Unlike Its Neighbors, Tajikistan Refuses to Engage with the Taliban and Bolsters Security
Oct 5, 2021
In Central Asia, Tajikistan stands apart as the only government in direct opposition to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. President Emomali Rahmon has declared that Tajikistan will refuse to acknowledge the Taliban regime so long as they do not include Tajik and minority representation in the government, and guarantee ethnic Tajiks residing in Afghanistan full political influence. This is a vested interest for Tajikistan, because there is a large population of ethnic Tajiks in Afghanistan, roughly 25 percent of the population (8 million people). Tajiks have long been persecuted by the Taliban, but Tajik political representation in a new government would break the newfound Taliban monopoly on political power and create the possibility of Tajiks and other minorities receiving legal protections and rights.
President Rahmon has expressed serious concerns about the Taliban’s ability to prevent the proliferation of international terrorism from within Afghanistan’s territory. Additionally, he raised concerns that the deterioration of security in Afghanistan will worsen regional drug and arms trafficking, as well as the growth of organized crime. This would undermine the progress Tajikistan has made in combating these issues. Aside from security threats, critical infrastructure projects in the region are at risk as well. Initiatives like the CASA–1000 electricity project and the completion of the remaining sections of the Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Tajikistan (TAT) Railway system rely on stability and cooperation among governments in the region.
In recent years, Tajikistan has emerged as a key player in Central Asia, notably as an ally to the United States. Dushanbe has been a critical defense partner for Washington. And its ties to the Afghan resistance could prove valuable as the United States develops a new South and Central Asia strategy. Tajikistan worked with the United States to manage the refugee flow from Afghanistan in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal in August. Dushanbe played a critical role prior to and during the withdrawal by providing transit flights, as well as a temporary transport routes for the U.S. government to provide resources and logistical support to its bases in Afghanistan during the war as well as for evacuations during the withdrawal.
As a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Tajikistan has received military assistancefrom Russia. While the CSTO is dominated by Russia, Tajikistan is critical to this situation, because it is the only member to share a border with Afghanistan. This gives Tajikistan a considerable voice in CSTO policy towards Afghanistan. And while Russia and Tajikistan have opposing approaches to the Taliban, Russia is likely to pay a degree of attention to Tajikistan’s direction in military and political action due to the need to create a secure Tajik-Afghan border.
Tajikistan is an undeniably important defense partner for Russia, with the country hosting Russia’s largest foreign military base. Since Tajikistan also provides a land access route to Afghanistan, Russia cannot afford to lose Tajikistan as a security partner. Over the summer, President Rahman deployed roughly 20,000 additional troops to the Tajik-Afghan border in anticipation of potential security threats as a result of the swift Taliban takeover. To supplement this and showcase its commitment to Tajik border security, Russia conducted joint military drills on the Tajik-Afghan border to serve as a warning to advancing Taliban troops.
As a result of its serious concerns for political representation and protections for ethnic Tajiks in Afghanistan, it is likely that Tajikistan will not recognize the Taliban government in the near future. Opportunities for Tajikistan to receive U.S. border defense assistance will reinforce this as the United States looks for reliable partners in its approach to Central Asia. Tajikistan is positioned to be a key player in future engagement with Afghanistan and will likely be able to sway and receive significant assistance from CSTO countries to effectively securitize its borders against future militant threats from its southern neighbor. However, it remains to be seen how far CSTO support will go, and whether there is enough motivation for the CSTO to pressure the Taliban on integration of minorities into the government.