Tajikistan’s Response to Militant Activity in Taliban-Ruled Afghanistan

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Tajikistan has become concerned with dangers posed by militants in neighbouring Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, which has provoked a series of statements and discussions by top officials. These recent strains are set against a backdrop of a longstanding narrative of poor relations between Dushanbe and the Taliban. Tajikistan is Afghanistan’s only neighbour that has not specified any kind of diplomatic connections with the Taliban. However, growing worry over militant groups operating in Afghanistan could contribute to Dushanbe’s more avenues for regional cooperation moving forward.

Working from the northern Afghan province of Badakhshan, Jamaat Ansarullo also understood as the “Tajik Taliban,” has been increasingly concentrated on Dushanbe in recent months. JA militant emerged in a video calling for his Tajik countrymen to take up arms against the government and not to fear being charged with terrorism. The video also called Afghanistan a “country where the mujahedeen govern,” emphasising the group’s affinity for the Taliban government.

This came after JA’s endeavoured crossing at the Afghan border in the Davraz District on September 4 which resulted in the demises of three militants, as well as the takeover of a cache of weapons, ammunition, and explosives. Another area of growing crisis with Tajikistani officials is drug smuggling from Afghanistan, which is on the mound despite efforts and assurances from the Taliban that it is improving in stamping out the drug trade. The Taliban government officially denies backing or harbouring terror groups that pose a threat to foreign governments.

Tajikistan President Emomali Rahman recently voiced concerns over threats linked to terrorism and drug trafficking from Afghanistan at the fifth Summit of Central Asian States in Dushanbe. Dushanbe also took steps to bolster security along its Afghan border earlier this year. While the other Central Asian countries have been generally more accepting of the Taliban government, Tajikistan remains firm in its opposition. This has caused Dushanbe to pursue additional regional security partners.

Russia, which has sought tighter relations with the Taliban leadership and carries a military base in Tajikistan, urged Dushanbe to determine disputes with the Taliban in a “mutually acceptable” way after the group grabbed power in 2021. However, Russia also performed joint military exercises with Tajikistan just under 20 miles from the Afghan boundary earlier this year, underlying expanding regional concerns and concentrating specifically on potential incursions by militant groups. Although Tajikistan also encounters close military cooperation with China, Beijing has also sought tighter relations with the Taliban since 2021.

Tajik President Rahman also met Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi at the UN in New York City to discuss future collaboration concerning their policy toward Afghanistan. Tehran, like Dushanbe, also has poor connections with the Taliban government, with the two sides having been immersed in deadly border clashes earlier this year. Iran also argues that Islamic State leaders have been dispatched to Afghanistan, although this claim is denied by the Taliban. Besides President Rahman, Tajikistan’s Defense Minister Sherali Mirzo also encountered his Pakistani counterpart Khawaja Asif in Rawalpindi, Pakistan on July 5 to examine bilateral cooperation. At the meeting, Asif remarked that Pakistan and Tajikistan face “similar challenges and threats” as neighbours of Afghanistan and pledged that Islamabad would cooperate with Dushanbe on intelligence capacity building and sharing military-technical expertise. Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have worsened following a series of attacks in the former by Islamic State Khorasan Province and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan although the Taliban government denies blame for both group’s attacks.

Although other Central Asian countries on Afghanistan’s border press on working with the Taliban to some extent, tensions are increasing across the region, especially because of the Taliban’s apparent inability to control militant groups involved within its borders, such as ISKP and JA, which pose immediate threats to neighbouring countries.

Moreover, senior officials from Uzbekistan and Pakistan have begun to discuss, among other issues, the danger of militant groups working within Afghanistan. This could be a signal that Tashkent’s growing frustration with the Taliban, with whom it has previously enjoyed rather warm relations, is coming to mirror Dushanbe’s frustrations. In this way, there may be increasing cooperation between Dushanbe and other regional countries in the future concerning the Taliban and other Afghanistan-based militant groups.

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