhile, only few are aware that in 1986 Dustum’s alliance with the “Tajik” leadership of the country could be attributed precisely to Tashkent’s intervention. Nowadays Dustum is fighting on Rabbani’s side out of ideological considerations – besides, he wants to become the master of the north once again. His stand on the matter merits respect. On many occasions Talibs tried to enroll Dustum’s occasion, even Pakistan made some advances every now and then. In September 1986 an Arabian-Pakistani delegation visited Mazari-Sharif and offered Dustum $50 million for development of northern Afghanistan in return for his loyalty to Talibs. Dustum refused. Since there are Pakistani mercenaries in Talib detachments now, it doesn’t take a genius to guess where all this money went.

In the meantime, observers point out that Talibs’ desire to control the northern provinces can be explained by the strategic and economic plans of he USA and Pakistan which want to construct pipelines across Afghanistan. The pipelines should go through Turkmenistan – across the sparsely settled Murgaba valley from Chardzhou to Kushka to Gerat and Kandagar in Afghanistan and to Pakistan. Needless to say, implementation of these plans would only profit Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. They extract oil and gas but do not have sufficient access to the world markets because of Moscow’s stand on the matter. That’s probably how their “indifference” to the conflict in Afghanistan can be explained. Other CIS countries with oil and gas of their own – Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan – will also profit from availability of pipelines in Afghanistan. They are waiting and even despite the public opinion won’t probably mind if Talibs took over and established Islamic order in the whole country.

This way only Tajikistan and Kirgizia remain Moscow’s only allies in Central Asia. Their support of the Rabbani’s government can be also attributed to the desire to maintain stability at the Tajik-Afghani border and to the act that these countries have already become convenient transport corridors for drugs-trafficking to Russia and Europe. Nowadays Russian border guards and 201st Motorized Infantry Division quartered in Tajikistan are hastily reinforced. Border guards and politicians are worried over the situation that is shaping up.

On August 18th Federal Border Guards Service Director Colonel General Nikolai Bordyuzha flew to Tajikistan. According to the Russian border guards PR department, his negotiations with the Tajik military-political leadership and consultations with the border guards group command centered on the problems of protection of the Tajik-Afghani border. Nikolai Bordyuzha met with president Emomali Rakhmonov, other republican leaders, border guards group command and Russian Ambassador in Tajikistan Yevgeny Belov.

FBGS Director also visited the Tajik-Afghani border. Nikolai Bordyuzha was quoted as saying on many occasions already that Russian border guards were prepared for any turn of events even including actual hostilities. Not long ago some leaders of our country and politicians discussed the necessity to withdraw from Tajikistan, and the Federal Border Guards Service even executed a number of measures. Nobody knows why, but in 1997 the Russian border guards group in Tajikistan was reduced from 16,000 to 14.5 thousand servicemen. Its former Director Andrei Nikolaev explained it by relative stabilization of the situation in the republic and at the Tajik-Afghani border. Dushanbe was seriously aggravated by this move. Under the pretext of planned rotation the “reduced” officers and some military vehicles were pulled out to Russia in November 1997. However, two weeks later the Tajik leadership forbade letting echelons with vehicles of the 201st Division (planned for repair) from the territory of the country. Diplomats’ and RF Defense Ministry’s intervention was needed to calm down general public and official Dushanbe and execute the planned rotation.

Border guards planned further reduction of the group in Tajikistan and withdrawal of heavy equipment and attack helicopters. Everything is being hastily sent back to the border now. It should be noted that the RF Defense Ministry and General Staff on several occasions tried to persuade political leadership of the country and FBGS command that reduction of our military presence in Tajikistan was a mistake. Hence the visit of General Staff Chief-of-Staff Anatoly Kvashnin to Tajikistan in January and his statement to the effect that presence of Russian border guards in this country was necessitated by the real threat of uncontrolled export of drugs to Russia and Europe and spread of instability in the Commonwealth.

Military maneuvers in April 1996 were organized precisely on the initiative of the General Staff. Unfortunately, during the preparation to the maneuvers a Russian SU-25 fighter crashed and twenty servicemen sustained wounds of varying severity. These accidents are still being investigated but General Staff experts do not rule out a possibility that they took place because of lack of professionalism. Despite the fact that since December 1st, 1997, the 201st Motorized Infantry Division has been in operational command of the Trans-Volga Military District, combat training in it is financed frugally and usually at the expense of other articles of the military budget. It’s quite clear that with this attitude towards the army on the part of the state, performance of even professional units (and Russian aviation and Ground Forces units in Tajikistan are precisely that) will have flaws. Meanwhile, joint Russian-Tajik maneuvers were a necessity. Apart from purely military objectives (improvement of combat readiness, cooperation etc), they also promoted political goals. A dialogue between leadership of the country and the opposition should be reinforced by a demonstration of force. Besides, the outer factor is very important here. Russia’s influence in Tajikistan has noticeably dwindled recently. The country established close relations with Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and other Central Asian republics. Tajik leaders even signed military-technical cooperation agreements with Uzbekistan behind Moscow’s back. Tajiks and ethnic Uzbeks (residents of Tajikistan) were given an opportunity to study at the military academy in Tashkent. Presently many problems connected with providing and equipment repair are resolved with Uzbekistan’s help too. It all is taking place despite the apparatus of the Russian military advisor in Tajikistan and despite the fact that Moscow is investing relatively big sums into implementation of its military policy in the region.

No military maneuvers have been organized in Tajikistan since 1994. The last maneuvers there were multi-national – along with Russian and Tajik units, some Uzbek and Kazakh armed formations participated. These maneuvers took place at the same place (“Tigrovaya Balka” testing site in Shartuz district) and with the similar training tasks. Presence and activeness of just Russian and Tajik forces in the vicinity of the Afghani border in the area populated mainly by Uzbeks resolves the tasks of protecting the southern borders of the Commonwealth and has a geopolitical context. Observers are of the opinion that the maneuvers were a kind of counterweight to the pro-American policy of Uzbekistan. Activating its relations with Washington, in 1997 Uzbekistan organized military maneuvers – the largest in the region – with some NATO servicemen and plans to conduct similar maneuvers this September.

95% servicemen of the Russian border guards group in Tajikistan are ethnic Tajiks. The republic finances 50% of the sums presence of the group in Tajikistan requires. Sure, it’s a burden for the Russian budget but who can count the consequences of a wave of drugs and refugees which will surely stampede through the transparent borders of Uzbekistan, Kirgizia and Kazakhstan into Russia if the situation deteriorated?

A document

Proposals of the RF Defense Ministry on the draft federal law “On gradual withdrawal of armed formations of the RF Armed Forces from Tajikistan”.

Analysis of the draft law made by the General Staff leads to the following conclusions:

1. Decision on the gradual withdrawal of Russian troops from Tajikistan contradicts the postulates of the Russian Federation’s strategic course with regard to members of the Commonwealth…

2. What with the growing lack of stability in Tajikistan and Afghanistan, adoption of the law is not in line with Russia’s long-term geopolitical interests because it will greatly narrow down its ability to influence the processes taking place in Central Asia. Besides, the law creates additional difficulties in the process of consolidation of efforts of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kirgizia and Russia in maintenance of security of the southern borders of the Commonwealth.

3. The document doesn’t consider consequences of the withdrawal of the 201st Motorized Infantry Division and Russian border guards group from Tajikistan which will affect situation in the whole Central Asian region…

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