Tajikistan: Another victim of war on terror
by Ramtanu Maitra on 25 Jul 2009 0 Comment

The impact of the US invasion of Afghanistan in the winter of 2001 has been felt all around the region, but the worst victims were undoubtedly Pakistan and Tajikistan. In many ways, however, Pakistan was responsible for its own victimization. Pakistan was deeply involved in Afghan affairs since the 1980s and did not want to disentangle itself at any point in time over the years for its own geopolitical reasons. Despite the chaos, violence and loss of lives that followed, and continue, Pakistan remains engaged fully pursuing that policy with no end in sight.

But such is not the case with Tajikistan. Tajikistan, which borders northern Afghanistan, was never involved in Afghan affairs the way Pakistan was. Yet, the outside actors, pushed in from Afghanistan and Pakistan, have weakened Tajikistan’s security significantly. In recent weeks, the security situation within Tajikistan reached a new level of threat when on July 16, at the Blue Lake checkpoint 130 kilometers east of Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe, Tajik forces killed five Russian citizens, four of whom came last April from St. Petersburg, while the other was from Dagestan. Subsequently, Tajik Interior Minister Abdurahim Qahhorov told reporters that five other Russian citizens, who are suspected of involvement in the drug business and terrorism, were detained in Dushanbe.

Russia worries

In the first six months of 2009, Qahhorov said Tajik forces arrested 19 suspected members of the banned Hizb-ut Tahrir (HuT), a Wahabi preaching outfit headquartered in Britain, and eight suspected members of the Islamic Movement for Uzbekistan (IMU), the armed wing of the HuT, involved in a violent campaign to gain control of the Central Asian Republic with the ostensible objective of setting up an Islamic Caliphate.

The rapid deterioration of the security situation in Tajikistan has not gone unnoticed. “The European Union is highly concerned about the situation in Pakistan and its reflection on Tajikistan,” said Ambassador Pierre Morel, the EU’s special representative in Central Asia, at a news conference in the Tajik capital Dushanbe on July 14. “We support the current politics of [Tajikistan] directed towards the eradication of armed terrorist groups and drug traffic to [the country].” 

It has also been pointed out that in an attempt to bring calm back to the border, Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari, Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai, Russian President Dimitri Medvedev and Tajik President Emomali Rahmon will meet in Dushanbe on July 28. They will discuss plans to increase regional cooperation on trade and counter-terrorism, media reports claim. Russia, which sees Central Asia as its backyard, is especially worried about the uptick in violence along its borders.

In the meantime, the Russian government announced early in July that it would be deploying rapid-deployment forces in the south of Kyrgyzstan. From there, the forces would be able to respond quickly to any unrest in the entire region, including along Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan.

Russia is now expressing a great deal of concern over these developments. In the past few months, Russia has become proactive on Afghanistan, especially after five militants, all Russian citizens, were shot and killed at a military checkpoint near Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan July 16. The incident brought to the fore the threat of a pan-Islamic militant network in Central Asia, posing a direct threat to Russia’s interests.

Perhaps because of these growing concerns, on July 22, Moscow  sought security cooperation with New Delhi to fight the growing regional threat from the Taliban and allied Islamic militants when External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna met his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Thailand, where both were invited to attend the post-ministerial meeting of the ASEAN. 

Russians joining IMU

Five days before the July 16 incident, former Emergency Situations Minister Mirzo Ziyoyev, who served in the 1990s as the commander of Tajik opposition forces during the country’s civil war, was killed. Ziyoyev was given a cabinet role. He had been emergencies minister until his dismissal in 2006. He was killed on July 11, and the Interior Ministry said he was killed by militants when he went to ask them to lay down their weapons.

Initially, Dushanbe said these Russians were drug runners. However, following rumour and speculation among the Tajik press and foreign diplomatic community, the government has now acknowledged for the first time that its enemies in the Rasht valley may be more than just drug smugglers. A written statement issued by the Tajik interior ministry after the press conference includes a dramatic claim: That the group Ziyoyev had joined is led by an operative of the Taliban-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), and that the group has been smuggling drugs through Rasht to finance “terrorism”.

In other words, Ziyoyev had become part of the drug-running terrorist outfit, IMU. In addition, it has been pointed out that the IMU used Rasht as a base to carry out attacks against Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan in 1999 and 2000, but was eventually forced to relocate to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

Since the Bush administration unleashed the so-called war on terror in 2001, two major developments began to unfold in Afghanistan, and the adverse impact of these developments was felt severely in Tajikistan. One development was the beginning of an opium explosion in Afghanistan. Opium production skyrocketed to reach the official figure of 8,200 tons in 2008. In addition, Afghanistan also became one of the leading hashish producers during this period. Much of the opium, in raw form, or in refined form as heroin, passes through Tajikistan seeking the western European market. This delivery system has criminalized Tajik society as it has criminalized other Central Asian countries and has brought in the powerful Russian mafia to control the distribution system.

British-Saudi-Pakistan nexus

The other development was the consolidation of various anti-US forces under a jihadi banner, controlled by Britain, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The way it works is as follows: a large number of Islamic jihadis, preaching the peaceful words of Islam, were unleashed in Central Asia, particularly in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, but also in other Central Asian countries. These preachers of Islam gathered under the banner of Hizb ut-Tahrir (HuT), who propagate an orthodox Wahabi-version of Sunni Islam, remaining headquartered in Britain. The preachers are peaceful and function under the control of British intelligence, MI5 and MI6.

The objective of the group is to Islamicize Central Asia, to weaken potential Russian and Chinese control over this mineral resource and oil and gas rich area, and to pose a serious threat to Russia’s southern flank. Russia is already having a torrid time with its Muslim population in Dagestan and Chechen. China has now been challenged by its Uighur citizens in Xinjiang in western China. Uighurs are Moslems of Turkic stock. But Beijing claims the Uighurs have been instigated by outside forces to assert their ethnic identity with the intent of breaking away from China.

The second development has many other aspects. To begin with, it has been noted that although the HuT is a peaceful organization based in Britain among a few other countries; most, if not all members of terrorist outfit Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) were recruited from HuT. IMU has a very strong presence in Kyrgyzstan and in the Ferghana Valley, where the borders of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan meet. 

While HuT is harbored in Britain and works in tandem with British intelligence, funding for these preachers operating in Central Asia does not come from London, but from Riyadh and Kuwait City. These kind and generous Wahabi preachers hand out free food, free Quran and simple white clothes to the multitudes of impoverished in Tajikistan, bringing them under its fold.

Riyadh also funds the arming and training of those recruited by the terrorist outfit, IMU. The training and arming of these recruits used to take place under the guidance of the Pakistani ISI and special services in Afghanistan when Taliban was in power there. Following the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, such training and arming takes place in Pakistan’s tribal areas, known as the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). It is also where the Uighur terrorists, funded from the kitty provided by Saudi Arabia, get trained by the same Pakistani outfits. 

Boys sent home to kill

Pakistan trains these terrorists for different reasons than what triggers the British and Saudis to support and fund them. Pakistan trains them to use them as its proxy to gain control of Afghanistan. During the civil war days in Afghanistan, Pakistan organized this operation and used these jihadi mercenaries to gain a military victory for the Taliban in mid-1990s and secured political control over Kabul.  Pakistan continues to train and harbour these terrorists because the Pakistani establishment is convinced foreign troops will leave Afghanistan some time and these jihadi mercenaries will again help Pakistan secure control of Afghanistan. This objective is known as securing “strategic depth” against its perceived primary enemy, India.

The rapid deterioration of Central Asian security, particularly in the countries that merge on the Ferghana Valley, has been attributed by some analysts to military measures undertaken by the Pakistani Army in recent days under pressure from the Obama administration. Reports from Tajikistan indicate that with increasing military pressure by US troops in Afghanistan, and Pakistan mounting security operations along its border with Afghanistan, fighters from Russia and ex-Soviet republics of the Caucasus and Central Asia are returning home. And while that trend decreases the number of foreigners fighting American soldiers in Afghanistan, it is almost a certainty that it would export more violence into Central Asia in the coming days. Some analysts have concluded that the July 5 violence in Urumqi, the capital of China’s Xinjiang province, could have been triggered by returning Uighur terrorists sent back home from Pakistan.

Another signal of such migration from Pakistan of the Central Asian terrorists is the occurrence of violence in the nearby town of Kunduz in northern Afghanistan. After years of relative stability following the 2001 US-led invasion, Kunduz has suddenly got engulfed in a surge of violence believed to be Taliban fuelled. A senior US official, speaking on condition of anonymity during a recent visit to Central Asia, told AFP that Washington was closely monitoring the outflow of militants since the beginning of the Swat operations. “I think we are seeing, looking globally, that al-Qaeda is relocating its forces into the rest of the world,” he said.

The author is South Asian Analyst at Executive Intelligence Review News Services Inc.


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