On Monday, Sept 28, Taliban militants occupied more than half of Kunduz, a big city in the north of Afghanistan. In Aug, they occupied almost 60 villages in the province.
Kunduz is located in a valley leading from the southern Afghanistan to the so-called Afghani Turkestan (just 70 km far from the Tajik border). So, it has always been the logistical center of the region.
One more peculiarity of this area is that it has lots of ethnic minorities. So, among the attackers there may be not only Taliban militants but also fighters from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Tajik Ansarullo group.
So, this all is a big threat to the southern borders of the CIS. Now that the US troops are withdrawing, radical Islamic forces in Afghanistan are becoming more and more active.
The Afghani-Tajik border is 1,344 km long and is currently guarded by just 16,000 soldiers – half of what there was before 2005. Another big problem here is that the Tajik border guards have no support from the air as Tajikistan’s combat air force consists of four helicopters: MI-24, Mi-8 and two Mi-17.
The Tajik army is quite big (50,000) but is poorly armed (just 37 tanks, 23 infantry combat vehicles, 23 light armored vehicles, 12 12-mm howitzers and 12 Grad systems). And if we add to this corruption, poor material support, hazing and incompetence, we will see that if faced with a strong enemy, the Tajik troops will be routed. As regards the Russian 201st base, in fact, it consists of just one motorized rifle regiment.
In the meantime, Taliban fighters are becoming more and more active. Last year they undertook over 100 attempts to cross the border, with four border guards captured. In Jan-June 2015, they tried to cross the border for as many as 62 times.
Simultaneously, they are feeling the defenses on the Turkmen border: in Dec 2014, they killed several Turkmen border guards.
The situation in Tajikistan is also unstable. On Sept 4, former Defense Minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda organized a mutiny. The authorities stifled the riot, with 150 rebels killed or detained. One of the detainees is Nazarzoda’s comrade Nazar Safarov, a colonel from the Defense Ministry. Earlier, special police commander Gulmurod Khalimov joined the ISIL. So, you can see that there are lots of disloyal people among the Tajik law enforcers.
And this is not the only sign of instability in Tajikistan. Today nobody in the country can say what is going on in the local economy. The authorities keep overstating the figures and fostering corruption.
Industry produces just 13% of GDP. As many as 60% of Tajiks are farmers. In fact, the country is suffering from the Dutch disease: 47.2% of its GDP or $4.2bn accounts for imports – not mentioning the grey imports from China. This all is having a deteriorating effect on the society. According to recent surveys, 27% of university graduates (!) cannot read and write.
All this is leading to growing Islamism. The authorities are reacting by a pressure on “legal” Islamists (first of all, the Islamic Renaissance Party) and by doing this, they are undermining the compromise that once ended the civil war.
The economic problems in Russia have had a rebound effect on the Tajik economy. In Q1 2015, the amount of investments slumped by 42.2%.
The result was easy to predict. As many as 70 people detained in Jan-Aug 2015 against 259 detainees throughout 2011-2014. In Mar, the authorities finalized their plot against the Islamic Renaissance Party: the party got no single seat in the parliament. On July 9, the Prosecutor General’s Office said it was no longer a party as it had no offices in most of the regions. This year the Tajik authorities blocked Facebook twice for almost two weeks. And the finale of this campaign was tough measures against a number of field commanders in Sept.
But the victory over the Islamic Renaissance Party is not a solution. The party still has a strong foothold in the Pamir Mountains, with an almost unguarded border. And though the local Ishmaelites are skeptical about Sunni Fundamentalists, the western part of Badakhshan province borders on Afghani Darvaz, where Islamists are quite strong.
If the current tendencies in the Tajik economy continue, the country’s Afghanization is inevitable.
The Tajik authorities are on alert. They are trying to reinforce their border and are conducting regular maneuvers. The Collective Security Treaty Organization is also on the watch and has sent to Tajikistan as many as 2,500 soldiers and 200 equipment units. But the internal risks seem to be stronger.