Thursday, 1 April 2010

Tajikistan: Collapsing from within ... What next for Security Policy?

Tajikistan: Collapsing from within ... What next for Security Policy?

Recent Events

A number of fragile economic factors and internal political instability is threatening security in the region. An uncertain future for Tajik migrant workers in Russia, a looming energy security crisis and decline in Aluminium revenues is creating a difficult environment for the government of President Rakhmon further exacerbated by attacks near Afghanistan and Uzbekistan by the Taliban and Islamic Movement respectively.


In the event of collapse, enhance security in the region by supporting new administration whilst providing security guarantees for new and previous government officials.

Prior and after any collapse: It is essential to understand current internal political situation and transition scenarios and maintain key bilateral relationships by

 Taking advantage of Russia’s current chairmanship of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) to increase influence in the region, pressing for the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) as an instrument so as to play a key role in any potential interventions in the event of any state collapse.

 Providing support to maintain security but publicly issue gentle warnings to President Rakhmon now, the new administration in the event of a collapse and the International community concerning any belligerence to resolving the internal instability caused by the energy shortage, failing economy, rising Islamic militancy as a consequence of the porous border.

 Enhance cooperation with the US in use of the Northern Distribution Network for supplying security in the region and facilitating President Obama’s recent surge of troops in Afghanistan as part of Operation Moshtarak.

What has brought this about?

President Rakhmon has for a while paid little attention to domestic crisis such as labour migration , energy shortages and protection for his people. Economically Tajikistan has been in the balance relying on aid and remittances from migrant labour and a growing dependence on this against a backdrop of the global economic crisis is unsustainable.

Rakhmon – Past, Present and Future

Since 1994 Russian backed Rakhmon, now in his third term as President, has been pro-Soviet. However, his historically firm grip on power and substantial public support is waning fast .

At the moment, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to cite the current crisis as the beginning of his demise. The OSCE reported the recent parliamentary elections in February were fraught with irregularities and that has added to challenges to his legitimacy and hold on power.

What pressure points for Russia?

• The level of social unrest is unprecedented. The energy situation is deteriorating and is much worse than the winter crises of 2008 and 2009. Economy is weak. This means increasing pressure on Russia to demonstrate multidimensional support for any new regime – politically, economically and militarily even if this policy stance becomes untenable.

• Afghanistan preoccupies President Rakhmon and rightly so. The porous border is one of the main routes for drugs on their way to Russia. Rakhmon has used this though as leverage with US and NATO following their growing concern regarding Pakistan’s inability to provide a reliable military supply route . Russia faces even more pressure from US and the West to continue to act as necessary to stem drug trade and activities of Taliban and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. If Rakhmons administration collapses, Moscow may be faced with the conundrum of extension of US/NATO bases from temporary to more permanent that are within striking distance of Afghanistan and a failed state such as Tajikistan – a haven for Islamist extremism.

What is the current Russian Security Policy in Central Asia and Tajikistan and is it effective?

Multilateral Institutions: Russia advocates CSTO to be as strong as NATO as a key instrument to maintain stability and security in region in order to prevent risks of destabilization and the CIS as an instrument of multilateral political dialogue.

Economically to strengthen the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC) as common economic space in region and support the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). The economic crisis has forced a recent cutback in migration labour quotas from 3.9 million reduced to 1.95 million.

Security: The 101st airborne division continued existence as part of 1999 Russo-Tajik Agreement to set up a Military base in Tajikistan with Russian forces still providing reinforcements to Tajiks guarding the external borders of Tajikistan. To actively promote the

European Security Treaty

In the current environment there is a limited success on this broad policy.

Russia’s military presence in Tajikistan has been very effective in tackling internal or regional security matters, but has not been used as a long term leverage to meet Russia’s long term political and economic interests. The Multilateral organizations (CIS, CSTO, EurAsEC, SCO) have helped Russia absorb shock of declining influence by providing their own checks and balances and continued advocacy and strengthening of this is advised.

The cutback in labour migration has had little effect because as much as 65% of workers in Russia work illegally a vast majority from Tajikistan.

The current effectiveness and loyalty of the 201st division is questionable at best.

Why is it important to review this policy now?

The growing instability in the region makes it pertinent to assess implications on current Russian Foreign Policy to increase influence in Central Asia.

The bilateral relationship with the US needs revisiting in the context of the current surge in troops in Afghanistan and the US growing influence in Central Asia as a whole in the context of the Northern Distribution Network and Tajikistan in particular. President Obama’s strategy on the war on terror could be adversely impacted hampered by a collapse of the government and would do little for a policy of continued support.

Similarly Russia’s bilateral relationship with China whose growing economy is impacted by energy shortages forms another dimension impacted from continued instability in the region. This warrants at least being flagged as an agenda item.

What to do about the Three “Bilateral Relations” (Russia-China-US) in Central Asia ?

United States: Due to war on terror in Afghanistan and President Obama’s Operation Moshtaraks surge in troops, there is a sharp increase in the US military and political presence in Central Asia. There is concern about the willingness of Central Asian states to expand their cooperation with US even at the expense of Russian interests. The ‘recognition game’ cannot be ignored and matters of identity cannot be overshadowed by interests as a fall in the regime of President Rakhmon is most certainly likely to mean the US will strive to increase recognition as a player in the region. Again a multilateral approach within the following institutions is likely to yield positive results: CSTO, CIS and OSCE. This represents a potential platform for a reiteration of Russian Policy against permanent or long term US military presence in the region looking likely based on reports suggesting security after completion of Operation Moshtarak will be difficult.

China: There is no imminent action here and the Moscow-Beijing bipartisan consensus in favour of multilateral strategy to combat threats to regional security stands.

An impending coup brings these higher up the agenda.

In the short term:

1. Commission urgent report to critically assess the views of Dushanbe Mayor Makhmasaid Ubaidulloyev and the Deputy Premier Murodali Alimardon on the role of all regional security frameworks and organizations (CIS, CSTO and OSCE). It is pertinent to highlight any differences with Russian Policy. Moscow’s mayor Yuri Luzhkov and the former Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov both have close relationships with Ubaidulloyev and it would be advisable to seek their opinion.

2. State publicly that support for Tajikistan is based on political pluralism and institutional reform, not a specific leader.

3. Warn the government that any behaviour in that contradicts the basic premise of the Treaty on European Security undermines regional security.

4. Forward copies to Kazakhstan of the joint statement on Treaty on European Security (which Tajikistan supports) presented at the 17th meeting of the OSCE Ministerial Council held on 18th November last year. Kazakhstan, chairing the OSCE in 2010 and also acquiescent to the treaty should be embraced as an advocate able to prioritize this on the agenda. It may be appropriate to arrange a phone call to the Foreign Minister, Kanat Saudabayev.

 These short term measures could underscore to any new administration that whilst they still have some Russian support, they cannot continue to ignore internal issues like Rakhmon.

 However knowledge that Russia hedged its bets in a time a crisis by courting either Luzhkov or Ubaidulloyev whilst supporting Rakhmon could inflame internal divisions and create an atmosphere of distrust.

In the medium term:

1. Take advantage of influence of Russia’s current Chairmanship of the CIS to

a. Call for any incumbent administration to open political space and a transparent political system – security guarantees may be needed for top state officials in case the government is defeated.

b. Create acquiescence to the Treaty on European Security.

2. Strengthen relationship with SCO and promote activities of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) as a key instrument to maintain stability and ensure security in the CIS area. The CSTO anti-terror drill in Tajikistan in April 2010, codenamed Rubezh 2010 , is another opportunity to do this.

3. Use Russian permanent member status of the UN as leverage to approve intervention in Tajikistan in a peacekeeping mission as was successfully done during the civil war i.e. ‘Russian soldiers with blue helmets’.

 United Nations intervention as a peacekeeping mission is likely to be supported by US and China and that will help enhance these key bilateral relationships.

 The US and Western Europe are however unlikely to fully support European Security Treaty and NATO likely to be their choice.


(2009). Central Asia: Migrants and the Economic Crisis. International Crisis Group.

Johnson, L. (2004). Vladimir Putin and Central Asia. New York: I.B. Tauris.

Jonson, L. (2001). Russia and Central Asia. In R. Allison, & L. Jonson, Central Asian Securtiy - The New International Context (pp. 95-126). London and Washington DC: Royal Institute of International Affairs and Brookings Institution Press.

Rubin, B. R. (1994). Tajikistan: From Soviet Republic to Russian-Uzbek Protectorate. In M. Mandelbaum, Central Asia and the World (pp. 207-224). New York: Council on Foreign Relations.

Sengupta, A. (2005). Russia, China and Multilaterism in Central Asia. New Delhi: Shipra Publications.

Solodovnik, S. (1998). The Tajikistan conflict as a regional security dilemma. In R. Allison, & C. Bluth, Security Dilemmas in Russia and Eurasia (pp. 230-240). London: Royal Institue of International Affairs.

(2009). Tajikistan: On the Road to Failure. International Crisis Group.

Trofimov, D. (2009). Russian Foreign Policy Objectives in Central Asia. Russian Regional Perspectives Journal , 1 (2), 14-16.

As of today there are about one million of Tajik citizens in Russia. About 73,000 citizens of Tajikistan left for Russia in January this year. Source: BBC Monitoring Central Asia

A recent World Bank paper estimates that roughly half the money in the country comes from workers abroad - the highest level in the world. Ninety-eight percent of those remittances originate in Russia, according to the Asian Development Bank. In 2008 remittances formed around 49% of Tajikistan’s GDP. Based on an estimate of World Bank Remittances data, after almost doubling every year since 2002, it is expected to fall by almost 40% in 2009 and 2010.

Source: Tajikistan Country Profile from

A press release by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) stated: ‘Despite certain positive steps, Tajikistan’s parliamentary elections failed to meet many key OSCE commitments’ Dushanbe March 1st 2010 -

20th April 2009 According to Reuters ‘Tajikistan, U.S. Afghan transit deal expected soon’ – The Central Asian country of Tajikistan will soon allow the Unites States to send non-military cargo through its territory for troops fighting in neighbouring Afghanistan’ Source: The same report mentions Russia as willing to cooperate on the transit of non-military cargo to Afghanistan for the United States but has not yet made any agreements with Washington.

The Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation is available on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs ( with Section IV detailing Regional Priorities.

(Central Asia: Migrants and the Economic Crisis, 2009)

The draft European Security Treaty can be found at with articles emphasizing that no parties to the treaty take any actions that affect the security of any other party. It promotes cooperation, transparency and consultation. In the event of attack or threat of such an ‘Extraordinary Conference’ may agree on collective measures. Analysts agree that the treaty benefits Russia’s security but the US security interests differ markedly. The potential is to prevent any unilateral action in Central Asia that the US might want to take in the region in its fight against terrorism campaign. For more information go to ‘News Analysis: Strategic considerations behind Russian proposal for new European security treaty.’

(Trofimov, 2009)

With a rare exception commanding officers of Russia’s 201st Motorized Rifle Division

(Sengupta, 2005)


Chairman of the Upper House and Mayor of Dushanbe

Former Chairman of the National Bank and Deputy Premier

As far back as 2005, Makmudsaid Ubaidulloyev has been cited by many independent political analysts as a possible successor to President Rakhmon. He is reputedly pro-Russian in his political orientation.

(Tajikistan: On the Road to Failure, 2009)

‘CSTO to hold joint anti-terror drill in Tajikistan in April’ 1 March 2010 Xinhua News Agency.

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