Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Dushanbe and Kabul Break the Ice

Tajikistan takes tentative steps to re-establishing ties with Afghanistan.
By Vladimir Davlatov

The overthrow of the Taleban regime has prompted Tajikistan to start cooperating with the new Kabul authorities. Dushanbe has much to gain from this, but it is adopting a cautious approach to re-establishing ties with its neighbour.


During recent years Dushanbe shunned the Taleban and came out in support of the lawful government of Afghanistan headed by President Burkhanuddin Rabbani, an ethnic Tajik. But the Taleban's demise has not seen Rabbani retake control of the country.


Tajikistan, instead, has to try and find common ground with an ethnic Pashtun, Hamid Karzai, Kabul's interim leader, which could create friction with Afghanistan's sizeable Tajik community.


Dushanbe also has to tread warily because of the continuing uncertainty over the future of Afghanistan itself.


Tajikistan and Afghanistan, nonetheless, need to start working closely together. By cooperating they could do much to curb the problem of terrorism, religious extremism and drugs trafficking - which affects them both.


Dushanbe and Afghanistan's new administration recognise a unified stance on these issues would be mutually beneficial.


Tajikistan's authorities have largely succeeded in containing religious extremism. But armed guerrilla groups like the United Tajik Opposition and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan had bases inside Afghanistan and used them as launching pads for attacks into Tajikistan. The former has been disbanded, but the latter may have survived the American onslaught and continue to pose a threat to Dushanbe.


An enormous proportion of the illegal drugs grown in Afghanistan cross the Afghan-Tajik border en-route to their final destinations in Russia and Europe. Dushanbe has a major interest in helping and encouraging the new Afghan regime to curb the narcotics industry at its source.


Karzai's government also has good reason to promote sound relations with Tajikistan. Vast quantities of humanitarian aid entering Afghanistan passes through Tajikistan. It is also a stop-off point for peacekeeping forces on their way to Afghanistan.


Recent bilateral talks between Karzai and Tajikistan's President Emomali Rakhmonov indicated a shared wish to cooperate. Both leaders spoke of the need to continue the joint struggle against terrorism and the drugs industry, but noted that only major economic support for Afghanistan would ensure success.


"I hope that not only political links will be re-established with Afghanistan, but also economic links, as stability in that country is entirely dependent on the economic development," said Rakhmonov.


Karzai too spoke of the need to strengthen neighbourly relations and, noting the enormous Tajik contribution to the establishment of peace in that country, said that he would like to see Tajik military forces amongst the peacekeeping presence in Afghanistan.


"We welcome the peacekeeping contingent and the majority of the Afghan people support this. We would like Tajiks to be amongst those peacekeeping forces," said Karzai.


On the surface, then, Tajikistan and Afghanistan have an interest in establishing good relations. Many experts, however, believe it is too early to predict whether current plans will meet with success, especially since no one can be certain how the situation in Afghanistan will develop.


The division of power in Afghanistan has never been resolved through political means in the past. Home to a myriad of ethnic groups, tribes and peoples, military force has always played a deciding role. Even now, when it would seem that all parties are headed towards the creation of a new Afghanistan, there are armed conflicts within the ranks of the Northern Alliance.


Another concern is that many former highly placed members of the Taleban, having shaved off their beards, may get into the new government and promote policies and relations with the outside world little different from their Taleban days.


For this reason analysts are sceptical about Afghanistan's future and argue new armed conflicts could easily erupt. Such developments would prevent any effective political and economic collaboration between Tajikistan and Afghanistan.


If this were to be the case, then the drugs industry would again flourish, providing the money for guns and a refuge for various extremist religious forces in the region.


Vladimir Davlatov is an IWPR contributor in Tajikistan


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