CABAR.asia: CSTO – the guarantor of security in Tajikistan?
Tajikistan can’t cope alone with the increasing threat of infiltration of terrorist groups from Afghanistan. Tajikistan needs to use the potential and opportunities of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), as well as of other key geopolitical players interested in the stability of the region. This is the opinion of the majority of Tajik experts who answered the question of Cabar.asia about whether the CSTO was able to confront the modern threats to security in the member countries of the organization.
During the last meeting of the leaders of the member countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) on the 16th of October in Kazakhstan, during the discussion of the situation in Afghanistan, they reached an agreement that the military forces of Russia and other CIS countries will help the Tajik border guards in the event of a crisis situation on the Tajik-Afghan border. Currently, a group of Russian military advisers together with their Tajik colleagues are monitoring the situation on the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan.
In addition, the Collective Security Treaty Organization issued a special declaration (October 15), which once again recognized the threats emanating from Afghanistan into Tajikistan as the greatest threats to the security and stability of the member countries of the organization. This declaration of the CSTO expressed strong concern about the transition of sixty percent of the border areas of Afghanistan under the influence of “Taliban” and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
The Collective Security Treaty Organization was founded in Tashkent, capital of Uzbekistan, in 1992. At the moment, its members are Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
The main threat from Afghanistan
Most Tajik experts understand the expression “modern threats” as the activities of various radical, hostile extremist groups, sects, movements and groups of Islamist nature, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, “the Taliban”, “Al-Qaeda”, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, “Ansorullah” and others who have their bases in neighboring Afghanistan. At the moment, some of these groups have expanded their activities’ territory to Tajikistan’s borders, taking control of important, from a strategic point of view, border regions of Afghanistan. Despite the fact that government troops liberated the city of Kunduz in Afghanistan, more than half of the northern regions of Afghanistan with a common border with Tajikistan are under the control of the movement of “Taliban”. These data were presented at the recent meeting (October 6, Sochi, Russia) of the Presidents of Tajikistan and Russia.
This is confirmed by Afghan media, quoting General Gulom Sahii Gafuri, recently appointed the commander of the police in Badakhshan province of Afghanistan, who said that about 60 percent of that area was under the control of “Taliban” and other international groups, such as the “Islamic Jihad Union”, “Jamaat Ansarulloh”, “East Turkistan Islamic Movement”. These groups also control some regions that border on Tajikistan’s Badakhshan, such as Shugnan, Ishkashim, Darwaz and Rogiston.
Tajikistan is in the immediate vicinity of the troubled Afghanistan, and the total length of common borders is about 1,400 km with a difficult mountainous terrain, which is difficult to completely control.
However, the greatest danger is not the military advance of the Taliban, but the news that the influence of the ISIS in Afghanistan is growing. (see IWPR: For Tajikistan, Kunduz Battles Too Close for Comfort) According to Tajik officials, the Islamic State has allocated $ 70 million to increase its presence in Afghanistan.
Despite the fact that the armed forces of Tajikistan have sufficient experience to participate in the hostilities, including in mountainous conditions, it seems unlikely that they alone could resist the attack of fighters from the neighboring country who have gained military experience during many years of war.
Given the fact that over the last forty years, every second citizen in Afghanistan is fighting and in strong need of money, a huge and powerful army is being created there, and it is a real challenge to resist it.
The reality is that the experience, skills, and, in general, military training of militants of terrorist and extremist Islamic groups are much higher than the capacity of the armed forces of Tajikistan. The war has long become a specialization of these fighters and the principal source of their income.
In contrast, the army of Tajikistan consists of young people, aged from 18 to 23-24 years old, and most of them were drafted into the army forcibly (by means of “raids”). They do not gain sufficient experience in handling even the weapon they are given during the period of military service.
In addition, the militants of radical groups are more prepared for war from ideological point of view, they want war being completely “brainwashed” under the influence of their ideologists. They are willing to sacrifice their lives without any doubt. Entering the fight, they consider themselves winners if they win, or they consider themselves martyrs if they lose and expect a great reward in the next life.
The soldiers of the army of Tajikistan, on the contrary, not willing to risk and sacrifice their lives. Emotional and psychological state of the Tajik army soldiers cannot be compared with that one of the militants from the above-mentioned paramilitary groups.
The same can be said about the technical superiority, which, as pointed out by military experts, can determine the outcome of the battle with radical and terrorist groups in Afghanistan. Tajikistan is quite vulnerable in this regard.
According to studies of international organizations studying the potential of the armed forces of various countries of the world, the Tajik army is assessed as weak and little battle-worthy.
For example «Global Firepower» (GFP), one of the think tanks specialized in the research of the military potential of the countries of the world, in its new ranking of May 1, 2015, placed Tajikistan on the 81st place among 126 countries in the world. The Global Firepower Index is a rating, which evaluates the armies of countries and factors that directly or indirectly affect the military power of each country. The index is based on a complex methodology, which takes into account more than 50 different factors, in particular: the number of the army, the number of tanks, ships, airplanes and other military equipment, the level of financing of the military sphere, the transport infrastructure of the country, access to oil, geographical location, economic status, its natural resources and other factors that may affect the combat capability of the army. Data of «Global Firepower»Data of «Global Firepower» show that Tajikistan’s army is largely inferior to armies of its neighbors even in the number of military vehicles.
These figures correspond to the figures given in another report “The Military Balance – 2015» prepared by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a western organization based in London, and published in February of this year. In their report, the Armed Forces of Tajikistan are evaluated very low, too, showing that our country has too little military hardware. (The Military Balance 2015).
In such an unfavorable situation, Tajikistan is forced to rely on the help of its strategic partners, and, above all, the CSTO. Recently, in connection with the aggravated situation in the north of Afghanistan, the Russian media and expert community increasingly speak about the return of Russians to the borders of Tajikistan.
Most respondents among Tajik experts believe that the situation has not yet gone so far, but we should not ignore such likelihood. The CSTO can actively confront potential threats in the border zone, and it will do so not only to support the government of Tajikistan, but also for the security of Russia itself. The reality is that the CSTO is under the influence of Russia and, although the potential of CSTO in political issues has not been used, this development of things is now most likely.
Here is what Kosimsho Iskandarov, head of the regional conflicts department of the Institute of Language, Literature Oriental Studies and Written Heritage named after Rudaki, the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Tajikistan, says:
“In Tajikistan, first of all, we need to understand that the threats are serious, and we need to take them seriously enough. As much as possible, we should mobilize our own resources and strength. We must act according to the principle “If the enemy is like a mosquito, you should think it is an elephant”. Also, we must strongly insist on attracting the assistance of the CSTO and SCO, because we are the ones whom will take the first blow. An addition to hopes for the CSTO, it is necessary to find other ways and means of ensuring security. We should not underestimate the threat, because serious forces and countries are interested in destabilizing the situation in the region, and Tajikistan in this respect is the most vulnerable. We need to use the help of other countries members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, and of China, which are the most concerned. Events in Kunduz, there are rumors that Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and his team are ready to give up, and Kunduz will be under Taliban’s control again, in order to “Taliban” have its footprint in Afghanistan, as they say themselves. But why Kunduz? Why not Kandahar or Hust? In this situation, it is necessary to assess how much value Kunduz has for us”.
Saidi Yusufi, expert on regional issues, also believes that Tajikistan needs to focus on the CSTO and Russia in addressing the security of its southern borders. But he believes that aid should be given to the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan.
“For several reasons: first of all, the presence of powerful military forces of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan make it much easier to confront “Taliban” and the Islamic State in the country. It will suffice if Russia and the CSTO provide logistical support to the Northern Alliance, and the later will do the rest. Also, do not forget that India and Iran also support the forces of the Northern Alliance, and all this, in general, relieves the work to counter the effects of threats from Afghanistan”.
Tajik experts remember that Russia has never refused to return to the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan and always waited for an opportunity to do so. Military officials of the Russian Federation has announced that this scenario is quite possible. Yuri Borisov, a Russian deputy defense minister, said that in the case of requests from the leadership of Tajikistan, Russian border guards would be able to reach the border within the shortest time possible. No doubt, Russia will interpret that decision in terms of military cooperation within the CSTO.
Bobodzhon Shafe, columnist of Nigoh newspaper:
“Since the creation of the CSTO, many analysts said that this organization was another branch of the potential of Russia, and the membership of other countries was only necessary to give a regional or international status to that organization. Now, all the hidden objectives are clear, and there is no need for deep analysis. The US is now entangled in Afghanistan, and it works in favor of Moscow which can expand its military presence in the region. The fact that Russia withdrew from the borders of Tajikistan some years ago is still called a huge mistake in political and military circles in Moscow, but now it is the moment to correct this huge mistake. Using the situation today, Russia is stepping up its presence in Tajikistan. At the end of September this year, several military helicopters landed in the Aini airfield. In addition, over the past three months, Russia has sent to Tajikistan their remote-piloted vehicles, which even managed to carry out test flights. According to official documents, there was made a decision to increase within the next two years the active strength of the 201st Russian military base in 2.5-3 times. It seems that Russia wants to return to the days of the Soviet Union when the Soviet Union guarded all borders. Now it is not possible to say whether terrorist groups will invade the territory of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. But, in any case, Russia will not allow to turn Tajikistan into a battlefield of these groups and, therefore, it is trying in advance to prepare for battle. But Tajikistan should in no way hope that the CSTO will be the decisive force of resistance, and it should itself prepare for possible battles”
Another Tajik expert, political scientist Rashid Gani Abdullo, emphasizing the involvement of Russia in the conflict in Syria, said that Russia in no case would leave Tajikistan to face modern threats alone.
“Russia called the threats posed by extremist groups, particularly by “Islamic state”, the threats to its national interests. And if Russia entered the war against “Islamic state” in Syria, it is natural that it would do the same in Tajikistan, whether in the framework of the CSTO, or in bilateral relations between our countries. From this point of view, no doubt the CSTO will support Tajikistan in such a situation. Moreover, it is already being done. One sign of it is the arrival of a group of attack helicopters in the country. This means that the country can hope to the aid of this organization, especially in the circumstances, when the head of the main power in the organization – Russia – declared the readiness to cope with the forces that pose a threat to its security, at a fairly long distance from its own land. The military operation that Russia is implementing these days in Syria demonstrates its commitment and capacity in this regard. From a political and military point of view, Tajikistan is necessary for Russia and its national security needs. Therefore, it is ready to resist any force that threatens its security interests in Tajikistan”.
However, the opinion of Mahdi Sabir, an expert on security and retired colonel, is different from the views of other analysts about the potential of the Tajik army. Mr. Sobir is sure that Tajikistan and its army are strong enough to resist violators of the state border and are able to protect their own borders. “In modern warfare, the number of people does not play the main role. Victory belongs to the army, which is equipped with modern advanced technology. Military and defense potential of Tajikistan is very high“, he said.
This retired colonel also highly evaluated the potential and capabilities of the CSTO:
“In modern warfare, the number of people does not play the main role. Victory belongs to the army, which is equipped with modern advanced technology. CSTO is a very strong structure. It gathered the military elites of 6 former Soviet countries. In case of need, if some force will threaten the national interests of one of the members of the organization, the capacity of the organization can be increased by ten times or more. CSTO is able to deal with any global power, if necessary. Such organizations as the ISIS and the “Taliban” are weak in comparison with the Collective Security Treaty Organization”.
Meanwhile, hopes for the assistance of the CSTO and Russia may not be truly met.
Given the experience of Russia’s participation in air attacks against the Syrian opposition, we can talk about the possibility of the transfer of such a scenario in Afghanistan. In the case of threats to break Tajik borders by militants of the Islamic State or other radical groups, Russia, under the pretext of defending its southern borders and the territory of the CSTO, can grant itself this right. And to accomplish this task within the framework of cooperation the CSTO, it can without any problems use the Aini military airfield in Tajikistan and Kant airbase in Kyrgyzstan, as well as those that are on its own territory.
Russians will allow themselves to organize air attack against the bases and camps of these groups in Afghanistan, and thus “de facto” Russia will come into conflict with Afghanistan and the radical religious organizations in this country. But given the experience and military skills of the militants of these groups, bombings and rocket attacks from the air alone will not be enough to neutralize them. In guerrilla warfare in the mountains, it will be very difficult both for Russian and Tajik troops to resist the “Taliban”, the ISIS and the other its allies, especially “Ansarullah”, waging war for decades in such conditions.
It should be noted that in the ranks of “Jamaat Ansarullah” in Afghanistan, which has close relations with the “Taliban” and “Al Qaeda”, there are a lot of ethnic Tajiks and other Central Asians, including Uzbeks. This group would never give up the intention to enter into Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Its head is Mullo Amriddin, an ethic Tajik (Amriddin Tabarov, born in Obigarm region of Tajikistan), one of those members of the armed opposition of Tajikistan who did not agree to reconcile with the government after the civil war of 1992-1997. There is danger that “Jamaat Ansarullah” will find supporters inside Tajikistan.
Recently, the authorities announced the elimination of a moderate opposition Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP), the second largest party after the pro-governmental People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and declared it terrorist. The party, which during the civil war was the main opponent of the current government, and the entire rear of the armed opposition of that party was in Afghanistan, signed an agreement of peace with the current authorities in 1997, and more than 6,000 of its fighters were integrated into the armed forces of Tajikistan. Now, when most of its members are subjected to persecution, it does not seem unlikely that a part of its disgruntled supporters and followers will start fighting again. For more details see IWPR: Closing of the Islamic Party of Tajikistan.
Moreover, given the double standards and ambiguous relationship of the government of Afghanistan with “the Taliban”, and the negative reaction to the Russian Air Force aerial attacks against the Syrian opposition on the part of Western countries, in the case of a similar scenario in Afghanistan, Russia once again comes under a wave of protests at an international level. Especially strong will be the reaction of the United States, NATO member countries, Pakistan and some Arab countries, considered being patrons of Afghanistan. In addition to the current sanctions after the events in Ukraine, the pressure of the US and European countries against Russia will increase. Moreover, the US seeks to expand and strengthen its influence and presence in Central Asia. In addition, drawing Russia into the war on two fronts will continue, which could undermine its already weak economy.
Thus, even for the Collective Security Treaty Organization and for Russia, the likelihood to develop worst-case scenario of events on the Tajik-Afghan border can be quite troublesome and difficult. That’s why Tajikistan should still use its own potential and strengthen its borders and to continue the multi-vector policy. In addition, it should not refuse to receive help from other major geopolitical players and organizations that are interested in maintaining peace and stability in the region, first and foremost, from China, the SCO, the UN, the OSCE and others. Otherwise, Tajikistan may become the next “hot spot” on the world map and risks to follow the fate of Iraq and Syria.