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

Dushanbe Fears Taleban Encroachment

Alarm bells ring in Dushanbe as the Taleban advance towards the Tajik border.
By Vladimir Davlatov

The authorities in Dushanbe fear the Afghan conflict may spill over into Tajikistan.


Journalists who have visited the Tajik side of the border say they have seen military manoeuvres and heavy artillery fire close to the frontier.


"Tajikistan cannot be indifferent to events unfolding very close to its southern borders, which pose a growing threat to peace and security in the region and beyond," said the President of Tajikistan, Emomali Rakhmonov.


Russian solidiers patrolling the Tajik border with Afghanistan were forced to close the Sherkhan Bandar-Nizhny Pyandj checkpoint after the Taleban seized an area close to the frontier.


While an Taleban incursion onto Tajik territory is not expected, forces on the border have been strengthened and placed on alert, according to Major General Alexander Markin, head of the federal border service in Tajikistan.


Recently four artillery rounds exploded on the Tajik side of the frontier. As the region is not heavily populated, no one was injured and nothing destroyed, but border guards are concerned that such accidents could reoccur.


Rakhmonov has held an extraordinary meeting with security chiefs, highly-placed Russian military personnel and diplomats to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and its repercussions for Central Asia.


He believes the Afghani conflict should be placed on the agenda for the forthcoming summit on the CIS Treaty for Collective Security, to be held in Bishkek.


"Actions by the Taleban are multiplying the number of victims and further damaging the already ravaged Afghan economy, which risks becoming a permanent source of terrorism and narcotics, undermining regional and global security," he said.


The arrival of the Taleban in northern Afghanistan and the seizure of the strategically vital city of Talukan, could uproot tens of thousands of people. Russian border guards report that around 900 Afghans have already moved to the flood plain of the Pyandj river border.About 135,000 refugees have also moved to the north-eastern part of the Takhor province, close to the Tajik-Afghan border.


"You cannot rule out the possibility that this mass of people, who are trying to avoid cold and starvation, will attempt to enter Tajik territory," said the Tajik Minister for Foreign Affairs Talbak Nazarov. He added that the international community should turn its attention to the refugee problem in Afghanistan if a humanitarian catastrophe is to be avoided.


For their part, Russian border forces have vowed that they will not allow a mass, uncontrolled entry of Afghan refugees into Tajikistan. "They will be allowed onto Tajik territory, but they will be held here until the Dushanbe takes a decision concerning their future," said a high-ranking Russian officer.


The 201st Russian motorised division, stationed in Tajikistan, Russian border forces and detachments of the Tajik Defence Ministry recently held a two-day military training exercise in the south of the country, with the aim of developing joint manoeuvres in case the situation on the border deteriorates further.


Some experts believe that the training was also an exercise in arm-flexing, for the benefit of the Taleban.


Reports on the Taleban advance towards the border have also spread alarm among Tajik citizens, who have already experienced the horrors of their own five-year civil war. "Are we going to war again?" one elderly woman asked a group of journalists. "The Taleban are already close to Dushanbe. Does that mean we'll have to flee again?" another women asked, tearfully remembering her own experience as a refugee.


Maybe that experience explains a groundswell of sympathy for any Afghans who are forced across the border. As one Tajik commentator told IWPR, "During the civil war, Tajik refugees were given refuge in Afghanistan for several years, now it is our turn to give them aid and support."


Vladimir Davlatov is a regular IWPR contributor