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How Taliban talks can affect the situation in Central Asia

At the end of the 2018 year, the administration of the US president announced the beginning of preparations for the withdrawal of half of the US military contingent from Afghanistan. However, this initiative has met with rebellion in many government departments in the United States, including the Pentagon and the Senate. In the third decade of January this year, after negotiations between the United States Special Envoy for Reconciliation in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzada and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, the full withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan has become quite possible in the medium term. As you know, the Taliban delegation expressed unequivocally during the talks: The policy of the Islamic Emirate during the talks was very clear - until the issue of withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan was agreed, progress on other issues is impossible.

US and Russian rivalry for influence in Afghanistan

The tangible reality of the cessation of the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan came at the end of a two-day "intra-Afghan dialogue" in Moscow, at the end of which a joint resolution was adopted. Meanwhile, the official Kabul took both measures cautiously, stating that the Moscow declaration would not affect the peace process in Afghanistan.

At the moment Russia and the United States rivalry over "managing the peace process" in Afghanistan has crystallized. Both countries are seeking to bring the Taliban to their side in order to influence the country's policy later on. It is obvious that the current leadership of Afghanistan, which until recently was fully supported by the West, is no longer seen as a political force that has authority among the country's elites and is likely to creep into oblivion after the presidential elections that take place literally in half a year.

It's too early to say who will become the next president of Afghanistan, but observers note that Hanif Atmar has high chances to take up a high chair. If Hanifu Atmar and his supporters, including Karzai, the Afghan president in the 2004-2014 years, can reach agreement with the Taliban, then the policy of Kabul will follow in the direction of the Kremlin, and the White House will be on the roadside and lose a significant part of its influence in the region. For this reason, Washington seeks to "entice" the Taliban in order to be among the architects of the peace process and sponsor the future leadership of Kabul.

For this and other reasons, the political leadership of the countries of Central Asia took the development of developments around Afghanistan with a certain degree of alertness. The issue of security was put forward to the fore. Over the past three months, the Taliban has been active in northern Afghanistan, in provinces that directly bordering Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. It is possible that after the reduction (and possibly the complete withdrawal of US troops), the rebels will have more opportunities to attack the border areas of the northern provinces of Afghanistan. In addition, some sources in Afghanistan state that in the north-east of Afghanistan there are training centers of militants in which military training is conducted as citizens of Central Asian countries, some of which have military experience in the Middle East. These militants in the numerous videos uploaded to Yutub, which demonstrate a rather high level of combat training, urge their compatriots capable of holding weapons in their hands to join their struggle for the triumph of Islam in the countries of the region. In other words, they urge their fellow citizens to establish an Islamic system in the countries of the region. In the establishment in the Central Asian countries of the Islamic form of the Salafite regime or the close view of the movement of Muslim brothers, the monarchy of the Persian Gulf is interested. Afghan colleagues claim that a powerful financial supply of Salafis and Muslim brothers is carried out from these states. Their main goal is to destabilize the situation in the south of the region in order to disrupt gas production and export along the Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan-Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan-China gas pipeline, because in this case they lose a perspective importer who has now begun to modernize its capacities by moving from coal for natural gas.

For this reason, if Washington even succeeds in reaching an agreement with the Taliban, the Persian Gulf monarchy will be interested in destabilizing the countries of Central Asia and continuing funding for terrorist organizations.

The leadership of the countries of Central Asia and, above all, Tajikistan is worried about what kind of policies will be implemented with regard to militants from post-Soviet countries who are engaged in hostilities on the Taliban side. It is not excluded that these militants will be provided with bases from which they can carry out active operations against Central Asian countries. The information that Tajik citizens fighting on the Taliban side as part of the Ansarallah group and enjoying authority have repeatedly appeared in the press.

Consequently, according to some sources, there is another real threat of destabilization of the situation, first of all in Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, which are on the "line of fire" and whose armed forces do not differ in high combat qualities. So, at the end of December last year, the Afghan Ministry of Defense announced an activization of the Islamic State terrorist organization in the north of the country, including on the border with Tajikistan. A big stir was the statement made by Deputy Interior Minister Igor Zubov, who said: "The IGIL militants massively unidentified helicopters from Pakistan are being transferred today to the Tajik border. There, apparently, there are planned large-scale provocations in the long run with the extrusion of a large number of refugees in the direction of Russia. "

Although this statement was disavowed by Irina Volk, the official spokesman for the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation, information on the IGIL in the north of Afghanistan was credible and taken into account by the Russian leadership. Probably, Moscow does not want to panic among the population of the country and solve the problem with the help of law enforcement structures. In this case, one should refer to the incident in Magnitogorsk, when the responsibility for the explosion in a residential building took over the IGIL, although authorities insist on the version of the explosion of domestic gas. The Kommersant newspaper learned that Tajiks were preparing a terrorist attack at the GRU building on Khoroshevskoye highway. The deep concern over the threat of terrorist attacks in the Central Asian states has recently been expressed at a special UN Security Council meeting devoted to the spread of terrorism, which took place in the third decade of February 2019 year.

Possibility of the return of Russian border guards to the Afghan-Tajik border

26 February 4 in Dushanbe, the IV regional meeting of the heads of the border agencies of the countries of Central Asia, Russia and Afghanistan took place. During this meeting, Colonel-General Rajabali Rahmonali, commander of the Tajik border troops, expressed his concern about the accumulation of terrorist groups in the Afghan provinces of Badakhshan, Kunduz and Takhor. According to him, 16770 militants have accumulated in these border territories, of which 6370 are foreign mercenaries. He noted: "They created 36 camps for terrorist training."

Today we can not say that Russian border guards are not present on the Afghan-Tajik border. According to the agreements between the Dushanbe and Moscow on the withdrawal of Russian border guards, the advisers of the Russian border troops function at the border. Apparently, their responsibilities include collecting information on the adjacent territory, as well as carrying out radio-technical intelligence.

The main requirement of Russia for Tajikistan to protect the Afghan-Tajik border is to prevent the smuggling of heroin. Today it is obvious that Tajikistan is not coping with this problem. Thus, in 2003 year, before the beginning of the withdrawal of Russian frontier guards from Tajikistan, five tons were delayed in the republic, six hundred kilograms, then in 2017, the detention was reduced to one hundred kilograms, although the heroin's transit, according to expert estimates, is at least thirty tons per year. It should be said that if the Taliban returns to power in Afghanistan, it can drastically reduce the opium poppy crops, as it was at the end of the 90's. If the IGIL, one of the sources of its financing of which is drug trafficking, will control the northern part of Afghanistan, then the situation with drug transit will be exacerbated. Especially since IGIL has its cells in Tajikistan that will be involved in this criminal business. It should be noted that during the years of the presence of the international coalition in Afghanistan, opium poppy crops have not only not decreased but increased. It is worth noting that the opiate harvest in recent years has reached its record: raw opium began to collect a hundred times more compared with 2000 year.

For this reason, from time to time, Moscow demands from Dushanbe an adequate fight against drug trafficking, and as a force pressure on the country's leadership, putting forward an argument for the return of Russian border guards. However, this option is currently not realistic: first, Tajikistan will not agree to provide border protection, since it will lose significant assistance from donor countries (including China) to strengthen the border, and secondly, the state of the Russian economy is not able to contain a large grouping of the border guards (in the early 2000-ies Russia contained five border detachments and two commandants, which corresponded to five regiments and two separate battalions).

The anxiety of Moscow is connected with the armed forces of Tajikistan, in which they wish to have better discipline, the level of combat and political training, material support. Russia quite rightly believes that the security forces of Tajikistan may not be able to cope with the existing threats. The president of Tajikistan, Emomali Rahmon, has repeatedly questioned the strengthening of Tajikistan's armed forces. Thus, last November, President Rakhmon at a meeting of the Heads of State of the Organization of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), held in Astana, focused on strengthening the state border of Tajikistan with Afghanistan, which is considered the southern border of the member states of the CSTO, to further implement the decision of the Collective Security Council " On Assistance to the Republic of Tajikistan to Strengthen the Border with the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan "and to intensify the implementation of the" Targeted Interstate Program " Lena boundaries Tajikistan and Afghanistan. "

The CSTO has recently devoted its meetings to discussing the situation in the Islamic State of Afghanistan, as well as challenges to the interests of the CIS member states, originating from the international terrorist organizations operating in this country, including the search for directions for joint work to curb the financing of terrorist activities, including counteraction to the legalization of proceeds from crime. One of such recent meetings was held in November 21 last year, which was attended by secretaries of the security councils of the CIS member states. And already 15 January 2019 year at the meeting of the Permanent Council of the CSTO was considered a draft proposal for the development of a draft Target interstate program of the Collective Security Treaty Organization to strengthen the sections of the Tajik-Afghan border and aimed at domestic harmonization. It is expected that the adoption of this document will take place in the near future.

Within the framework of the "Targeted Interstate Program for the Strengthening of the Tajikistan-Afghan Boundary", Tajikistan will most likely be provided with technical assistance: retraining of a sergeant, training officer personnel in Russian military schools and academies, and the provision of certain types of military equipment and equipment that will be withdrawn from armaments in accordance with the program of rearmament in Russia. Tajik border troops feel a sharp need for combat helicopters to patrol the borders in hard-to-reach mountainous areas. However, the Russian side refrains from providing such assistance.

Tajikistan provides assistance in the military sphere, not only in the format but also on a bilateral basis: yes, military equipment, equipment and machinery are provided by Kazakhstan and Russia. Russia and the CSTO conduct joint exercises with units of the Tajik Ministry of Defense and border guards aiming at raising the Tajik armed forces' combat capability. Such exercises are conducted on a regular basis.

However, the leadership of Tajikistan and the leaders of the CSTO member states are aware that the Tajik armed forces are not capable of securing the country, for this reason, "Moscow takes on a great responsibility for the stability and maintenance of peace in Tajikistan", because destabilization in the Central Asian states can cause damage to the national security and interests of Russia. As you know, the 201 military base is based in Tajikistan, the basis of which is the motorized rifle brigade of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation. The number of this tactical compound does not exceed seven thousand people, which, of course, can not provide protection for the entire length of the Afghan-Tajik border, but only certain strategically important areas of Tajikistan. For this reason, there is a risk of leakage of militant terrorist groups through Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan through Tajik territory, as was the case in 1999 in Batken, when hostages were captured not only by Kyrgyz citizens but also by Japanese specialists.

According to one of the eyewitnesses, who also visited hostages of terrorists, "Kyrgyzstan was not ready for war", due to which suffered sensitive human losses in living power. For this reason, today in Kyrgyzstan voices can be heard from time to time in favor of the opening of the second Russian military base. More recently, such an opinion was heard from the mouth of a Kyrgyz ambassador to Russia in an interview with the TASS agency. Although Russia is ready to discuss the issue with the Kyrgyz leadership, however, in December 2018, President Zhanbekov stated at a press conference that there is enough Kyrgyzstan and one Russian military base.

The China factor

Chinese military facility on the territory of Tajikistan.
Source: The Washington Post

In order to show the full picture, it is necessary to stay on the position of China, which owns the leadership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). As part of this organization, military exercises are held at the SCO member states. In addition, in the last three to four years, China has been implementing not only financing but also the construction of Tajik border border infrastructure on the Afghan-Tajik border. The goal of Beijing is to strengthen the protection of the Afghan-Tajik border in order to prevent the Uighur Islamist from Afghanistan and the Middle East from penetrating into the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region through the territory of Tajikistan. Most recently, the press leaked information that the territory of Tajikistan has a Chinese border checkpoint, although neither Dushanbe nor Beijing officially reported. The Chinese, according to the Washington Post journalist, were dressed in a uniform worn by the military personnel of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (SUAR), populated mainly by Muslims in the region. Obviously, the task of this object is not to allow Uighur militants from the Islamic Movement of Eastern Turkmenistan, who found refuge in Afghanistan, to cross the Vakhani corridor to transfer operations to the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic. Beijing also fears using the Afghan territory as a springboard for the transfer to Syria of militants from the Islamic State, returning from Syria and Iraq. In addition, China is currently conducting a military training center in Afghanistan, Badakhshan, whose logistics are carried out through communications controlled by Dushanbe, which again explains Beijing's interest in stability in Tajikistan, because in case of destabilization of the situation in Tajikistan, this object will lose all meaning for the Chinese sides

conclusions

  • At present it is difficult to predict the exact development of events in the countries of the region, especially in Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, since in both countries the combat capability of the armed forces leaves much to be desired.
  • One can clearly say that the situation in the northern provinces of Afghanistan will tend to deteriorate, as conflicts over different lines (Ashraf Ghani - Atta Muhammad Nur, Ashraf Ghani - Hazara, Taliban - IGIL, Pashtun - Tajiks, etc.) will be aggravated. and on this background the situation on the Tajik-Afghan border will be tense. However, Tajik border guards will try to keep it under control.
  • There is a certain risk of a breakthrough by Islamist militants of the Tajik and Turkmen borders in order to penetrate into the region, as happened in Turkmenistan last summer.
  • Threats to suicide attacks also persist in Central Asian countries, primarily in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.
  • There is a rather real threat of attacks on the Turkmen gas fields in the Murgab river valley that are at the initial stage of development, with the aim of preventing the gas pipeline laying into China.
  • The presence of Russia in the region will be expanded in the medium term. If the intra-Afghan peace process, launched in Moscow will bring positive results, it should be expected that Russia will intensify its policy and trade toward Afghanistan, that is, will place logistics centers near the southern borders of the Central Asian republics.
  • In the event of the withdrawal of US troops and the failure of the American plan for a peaceful settlement of the situation in Afghanistan, Washington's interest in the region will be reduced to an order, which will drastically reduce donor and other assistance to Afghanistan and the countries of the region. In this development of the situation, the confrontation between the United States, on the one hand, Russia and China, on the other, around Afghanistan will be clearly seen.
  • Within the framework of the "Targeted Interstate Program for the Strengthening of the Tajikistan-Afghan Boundary", Tajikistan will most likely be provided with technical assistance: retraining of a sergeant, training officer personnel in Russian military schools and academies, and the provision of certain types of military equipment and equipment that will be withdrawn from armaments The Armed Forces of the Russian Federation in accordance with the program of rearmament in Russia.

Feda Muhammad Musavi Razavi, Iranian researcher