On the eve of celebration of the ninth anniversary of organization of the Tajik Armed Forces, official Dushanbe and NATO signed an agreement on entrance of Tajikistan into the Partnership for Peace program in Brussels. This event is extraordinary, because until recently Tajikistan, like Belarus, had, to put it mildly, a cautious attitude towards NATO and maintained military political contacts mainly with Russia, China and Iran. Military experts have varying views on the steps of Dushanbe and its intention to take part in the NATO programs. On the one hand, they explain this intention by the wish of Tajikistan to develop cooperation in liquidation of emergency situations, conducting of military reform and environment protection. These are normally NATO member states that assign money for such programs. Dushanbe already has got a taste of American money, received for participation in the antiterrorist operation against the Taliban.
On the other hand, during ten years of orientation towards Moscow, Tajik authorities also felt that Russia could not give real money for revival of Tajik economy (or does not wish to, seeing no need for this). In 2001, mutual trade between Russia and Tajikistan even decreased. Participation in the Partnership for Peace program enables Dushanbe to save money on defense, to drift towards the West and to find partners there to invest in development of the country. If all ideological dogmas are thrown aside and if the reasons for beginning relationships of Tajikistan with NATO are analyzed objectively, material interest of official Dushanbe in this process is obvious.
Meanwhile, bearing in mind that stability of the current regime and sovereignty of the country depend on defense, and this defense is built on Russian aid, Tajikistan does not terminate relations with Moscow yet. About 100 Tajik youths receive military education in Russian higher military educational institutions. There is a staff of the Russian main military advisor in the Tajik Defense Ministry (commander of every Tajik military unit has a Russian advisor), due to which combat readiness of Tajik Armed Forces grows annually. Tajiks serve in Russian Border Guards Forces, which is good not only for training of national Tajik personnel but also for maintenance of welfare of the Tajik population. It is very prestigious for the Tajiks to serve in the 201st Russian mechanized infantry division and Russian Federal Border Guards Service.
Russian higher military educational centers also trained junior officers (commanders of squads, drivers and so on) of the Tajik Armed Forces. These specialists formed the backbone of Tajik units which operated within the forces of the Northern Alliance. Through these units Russia is attempting to strengthen its informal influence on the situation in Afghanistan. In Tajikistan, Russia plans to arrange facilities for repair and restoration of combat vehicles for Afghan Armed Forces, on which Russian officials recently negotiated with Afghan Defense Minister Mohammad Fahim.
At any rate, against this background, Tajik authorities see the power of the West. Times are changing. The war in Afghanistan is over. The US and other NATO member states seriously started creation of conditions of peaceful life there and investing a lot of money in Afghanistan. Back in autumn 2001, Tajik commanders of the units operating on the side of the Northern Alliance felt the power of dollars, when “American specialists” bought entire detachments of the Talibs without any combat. It was reported that every field commander of the Talibs cost up to $200,000, and overall Pentagon spent over $7 million on this purpose. An American air base was deployed at the airfield in Dushanbe. American military cargo airplanes take off from the airfield regularly. The Pentagon pays $5,000-7,000 to Tajikistan for each such take-off.
Russian military cargo airplanes take off in Dushanbe for a much lower payment. Local authorities already expressed their disagreement with this to the Russian military. In December 2001, it was rumored in Tajikistan that the country demanded payment for presence of the Russian 201st mechanized infantry division in the country. Meanwhile, under the agreement signed in 1999 on status of the Russian military base, its infrastructure should function free of charge. Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, former director of the main department for international military cooperation of the Russian Defense Ministry, who took part in preparation of practically all military agreements with Tajikistan, commented on the situation saying, “They owe us so much, that compensation for functioning of the 201st division represents only kopecks.”
However, Tajikistan does not demand money for functioning of the Russian military base yet, although proposed to withdraw its units from the center of the Tajik capital, making the headquarters of the 201st division unprotected. This process has already begun. Informed sources in the Russian Defense Ministry reported that command of the 201st mechanized infantry division deployed in Tajikistan already started gradual withdrawal of Russian forces from the military installations in the center of Dushanbe. The command takes these measures according to a demand of the Tajik authorities, which are going to build an architectural-historical complex and an Italian trade center in this territory.
Russian officials note that the military installations of the 201st division were in the way of construction of the aforementioned objects only partially, but authorities of the Tajik capital demanded that the command of the division free the territory of the installations completely. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov had the relevant negotiations with Tajik authorities during his visit to Dushanbe in December 2001, but the negotiations failed. The Tajik party had its way, and the 201st division is currently reducing its presence in Dushanbe. The military complain, “Of course, the military units are not withdrawn to an empty field, but they are moved from the center of the city to the garrisons located in the suburbs of the Tajik capital. There are already too many units deployed there. The units have to be rearranged, and beds of soldiers are already set in bunk-bed manner in the barracks.” The military add that Russian forces are withdrawn against the background of a hearty reception of American forces by the Tajik authorities. American units serving eight S-130 military cargo airplanes belonging to the Pentagon are now deployed in Dushanbe in the area of the city airport. Thus, Tajikistan has started contacts with the US and NATO. So far it remains in the Collective Security Treaty of the CIS member states and a strategic ally of Russia in Central Asia. Many observers notice drawbacks of Moscow’s policy as the reasons for the drifting of Tajikistan to the West. Russia has failed to build normal relations with Tajikistan and other Central Asian countries and is losing its influence in the region.