Kabul-Dushanbe: a knot of problems and interests of the region

Afghanistan remains a “hot spot’ in Central Asia and any steps in the direction of peace and stability in that country benefit the entire region. Thus an upcoming official onset of building of Afghan stretch of the oil pipe TAPI (Turkmenistan – Afghanistan – Pakistan – India) in Feb. in our opinion is a positive event.

At the end of last year the subject of implementation of the project of oil pipe Turkmenistan – Afghanistan – Pakistan – India has been prominent. As part of the phone conversation that took place on dec. 23, president of Afghanistan and Turkmenistan agreed that in the second half of Feb. they will take part in ceremony of laying foundation of Afghan stretch of oil pipe TAPI. At the same time the ceremony of laying foundation of optic-fiber cable will happen, whose route coincides with the route of the oil pipe, the power line Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan. Also railway Serkhetabad-Turgundi launched.

Thus, building of transit pipeline will be tied to other infrastructure projects realization, aimed at developing of Afghan economy. Nonetheless, issues of security of building of Afghan stretch of the TAPI pipeline, as well as issue of its financing, remain major soft spots of the project. The issue of ability of government security to control the territories, in which the route of the pipeline passes, remains open. Due to this, despite the fact that 23 years after the idea of building of the pipeline, the date of onset of construction of Afghans stretch has been established, dates of completion can’t determined today.

Realizing vulnerability of the project from the security standpoint, India is taking steps for bettering of Afghan armed forces and security forces. Indian military specialists started training  groups of Afghan policemen and military. Aside from that, Indian side is ready to provide financial-technical aid to equip Afghan air force.

At the same time US has recently dramatically increased military-technical capabilities of the Afghan army, first of all in terms of reequipment and fortification of Air Force of the country. Since the end of 2017, there was a big increase in the number of reports on military operations of Air Force of Afghanistan against anti-governmental forces. Also, according to reports of various security agencies of Afghanistan the geographic scope of conduct of military and special operations has expanded at a fast pace, including zones of passing of the TAPI oil pipe. This also speaks of the fact that there are operations being conducted to create a corridor of security for this project.

Also, there is another potential player who would like to participate in the project – China. However, for now its actions are limited to showing interest and attempting to normalize situation at the north-east of Afghanistan, in the province of Badakhshan, which is in close proximity to China. There, China wants to invest a large enough capital for creation within the frame of national Afghan army of a specialized mountain brigade securing regions bordering Badakhshan.

Since August of 2016 Chinese government media is talking about their desire to create an anti-terrorist alliance with Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan. Four countries recognized the urgency of terrorism threat to regional security, and at the initial stage of creation of anti-terrorist alliance agreed on exchanging of intelligence information and onset of training of dedicated experts by common standards. In this area, interests of China and Afgahnistan coincide with interests of Tajikistan which actively conducts its own policy in the Afghan direction.

Among main priorities of Tajik regional foreign policy are desire to normalize relations with the new administration of Uzbekistan, implement project CASA-1000 and strengthen security at the Afghan-tajik border. In realizing each of these goal Tajikistan uses multi-vector policy, trying to involve into the orbit of their interests maximum number of partners, using whom it is trying to achieve its goals.

In May of 2016 realization of the project CASA-1000 was officially announced in Dushanbe in the presence of prime ministers of Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan and president of Tajikistan. This project will allow to import energy produced in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan into Afghanistan and Pakistan using 1250 kilometers of high-voltage line of power-transmission. The cost of the project is at the level of $1.7 bil. its economic justification causes no doubts, as well as its high profitability.

Economy if Pakistan, as an end receiver of Central Asian power is ready to increase its consumption by 10% annually, and this tendency will be preserved, for a minimum of 20-25 years. Growth of the economy of Pakistan today is restrained specifically due to deficit of electric energy.

At the same time Afghanistan produces only 25% of its required electric energy. Today it imports 300-320 megawatt from Tajikistan annually, but is ready to increase import of Tajik electric energy at least two-fold. And due to international aid, Afghanistan is able to pay for it. Afghan president Mohammad Ashraf Ghani spoke about this with the president of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon in the backstage of the SCO summit, which took place in Astana in June of 2017. Thus, we are left only to regret that due to a slew of various reasons, RF was basically pushed out of this project, though it was prepared to invest no less than $500 mil.

It is still early to speak about the results of normalizing of Uzbek-Tajik relations, however, the dynamics of their nature in the past year and a half is hopeful. It also evidences the lack of alternative options, otherwise how do you negotiate the common usage of hydro-energy potential of the cross-border rivers. Result of prime-minister’s of Uzbeksitan Aripov’s visit to Tajikistan and preparation of state visit of the president of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoev to that country speak of the desire of both parties to fix bilateral relations, which for many years have been in a halt.

Strengthening of Tajik-Afghan border with participation of Russian military happen gradually. Agreements reached in the end of February of 2017 between Vladimri Putin and Emomali Rahmon that in case of unearthing of threat at the Tajik-Afghan border it will be eliminated by the Russian military base in Tajikistan, are being fulfilled, which is evidenced by the results of mutual military trainings.

In May of 2017 Russian has unfolded tactical ballistic missiles Iskandar-M in Tajikistan, and also placed 4 tactical attack aircrafts SU-24M. There proved to be more than enough reasons for doing so: returned fighters from Syria, originally from post-Soviet countries are settling at the north of Afghanistan – by latest estimates only along the Afghan-Tajik border their numbers already exceeded 7 thousand people.

In addition to this, at the end of December of 2017, Russian side has given ministry of defense of Tajikistan infantry, artillery and anti-tank weaponry, helicopter equipment, tools for communication and anti-aircraft defense, logistical property, medical and topographic equipment for strengthening the border with Afghanistan.

At the end of November of 2017 representatives of Afghan security forces, press secretary of 209 army corps, announced about the death in the region of Varudj of the Badakhshan province of 7 Tajik citizens, who blew up by trying to create a self-made mine. Also, there is a noticeable increase in the amount of citizen-fighters of Tajikistan, arriving from Syria and Iraq into regions of Darzab and Kushtepe of Jauzjan.

Thus, development of Russian-Tajik cooperation in the security sphere happens in real setting of worsening of the situation at the Afghan-Tajik border. President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon in his appearances, including before the parliament of the country and leaders of country-participants of ODKB, has often showed concern with the events in the neighboring Afghanistan, especially in light of increase of production of narcotics and growth of activity of terrorist groups.

In this light we would like to highlight two things. According to existing information, during his speech before representatives of employees of security forces of Tajikistan, which took place on Dec. 28 2017, president noted together with achievements, a number of shortcomings, related to illegal circulation of drugs, low military discipline among border troops of the republic and violations of law when defending government border. Earlier in early 2017, an armed-clash happened between border patrol and a group of armed drug dealers, at the Tajik-Afghan border, as a result of which four Tajik military men received injuries, and the head of the border squadron died.

After the incident, representatives of the trade-industrial chamber of Afghanistan announced the closing, by Tajik side of border crossing  at the Tajik-Afghan border Sherkhan-Bandar for Afghan traders and passangers. Sources in Tajikista said of closing the road through the border at one checkpoint and five bridges. However, both representatives of border troops of Tajikistan and ministerial people of Afghanistan both denied this information. Announcements about opening of the border came five days later. The level of Russian-Tajiks cooperation in military sphere satisfies Moscow, thus it is not irritated by Dushanbe plans in regards to aforementioned format of four-way cooperation on counteracting terrorism, or by activity of Americans in Tajiksitan via CENTKOM line. Responsibilities undertaken by Tajikistan as part of its membership in ODKB allow Moscow to control the nature of cooperation of Dushanbe in military sphere with other partners.

Possibly, this doesn’t work for current administration of Tajikistan, which for many years after the collapse of a single government saw itself in the role of conduit of Russian policy in Afghanistan. But Russian foreign ministry t treats various fantasies of partners in the post-Soviet space with patience, and often even comments. Especially since everyone agrees that potential Russian interests in Afghanistan are much broader than what is seen by Dushanbe, that bets only on ethnic advantage alone in its policy.


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