Tajikistan Provides Security With the Help of Russia and China

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In the spring of 2023, Dushanbe’s foreign policy contacts intensified: Emomali Rahmon spoke from the UN rostrum, and even earlier, Vladimir Mishustin visited Tajikistan. Diplomatic activity pursues clear goals: to find new ways out of the long-term crisis in the economy. However, economic problems may not be the main challenge for Tajikistan today. Dina Malysheva, Head of the Central Asian Sector of the IMEMO RAS, told Ia-centr.ru about the modern international context of Dushanbe diplomacy. 

– After the March visit of Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin to Tajikistan, one can observe the intensification of business cooperation between the two countries. What are the prospects for partnership between Moscow and Dushanbe at the present stage?

So far, the documents have just been signed. Business negotiations are underway, but so far everything is at the level of discussing intentions. To say that Russian companies are pouring into Tajikistan right now would be a big exaggeration.

Dushanbe is certainly interested in economic cooperation with Russia, given that it is the main recipient of labor migration from Tajikistan. In addition, the country has serious economic contacts with China, Dushanbe is also trying to establish contacts with the Gulf countries. However, Russia remains the most serious economic partner.

In addition, for several years now, Tajikistan has been talked about as a state that will join the Eurasian Economic Union – even from the moment when Kyrgyzstan joined there. The agreements signed during Mishustin’s visit are precisely aimed at preparing Dushanbe for this process. Each country applying for membership in the EAEU must fulfill very strict preconditions in order to be considered in the union.   

Tajikistan is objectively interested in integration – for a country from where a huge number of labor migrants come to Russia, this solves a lot of problems. In addition, the agreements provide for economic assistance to Tajikistan from Russia – this factor can also form the basis of future cooperation.

I believe that the prospects for cooperation between the two countries depend more on Tajikistan than on Russia. Even in Soviet times, the Tajik SSR was a very poor republic, and the consequences of the civil war are still being felt there both economically and politically. The internal stability of the state largely depends on the level of the economy. Whether Dushanbe will be able to overcome the most difficult economic problems with Russian help – time will tell, but the work ahead is very difficult.

Russia is interested in Tajikistan – and not only economic support, but also the military-political aspect plays an important role here. We call Tajikistan a strategic partner; in the Pamirs, on the border with Afghanistan, there are very important Russian military installations. There is mutual interest here, because no one has canceled the challenges from Afghanistan.

– What can be said about the modern context of Dushanbe’s foreign policy towards Afghanistan? 

After the withdrawal of the Americans from Afghanistan and the seizure of power by the Taliban*, resistance remained in Panjshir, which mainly consisted of Afghan Tajiks. On the one hand, the Taliban* declared that they had suppressed the movement, but at the same time, through information channels, they accused Tajikistan of supporting Panjshir. 

At the same time, it is not entirely clear whether the resistance continues. I am closely following what is happening in Afghanistan, but I do not really trust information from Western sources, and ours is very scarce information.

Maybe this resistance is no longer there or it is located outside of Afghanistan: I do not yet see a serious threat to the government of Kabul. And I’m not sure that Tajikistan provides them with serious support and whether it can provide it at all. By the way, some radical Islamist groups based in Afghanistan are formed from ethnic Tajiks – and they directly threaten Tajikistan, while the Taliban * did not make such threats. At least for now.  

– One gets the impression that the resistance in Panjshir is more of a matter of informational and diplomatic bargaining than a current reality. As if there is news, but there is nothing behind it.

– Agree. Relations between the Taliban* and Tajiks are very difficult – there was even information that the government of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan sent detachments formed from Tajiks to the border with GBAO – allegedly to protect this border. Who will like it? What they did there and whether they were really sent there is actually unknown. However, there have been such reports.

By the way, not only Tajikistan, but also China would not like such a demarche, and the current government in Kabul is very interested in economic cooperation with China. At the same time, China also has serious interests in Tajikistan. Therefore, I think that some kind of balance between Dushanbe and Kabul will be found – with an eye to the big neighbor.   

– At the end of March, the Taliban * visited the Pamir city of Khorog, while there was no official reaction from Dushanbe to the event. What can this visit testify to, if it really took place?

– The situation is quite strange. This visit causes bewilderment not only for me, but also for many fellow experts. It is not clear whether it was agreed with Dushanbe? Its goals and what the Taliban * agreed on are unclear – moreover, a fairly representative delegation came.

Perhaps there are already some tacit agreements between the countries. Information about the consequences of the visit has not yet been received – although enough time has passed. Was it a step towards reconciliation between Dushanbe and the Taliban government*? By the way, in economic terms, Tajikistan has continued to fulfill its obligations to supply electricity to Afghanistan all this time.

– Is the US active in the region after the flight from Afghanistan in 2021?

– Recently, the United States has become significantly more active – not only in terms of the economy, but also in military terms. After the victory of the Taliban*, the Americans wanted to move part of their bases, which used to be in Afghanistan, to Central Asia.

Uzbekistan and Tajikistan were considered as possible countries for transfer. However, Uzbekistan, according to its Constitution, is an absolutely neutral non-bloc state, it is forbidden to have any bases. Therefore, in Washington, Dushanbe was “processed” for a long time.

At the moment, I believe, Kazakhstan is the priority for the Americans. Washington needs Tajikistan to a lesser extent – only to the extent that the United States is interested in monitoring Afghanistan and China.

From the territory of Tajikistan, it is most convenient to control neighboring countries; its border passes are of interest to the Pentagon in terms of strategy. But it is hard to imagine that if we have our military base in Tajikistan – the largest in Central Asia – some American military installations may appear there.

– And the Chinese?

Yes, the Chinese appear. But the PRC does not call them “military bases” – they are “checkpoints”. Probably, Beijing’s current interest in Badakhshan is connected with the activation of radicals – the Chinese want to create a barrier for the activities of radical Islamists who threaten both Tajikistan and China.

If the Taliban* are behaving fairly correctly towards Dushanbe so far, then the radical groups that are not subordinate to Kabul pose a real challenge to security in the region. Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan – these are the three countries that can become potential targets of this threat.

Source : Asials – Asia News