May 13, 2022
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Tajik President Emomali Rahmon in a telephone conversation discussed the perceived boost in terrorist activity within Afghanistan’s borders and agreed to coordinate with neighboring states on a response to the threat.
Several international leaders and diplomats have alleged the presence of violent extremist groups inside Afghanistan has grown since the Taliban seized Kabul in August. The development would indicate the radical movement is violating the Doha withdrawal accord the group signed with the Americans. According to the pact, in exchange for the exit of Western forces, the Taliban agreed to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a terrorist breeding ground.
“An exchange of views was held on the situation around Afghanistan, primarily taking into account the recently increased activity of terrorist groups on Afghan territory,” the Kremlin said in a statement on Friday. “It was confirmed that the competent agencies of Russia and Tajikistan would continue to actively cooperate in order to ensure security on the Tajik-Afghan border.”
Putin and Rahmon also discussed coordination within the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) including in the context of the upcoming May 16 leaders’ meeting in Moscow.
Earlier in the day, acting Uzbek Foreign Minister Vladimir Norov announced that Tashkent would host a high-level international conference on Afghanistan in July, while bemoaning the global negligence of the situation.
“As for Afghanistan, unfortunately, we are seeing a decrease in the attention of the international community to the situation in this country,” the Uzbek foreign affairs chief told a CIS ministerial meeting.
The concerns raised by Russia and its Central Asian partners echo those the head of the United Nations voiced just a day earlier. At a counter-terrorism summit in Spain, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the rise of ISKP and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan represents a global threat.
The trend also coincides with a power struggle within the Taliban regime between two factions – a pro-al-Qaeda wing led by interior minister Sirajuddin Haqqani versus one led by defense chief Mohammad Yaqoob, the son of Mullah Omar.
Last fall, Moscow vowed to protect Tajikistan from any incursions from Afghanistan. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko in October said all aid would be provided to Tajikistan both through the CSTO and bilaterally. He said the Taliban were failing to control the situation in northern Afghanistan but hoped they will meet commitments about not attacking neighbors.
Rahmon has accused the Taliban of human rights abuses amid the radical group’s siege of the Panjshir province, where Afghan resistant fighters are based. Tajiks are the second largest ethnic group in Afghanistan with many living near the former Soviet republic’s borders.
Reports at the time had surfaced that the Taliban struck an alliance with one particular Tajik militant group which was planning to launch an attack inside Tajikistan. However, there have been incidents in recent days and weeks that have triggered alarms.
On May 8, the Islamic State claimed it fired eight rockets into Tajikistan in a statement quoted by The Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) news agency. But Tajik authorities responded by saying only bullets were fired, not rockets.
According to experts, the Islamic State in Afghanistan has been looking to recruit ethnic Tajiks in the region and nationals to attack Tajikistan. Last summer, a video circulated of a Tajik ISKP militant threatening the government in Dushanbe and calling out Rahmon by name.
“This strategic calculation based in part on the Islamic State’s success in attracting and integrating Tajik jihadists in Iraq and Syria with the founding of the caliphate in 2014 and in Afghanistan since the branch’s emergence in 2015,” analysts Lucas Webber and Riccardo Valle wrote in a piece for The Diplomat in April. “It is also proposed to discredit the Taliban as a governing body and discredit it as a religious authority in the eyes of potential Tajik supporters.”
In addition, the experts said the ISKP media campaign aims to undermine Taliban relations with neighboring states.
“ISKP’s media warfare campaign places significant emphasis on the Taliban’s foreign relations and looks to create problems between the new Afghan rulers and their neighbors as well as undermine confidence in the Taliban’s ability to provide stability in the borderlands and prevent jihadis from using Afghan territory to launch attacks,” Webber and Valle said.
Eurasia expert Bruce Pannier in a piece on Friday argued that since the US exit in August, Central Asian states have relied on the Taliban to prevent terror groups from launching cross-border attacks, a strategy he warned that is quite risky.
“The deteriorating situation in the region demonstrates the limits of Central Asian states’ security strategies, and highlights that they have few options in dealing with a new threat on their border,” Bruce Pannier wrote for The Foreign Policy Research Institute. “Central Asia’s connectivity with Afghanistan is much greater than it was when the Taliban were in power in the late 1990s. As a result, Central Asian governments can’t ignore what’s going on across the border.”