During the beginning of summer in the former Soviet republics, active operations were being undertaken by the Talibs. The Taliban movement has won new victories in its war against the anti-Talib coalition and is concentrating its forces on the southern borders of the Commonwealth. Whereas the anti-Talib forces control the Tajik- Afghan border, the Taliban has concentrated its troops on the Uzbek-Afghan border (northern Afghanistan). Talibs are building up their forces in strategically important areas.
For example, armored vehicles and air defense weapons of Talibs are concentrated in the river port Hairaton located 15 kilometers to the west of the Uzbek border city Termez. According to the information from this region, in the close vicinity of the Afghan-Uzbek border near the border railway bridge, Talibs concentrated up to 12 tanks, three armored personnel carriers, large-caliber machine guns and a few air defense missile systems, including up to 15 portable Stingers.
According to one of the versions, the concentration of Talib forces in this area is associated with the preparation of their offensive on the anti-Talib coalition in the northern Afghan provinces Kunduz and Baghlan. At any rate, there are also some other versions, which explain the buildup of Talib forces near the CIS borders. Some of these versions arise from the statements of Russian politicians about the possibility of preventive blows being taken against terrorist bases in Afghanistan.
Thus, the situation in Central Asia is complicated. Tajik Defense Minister Shirali Hairulloev said that if the Talibs defeated Ahmadshah Masud (the leader of the anti-Talib coalition), they would be able to operate against Central Asian republics unhindered. According to Hairulloev, Afghanistan as a state has turned into a center for terrorists training. Hairulloev added that large quantities of drugs were trafficked from Afghanistan not only to Tajikistan, but also to other Central Asian republic, and further to Russia and Europe.
Hairulloev noted that “Talibs has already openly declared that, if Russia takes preventive measures against them, they will attack Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.”
Against this background, the decision of CIS leaders on accomplishment of the Collective Peacekeeping Forces’ mission in Tajikistan looks strange. In his interview to Interfax on June 21 in St. Petersburg, Konstantin Totsky, the Director of the Russian Federal Border Guards Service, questioned the necessity of disbanding the peacekeeping forces in Tajikistan.
According to Totsky, he did not know why this issue was raised, but he doubted that the peacekeepers would be withdrawn from Tajikistan before the situation in the republic was fully normalized. Totsky confirmed that “the phase of the military opposition in the republic is largely over, first of all due to political dialog with the opposition and the return of refugees from neighboring Afghanistan.”
However, Totsky said that armed clashes on the border were taking place “rather frequently.” He added that drug traffickers accounted for the majority of trespassing incidents on the Tajik-Afghan border and emphasized that the drug traffickers were either armed themselves or accompanied with an armed escort, which was a special destabilizing factor.
Totsky is convinced that so far the border guards “can deter the armed trespassers on their own,” but “if the situation changes, we will use reserves of our border guards in Tajikistan and other troops.”
Really, foreign forces remain in Tajikistan. The border guards receive assistance not only from Russians, but also from the forces of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, which have never been included into the Collective Peacekeeping Forces. After the disbanding of the Collective Peacekeeping Forces in Tajikistan, the Russian 201st mechanized infantry division will become a military base. Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, the director of the main foreign military cooperation department of the Defense Ministry, said that the division would receive this status after the ratification of the relevant agreement by the Duma.
Ivashov also stressed that, at their summit in Moscow, CIS leaders “highly appreciated the collective efforts in the peacekeeping operation in Tajikistan, calling the operation unique and saying that it had no counterparts in the world.” According to Ivashov, CIS leaders emphasized that the peacekeeping forces of participating countries had accomplished their tasks and had to be disbanded within three months. Ivashov added that “presidents Emomali Rahmonov of Tajikistan and Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan especially appreciated the operations of the Collective Peacekeeping Forces and President Putin, the Chairperson of the council of CIS leaders, agreed with them.”
Really, the leaders of Central Asian republics and Russia were unanimous in their opinion about the role of the Collective Peacekeeping Forces in Tajikistan. President Putin announced that Russia would actively contribute to maintaining peace and stability in the region in the future. He expressed his conviction that the decision about the conclusion of the peacekeeping operation was correct. According to him, all problems which could be associated with Russia’s interests in the region, would be solved together with Tajikistan on a bilateral basis.
In turn, President Rahmonov of Tajikistan, explained that a new phase of the process of peaceful regulation began in the republic and there were no forces left in the republic that would destroy what had been achieved by joint efforts. He added that “the status of the Russian forces in Tajikistan is making the transition to a new basis,” and explained this by signing of an agreement with Russia on the organization of military bases in Tajikistan.
Rahmonov added that the 201st Russian division and the border guards were not fully included into the Collective Peacekeeping Forces. According to him, these problems were solved proceeding from the agreement on the organization of Russian military bases. Having reiterated that there were no forces in Tajikistan capable of stopping of the peaceful process, Rahmonov said that it was necessary “for everyone to recognize the long-term interests of Russia in the region.” Rahmonov also wants Russia to pay more close attention to the Central Asian region. In turn, President Nursultan Nazarbaev of Kazakhstan, emphasized that CIS countries not only made a decision about the accomplishment of the peacekeeping mission, but also outlined “all our actions in case of an emergency.”
CIS leaders emphasized that the solving of problems in Tajikistan was an example of how CIS countries could concentrate their forces and solve other conflicts in the former Soviet republics if they wished.
Thus, despite the removal of a part of forces from Tajikistan, the role of Russia in Central Asia is growing. Meanwhile, we need to point out the following aspects:
1. The interests of Russia and the Central Asian republics in the region do not coincide with regard to all strategic issues. Tajikistan, as one of the poorest countries of the region, is interested in a strong and long-term friendship with Russia. It needs military support, because the tension on the Tajik-Afghan border is growing. Uzbekistan is also interested in military support on account of the threats on the part of the Taliban. However, Tashkent is also interested in opening alternative ways for transportation of its excessive hydrocarbons resources. It is known that hydrocarbons are currently transported via Russia, but this is not very profitable for Uzbekistan. Tashkent says that one of alternative pipelines should be built through Afghanistan to the Pakistani port Karachi.
Due to this, on June 12, President Karimov of Uzbekistan, called on Pakistan to contribute to ending the war in Afghanistan between the northern alliance and the Taliban. Azamat Zie, the Press Secretary of Karimov, said that the Uzbek President told this to Pervez Musharraf, the head of the military administration of Pakistan, during the meeting conducted within the framework of the Economic Cooperation Organization’s summit in Iran on June 10.
At the summit, it was announced that Uzbekistan was interested in the economic prosperity of Afghanistan and in the building of a pipeline to the Pakistani port Karachi via the Afghan territory. According to Zie, Tashkent is convinced that Islamabad is also interested in this venture. At any rate, prosperity is more in the interests of Afghanistan itself, because a large network of trans-national communications can be built in the country.
2. There are contradictions between the Central Asian republics. For example, there are border disputes between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, as well as between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. For instance, on June 9, Interior Ministry of Kyrgyzstan requested that the Kyrgyz Security Council accelerate the work of the intergovernmental Kyrgyz-Uzbek commission on border demarcation.
Sources in the law enforcement agencies of Kyrgyzstan report that the number of incidents on the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border of over 500 kilometers long is growing. According to the sources, in June, illegal actions of the Uzbek border guards against the citizens of Kyrgyzstan were registered in the Batkenskaya Region in the south of the country. On two occasions, Uzbek border guards detained trucks with petroleum products and citizens of Kyrgyzstan in the territory of the republic. The sources add that on one occasion, Uzbek border guards started firing assault rifles at a GAZ-53 truck, inside of which were two citizens of Kyrgyzstan and arrested a sergeant of the Batkensky department of the Interior Ministry. Only the quick intervention of Kyrgyz border guards and Interior Ministry branch of the Batkensky Region prevented the arrest and transportation of the Kyrgyz policeman to Uzbekistan. Similar accidents have also been registered on the Kazakh-Uzbek border.
3. The composition of forces, which plans to attack the Central Asian republics of the CIS from Afghanistan, is diverse. Experts say that it is necessary to separate the Taliban movement, which officially holds power in Afghanistan and other religious extremist organizations of this country, such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. It is the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and not the Talibs, who plans to invade the Commonwealth. The movement plans to organize a Moslem state (caliphate) in Uzbekistan, similar to that which the Taliban organized in Afghanistan. Thus, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan threatens three Central Asian republics and Russia (the factor of Chechnya) simultaneously. The combating of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan is currently the major task for these countries.
CIS countries supported the organization of an international anti-terrorist center in Moscow, because they understood the need to combine efforts to combat religious extremists and terrorists. Thus, the role of Russia in Central Asia will objectively grow, because stability in this region will mainly condition stability in Russia.