Increasing pressure: the limited confrontation of Tajikistan and the Taliban (for now?)

By Turan Gafarli
Russia & FSU Analyst

The radical change in Afghanistan failed to bring immediate global recognition for the Taliban. Even its neighbours are highly sceptical about the revival of the Islamist regime and preserving their distance to engage in cooperation. 

The situation creates dangers for the region’s stability which is under question more than ever after the withdrawal of NATO forces. However, not everyone accepted the faith of Afghanistan under its new administration. The resistance that actively continues its work outside of the country still has remnants in Panjshir Valley and claims to continue the fight. It is a known fact that an important proportion of the resistance fighters against the Taliban is formed of ethnic Tajiks which brings in the northern neighbour of Afghanistan to the equation. Tajikistan and its President Emomali Rahmon increased their concerns over the Taliban regime in the past few weeks and it seems the confrontation will continue until some matters are resolved. 

The major argument of the Tajiks is based on the fear of the instability that the Taliban regime may possess in its neighbourhood. A possible significant revival of terrorist groups worries Tajikistan as said during the speech of Rahmon in his address (RFE/RL, September 24, 2021) to the UN General Assembly on September 23. It is not the only concern of the Tajiks since they also repeatedly demanded (Eurasianet, 2021) the representation of ethnic Tajiks in the new administration under the Taliban. 

Such demands were received by the Taliban as disrespect and they described the situation as the Tajiks meddling in Afghan internal affairs. The real concern of the Taliban behind their anti-Tajik statements stands on the reason that the Rahmon government provides (Financial Times, 2021) logistics, asylum and assistance to the opposers of the Taliban. 

The confrontation is not limited to verbal exchanges. Tajikistan is a member of the Russian led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) and it exchanged its security concerns with Moscow even before the fall of Kabul. Russia already declared its fierce support for the Central Asian allies in case of any threat coming from Afghanistan and also supplied its bases in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Since then, Russian presence in the Tajik-Afghan border increased as hundreds of Russian troops started to conduct (RFE/RL, August 30, 2021) military drills with and without its CSTO allies in the mountains of Tajikistan. 

Even though Rahmon and his allies in resistance are keen to ask for full Russian support against the Taliban, the latter is still weighing the odds. Moscow does not want to repeat the same mistake it did in Afghanistan four decades ago however it also understands the need of defending Russian economic and security interests in the region, especially following NATO withdrawal. A Russian Foreign Ministry official said (Anadolu Agency, 2021)  that they are concerned to see tens of thousands of Afghan special forces deployed on the Tajik border and they will try to mediate between the two sides. It shows that Moscow has plans to emerge its dominance in the region in the future but with careful planning and diplomatic steps. 

 The Taliban may underestimate the resistance backed by the Tajik government and even the limited number of CSTO troops after “defeating” Western allies. Nevertheless, it would be naïve to think that regional countries and Russian forces let the Taliban to project its power and influence since it may also bring radicalism to the region which is the last thing that former Soviet countries want. The largest military drills in years held by CSTO already started on 18 October and will last for six days at the Tajik-Afghan border (Reuters, 2021). Exercises held by Russia and its Central Asian allies also came just before a high-level Taliban delegation visit to Moscow for discussions involving China, Pakistan, India and Iran. It shows that Russia is trying to hold the business tight and use the classic carrot or stick approach. Nevertheless, the tensions remain on alert since the mediation offers and calls for negotiation remain on hold, raising concerns for the future of stability in Central Asia. 

References:

“Tajik President Warns UN Of ‘Serious Threats’ Emanating From Afghanistan” RFE/RL, September 24, 2021. https://www.rferl.org/a/rahmon-tajikistan-taliban/31476133.html 

“Tajikistan: President demands Tajik role in running Afghanistan” Eurasianet, August 25, 2021. https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-president-demands-tajik-role-in-running-afghanistan 

“How Tajikistan became hub for Afghanistan’s resistance” Financial Times, September 29, 2021. https://www.ft.com/content/c49a6f04-8fd0-4253-af14-dd1bd2d9dbeb 

“Hundreds Of Russian Troops Take Part In Military Drills In Tajikistan” RFE/RL, August 30, 2021. https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-tajik-drills-afghanistan/31435014.html 

“Russia observing with concern, tension between Afghanistan, Tajikistan” Anadolu Agency, September 30, 2021. https://www.aa.com.tr/en/politics/russia-observing-with-concern-tension-between-afghanistan-tajikistan/2379611 

“Russia-led bloc holds large-scale drills near Tajik-Afghan border” Reuters, October 18, 2021. https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/russia-led-bloc-holds-large-scale-drills-near-tajik-afghan-border-2021-10-18/ 

 

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