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Can Tajikistan serve as a rear base for the fight against the Taliban?


Many Afghan opposition leaders have fled to neighboring Tajikistan and hope to use this refuge as a base to fight the Taliban. A complicated bet given the balance of power favorable to the Islamist group, experts say.

Anti-Taliban resistance is organizing in Tajikistan. According to information from Financial Times, several Afghan opposition figures are currently in Dushanbe, the capital of this central Asian country, in northern Afghanistan, where the Tajik government offers them asylum. Among them, Ahmad Massoud, famous leader of the National Resistance Front (FNR) in the Panchir Valley, Amrullah Saleh, former vice-president and self-proclaimed interim president of Afghanistan, as well as Abdul Latif Pedram, leader of the Afghan National Congress (NCP). The presence of these militants on Tajik soil is considered credible by several experts contacted by France 24, Tajikistan being a historical enemy of the Islamist group.

While other countries in the region, including neighboring Uzbekistan, Russia and China have been keen to establish good diplomatic relations with the Taliban, Tajikistan has maintained a hard line against the new Afghan rulers. Last month, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon awarded Tajikistan’s highest honor to Ahmad Massoud’s father, Ahmad Shah Massoud, known as the “lion of Panchir”: a strong symbolic gesture towards this figure of resistance against the Taliban, assassinated on September 9, 2001. After the fall of Kabul on August 15, and as the United States made a hasty withdrawal from the country, Emomali Rahmon worried that Afghanistan would once again become a rear base for terrorism : “If we allow events to unfold without paying attention, the situation of 2001 is likely to repeat itself,” he said.

A “popular” anti-Taliban stance in Tajikistan

In power since 1992, Emomali Rahmon is the only leader in the region whose tenure dates back to the time when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, from 1996 to 2001. Tajikistan supported the resistance of the Northern Alliance which s opposed the Taliban during this period, while hundreds of thousands of Tajiks from Afghanistan fled the country to escape the domination of militant Islamists. “Tajikistan has had links with the Afghan opposition since that time. The historical precedent is there,” said Weeda Mehran, professor of politics and specialist on Afghanistan at the University of Exeter, UK.

For the Tajik president, the anti-Taliban struggle also presents a national security issue because Tajik Islamist militants have fled to Afghanistan, explains Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili, expert on the region and assistant professor at the Graduate School of Public Affairs and international studies from the University of Pittsburgh. There is a “real fear that the Taliban will welcome these militants and destabilize Tajikistan”.

As a good president, Emomali Rahmon is also keen to present himself as a defender of the Tajiks, the second largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, many of whom are opposed to the Taliban. “It works in its favor domestically: its undisguised anti-Taliban stance is popular in Tajikistan,” said Paul Stronski, Central Asia specialist at the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace. “The government does not have to worry about the elections, but it must appear credible to the people. However, the largest minority in Afghanistan is Tajik and defending this group allows it to score points nationally.”

Finally, the position of the Tajik president on the Taliban arouses the interest of the Western powers, and in particular of France: Emmanuel Macron invited him to go to Paris for talks on October 13. According to Paul Stronski, Emomali Rahmon is using his position to try to improve his image as an exemplary statesman: “Being seen as a regional leader who pushes back the Taliban really helps President Rahmon to strengthen his influence in the The leaders of Central Asia are struggling to engage in dialogue with their international counterparts. Meeting great international leaders like Emmanuel Macron strengthens his credibility. “

What support for the resistance ?

From Tajikistan, NCP chief Abdul Latif Pedram told the Financial Times on Wednesday: “We plan to announce official resistance to the Taliban in a month.” An approach with uncertain outcome according to Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia program of the Wilson Center: “It is one thing for Tajikistan to offer a refuge to the resistance. It is another to allow its soil to be used for cross-border military activities, ”he analyzes. “Is President Rahmon prepared to take the risk of being drawn into the Afghan conflict? Is his army ready to play a role in repelling cross-border Taliban attacks? The answer is probably no.”

“Before the September 11, 2001 attacks, Russia, India, Iran and Tajikistan were all on the same page: they were helping the Northern Alliance, the Afghan armed resistance group against the Taliban,” points out Christine Fair of Georgetown University. “In the current configuration, Russia is very accommodating with the Islamists in power. So there will be a limit to what Tajikistan will be ready to do, due to its relationship with Russia and the coercive pressure that Moscow can exert . It is unlikely that the country will once again become a sanctuary for the Northern Alliance as it once was. “

A runeven force input

For their part, the Taliban are much more powerful today: “They now enjoy the unwavering support of the Chinese, strong Russian support and, of course, unconditional support from the Pakistanis,” adds Christine Fair. They also have in their possession all the war material that the Americans could not destroy, with one of the largest fleets of Black Hawk helicopters in the world. of Inter-services intelligence [ISI, agence du renseignement pakistanaise, NDLR] to use this material “.

Faced with the rise of the Islamist group, the Panchiri resistance fighters do not seem able to put up a credible resistance, according to Christine Fair. “The resistance to Panchir failed and they withdrew to Tajikistan. And I don’t see how they could take this territory back today.”

“Any prospect of military opposition to the Taliban is doomed to failure for the Panchiri resistance,” said Vanda Felbab-Brown, a member of the Washington-based think tank Brookings Institution. Because in addition to the unequal balance of power, the researcher points to the weakness of the Afghan resistance: “Their capacity for internal organization is very limited. There is no unity between the opponents Ahmad Massoud and Amrullah Saleh, they talk to each other. They would have to structure themselves but this work is not going to be easy. In September, to resist the Taliban in the Panchir, they relied on the local militias. But the Taliban very quickly turned these militias over by military pressure, bargaining and negotiations. The forces of Massoud and Salah are therefore practically non-existent today “. In the event of a new confrontation with the Taliban, “what little strength remains in the resistance would serve as cannon fodder,” Felbab-Brown concludes.

This article was adapted from English by David Rich, find the original here


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