RUSSIA AND CENTRAL ASIA: POST-11 SEPTEMBER, 2001
Lena Jonson, Doctor, senior researcher, Swedish Institute of International Affairs (Stockholm, Sweden)
The terrorist attacks on the U.S.A. of 11 September, 2001 and the fact that President Putin gave his consent to U.S. aircraft using airfields and airspace in Central Asian states during military operations in Afghanistan created a completely new situation in Central Asia. In 1999 Vladimir Putin had made the antiterrorist struggle first priority on Russia’s agenda in Central Asia. This was a determined effort to take the initiative, rally the Central Asian states behind Russia and counter foreign engagement.1 By his decision in September 2001 to allow the military presence of the U.S.A. and its allies, Russia seemed to step back to a secondary role as the U.S.A. directly engaged in the antiterrorist struggle in Central Asia.
The U.S. engagement in the region drastically accelerated trends that had been developing since the late 1990s: a decline of Russian influence; a larger foreign engagement, first and foremost by the U.S.A.; and a more active search for foreign partners by the Central Asian states. The focus of this article is Russia’s efforts to cope with this situation. The aim is threefold: to present trends in Russian policy in Central Asia; to analyze the development of the major security dynamics of the region and their influence on Russia’s policy and position; and to discuss the prospects for the future of Russia in the region. The case of Tajikistan is of special interest since it developed into Russia’s closest Central Asian ally since the late 1990s.
Since the breakup of the Soviet Union Central Asia has been of concern to Russia for both security and strategic reasons. Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, situated along the border with Afghanistan and highly vulnerable to events in Afghanistan, are locked into each other in a complex of security dependencies. Tajikistan, which remained weak and politically fragile after having been through a civil war in 1992-1997, developed after the war into a major ally of Russia in Central Asia. Uzbekistan, acting in fear of its own Islamic opposition, contributed to tensions in the region especially in relation to Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Uzbekistan increased Russia’s strategic concern as it gradually disengaged from Russian-led security cooperation and finally withdrew from the Collective Security Treaty (CST) in April 1999, and increased cooperation with the U.S.A.
The overthrow of the Taliban regime reduced the external threat to the Central Asian states, and improved the general security situation in the region. However, it also created a dilemma and a challenge to Russian policy. Russia was left behind as the U.S.A. took the lead in the political reconstruction of Afghanistan and developed security cooperation with Central Asia as part of cooperation within the international antiterrorist coalition. The U.S.A. partly took over the function of controlling the security dynamics of the region. Thus, while the U.S.A. improved the general security situation in the region, Russia’s geostrategic situation became more complex.
With the Taliban regime overthrown, instead domestic problems now come to the forefront in Central Asia. External support for Islamic extremism in Central Asia was reduced, yet domestic sources of extremism and radicalism remain in all Central Asian countries. They are the result of the state of the economies of the Central Asian countries, the serious socioeconomic conditions, the irrational use of land and water, the demographic situation, ethnic and national strife, border disputes, obstacles to trade and transit across borders, and widespread corruption. The threat from Islamic extremism is not first and foremost of a military character; rather its roots are socioeconomic and sociopsychological.
The post-11 September situation brought new demands on Russian policy. If in the future Russia is to play a larger role in Central Asian security, it has to prove itself useful to Central Asian states since now there are other foreign actors around also prepared to provide assistance. Several foreign powers and international organizations are engaging in Central Asia, and the governments of the region have become more active in strengthening their contacts with the outside world. This new situation places greater demands on the policies of a government, which tries to have a say in the region. In this new situation Russia has to prove that it is useful—to an ally like Tajikistan as well as to others—if it is to maintain close cooperation and influence. While previously close relations between Russia and Tajikistan were taken for granted, this is no longer the case. Only governments and organizations, which can help the Central Asian states against the threat of extremism, will secure a role for themselves in the future in the region. How has Russia responded to the new situation? How will the new situation influence Russian-Tajik relations?
Putin’s new Central Asia policy raised criticism within Russia. While criticism from government officials was muted, voices in the media and Parliament were louder and more outspoken. This raises the question whether Russia’s policy change in Central Asia is sustainable, or whether it is a temporary move. What can be expected from Russian policy in the future? To answer this question it is important to understand the direction of the main security dynamics in Central Asia.
Section II of this paper gives the background of Putin’s 1999 policy toward Central Asia. Section III analyzes Russian policy toward the region since 11 September, 2001, and Section IV is a discussion of the prospects for the future of Russian policy in the region.
II. Background: Putin’s Antiterrorist Agenda 1999-2001
After the break-up of the Soviet Union President Yeltsin and the Russian Government were preoccupied with new priorities, and therefore remained passive in relations with the Central Asian states. Tajikistan constituted an exception in this regard as Russia engaged itself to bring an end to the Tajik civil war.2 Even as the Russian Government became more concerned with the strategic and security situation in Central Asia, it had no policy for dealing with the new situation. Policy under Yeltsin, although able to end the Tajik civil war, was unable to improve the general security situation in the region and to counter the destructive influence from Afghanistan. Russia was seriously concerned at the growing foreign engagement in Central Asia, particularly by the U.S.A.
The armed intrusion by fighters from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) in August 1999 into the Batken Region in Kyrgyzstan—a parallel to the intrusion by Chechen rebels into Daghestan the same month—paved the way for a new policy response by the new Russian leadership. With the 1999 antiterrorist agenda, Putin gave Russian policy in Central Asia a clear direction by focusing it on an issue of growing concern to the Central Asian leaders. On 20-21 June, 2000, after months of preparation, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) adopted a Program on the Struggle against International Terrorism and other Forms of Extremism up to 2003, and decided to set up a CIS Antiterrorist Center.3 Putin’s response to extremism and terrorism was exclusively of a military-security character, and the Collective Security Treaty became the main instrument for Russia’s policy.
The Antiterrorist Program called for the coordination and harmonization of national laws on combating terrorism and other forms of extremism, joint research projects and information exchange. The statute of the Antiterrorist Center, adopted in December 2000, described the functions of the center as information analysis, the building up of an integrated data bank for security and special services, and coordination of measures by the “competent bodies” of the CIS member states.4 The summit meeting of signatories of the CST in Erevan in May 2001 decided to create a rapid-deployment force for Central Asia of about 1,500 men, to be provided in the future by Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The force was set up in spring 2002 on the basis of the Russian 201st Motorized Rifle Division deployed in Tajikistan together with a small Kyrgyz unit.
The issue of terrorism was referred to in order to legitimize Russia’s desire for military integration not only in Central Asia but in the CIS area as a whole. In May 2001, at the CIS Council of Defense Ministers meeting in Baku, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov proposed the creation of a “single defense policy” for all CIS countries under the banner of the antiterrorist struggle. He argued that all the CIS countries face terrorist threats of a similar nature and they require a CIS-wide response. He had no success with the proposal.5
Putin’s focus on the antiterrorist struggle was an instrument to encourage the Central Asian states to join Russian-led multilateral cooperation. The years 2000 and 2001 demonstrated Russia’s difficulties in handling the threat from Afghanistan. Russia gradually lost leverage, although trying to rally the Central Asian governments against the Taliban, increasing its engagement in Afghanistan, desperately trying to bring Uzbekistan on board CIS security cooperation, and keeping Tajikistan under its wing.
The Russian military presence in Tajikistan constituted a deterrent against external threats, first of all from Afghanistan, but it also prevented Uzbekistan from using force against Tajikistan. Nevertheless, Russia could not prevent Uzbekistan from taking unilateral measures against what the latter considered a threat from extremists using Tajikistan for transit. In September 2000, under the pretext of the intrusion by IMU fighters, Uzbekistan introduced visa requirements and tightened restrictions on people and goods crossing the border from Tajikistan. This was a heavy blow to Tajikistan, which was dependent on Uzbekistan for exit routes. In late September 2001 further restrictions were introduced on crossing at the Tajik border, and most border crossing posts along the Uzbek-Tajik border were closed. In 2000 Uzbekistan deployed landmines along its border with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, supposedly as a defense against IMU fighters. By the end of summer 2002 almost 60 Tajik civilians in addition to numbers of Kyrgyz and Uzbek civilians had died because of the landmines. Uzbekistan’s unilateral action created tension in its relations with both Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan; the smaller neighbors feared Uzbekistan. As Russian commentators pointed out, the Russian military presence and support for Tajikistan also had the effect of balancing the tendency for Uzbekistan to dominate in the region. Tajikistan remained fragile.
Putin’s antiterrorist agenda of 1999 was a determined effort to strengthen Russia’s role in Central Asia and to improve the security situation. By September 2001 it had not demonstrated success. Uzbekistan had not come closer to Russia. The security situation had deteriorated further. Russia had lost further influence over the dynamics of the region. Tajikistan, however, had become a key state in Putin’s struggle against terrorism and Islamic extremism, and against the Taliban regime in Kabul.
III. Putin’s Extended Antiterrorist Agenda After 11 September 2001
In his telephone call to President George W. Bush immediately after the terrorist attacks on the U.S.A, Putin expressed solidarity with Bush and his right to strike in self-defense at the terrorists and those supporting the terrorists, that is, Osama bin Laden, al-Qa‘eda and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. On 13 September Russia and NATO issued a joint statement condemning the terrorist attacks. The Russian side had great expectations of closer cooperation with the U.S.A.
The crucial question, however, was whether and how Russia would directly support U.S. action. It soon became evident that Russia would not participate directly with troops in military operations with the U.S.A. in Afghanistan because of strong domestic opposition inside Russia. Among the Russian military there was also strong opposition to allowing the U.S. military to use the territory of the Central Asian states. On 14 September, 2001 Russian Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov stated that: “Central Asia is within the zone of competence of the CIS Collective Security Treaty. I see no reasons whatsoever, even hypothetical, for any suppositions about NATO being conducted operations from the territories of Central Asian countries, which are members of the CIS.”6
The Central Asian states, however, were willing to cooperate with the U.S.A. On 16 September Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov declared that Uzbekistan was open to “any form of antiterrorist cooperation with the United States,” including the possible use of Uzbek territory for strikes on terrorist camps in Afghanistan.7 The Tajik Foreign Minister also indicated interest in cooperation with the U.S.A. but, as he was uncertain about the line from Moscow, he said consultations with Moscow would take place first.8
On 24 September 2001 Putin declared that Russia and the Central Asian allies would allow access to their air corridors and airfields for the U.S.A. and its allies—for humanitarian, rescue and intelligence missions but not for military operations. Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov confirmed on 26 September that Russia and the Central Asian states were prepared to make air corridors available to the U.S.A. and its allies, and place their airfields at their disposal. The statements were preceded by a weekend of intensive consultations between Russia and the Central Asian states.9 When the CIS prime ministers convened on 28 September, they backed this formula of Putin.
Although the Russian President in his statement of 24 September 2001 mentioned only humanitarian, rescue and intelligence operations, and explicitly spelled out that no offensive operations would take off from these countries, his announcement was sensational. The U.S. military had previously participated in exercises with Central Asian states within the NATO Partnership for Peace Program. This, however, was something completely different. Previously Moscow had always regarded policy toward Central Asia as being separate from its policy toward the West, as Central Asia was perceived as lying within the Russian sphere of interest, from which foreign powers should stay away. Now, when Putin extended his 1999 agenda on former Soviet territory, Central Asia became part of his Western agenda.
Putin and Multilateral Security Cooperation
If Putin had expected the U.S.A. to use Russian-led security structures such as the CST for coordinating antiterrorist measures in Central Asia, he was disappointed. The U.S.A. instead built up direct contacts with Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. When the U.S.-led bombing of Afghanistan was initiated on 7 October 2001, this clearly demonstrated the new dilemma for Russian foreign policy. Neither the CIS nor the CST was given a direct role in the U.S.-led antiterrorist coalition.
Nevertheless, in parallel with the growing U.S. presence in Central Asia, Russia continued its efforts to develop multilateral cooperation within the CST on the issue of anti-terrorism. The CST meetings concentrated on the new post-11 September situation and its consequences for the CST’s zone of responsibility, the role of Russia in the international antiterrorist struggle, and coordination of the CST member states in the U.S.-led coalition.10
On the initiative of Tajikistan, on 8-9 October 2001 an extraordinary meeting of the CST Committee of National Security Council secretaries was held in Dushanbe to discuss the new situation in Central Asia and “joint measures to counter international terrorism and religious extremism.”11 The declaration from the meeting reflected a wish to make the CST part of U.N.-led international measures while at the same time encouraging the Central Asian states to stick to a common CST approach when cooperating with the U.S.A. and its allies. Preparations for the CST rapid-deployment force continued, although its actual establishment was delayed until spring 2002. The CIS Antiterrorist Center in Moscow had problems in becoming operational. The principal benefit Russia could offer the Central Asian states in order to encourage them to enter security cooperation was subsidized prices for weapons and military equipment.12
As the bombing over Afghanistan continued and the U.S. military presence strengthened in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, Russian concern rose. U.S. delegations arrived in Central Asia in early 2002. Visits by delegations from the U.S. Congress and from the Central Command of the U.S. Armed Forces indicated the U.S.A.’s growing interest in economic and military assistance. Russia dispatched government representatives to the Central Asian states to discuss the situation. In early January Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov went to Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, Deputy Foreign Minister Viacheslav Trubnikov went to Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, while the Director of the Russian Federal Border Service, Colonel General Konstantin Totskiy, and the Speaker of the Russian Duma, Gennady Seleznev, at the head of a delegation of Russian parliamentarians, visited Dushanbe. While Russian official representatives usually only repeated that they expected the U.S. military presence to be temporary, Seleznev was more outspoken, stating that he believed an increase in the Russian military presence in Tajikistan was necessary. His statements were more a reflection of the mood among the Russian political elite than of any plans of the Russian Government, since the Duma has no real influence over foreign policy making.
Russia indicated a new approach to a U.S. presence in the region when the informal summit meeting of the CIS heads of state convened on 1 March 2002—the first time they met since the 11 September attacks. The focus of the summit was, of course, the military operations in Afghanistan and the U.S. presence in Central Asia. A new atmosphere was felt when Vladimir Putin stated that the U.S. military presence in Georgia and Central Asia was nothing to worry about. “This is no tragedy (the appearance of a U.S. military contingent in Georgia), and it cannot be. Why is this possible in Central Asia, but not in Georgia?”13 This was reaffirmed at the CST summit in May when the Collective Security Council Secretary General, Valery Nikolaenko, stated that the presence of NATO troops on former Soviet territory was logical in terms of the common antiterrorist struggle.14 Russia seemed to be adapting to the new situation in Central Asia.
Still, Russia continued its efforts to develop the CST. At the 10th anniversary of the CST in May 2002 the six member states in a joint declaration agreed on the intention to raise the status of the organization by formalizing and reorganizing it, and to seek international recognition as a regional organization according to Chapter VIII of the U.N. Charter.15 The tasks of the CST were described as no longer limited to external threats but as including defense against new threats to “national, regional and international security” such as terrorism, drugs and arms trafficking, and organized crime. The joint declaration presented the CST as a coordinating mechanism for the foreign and security policies of the member states as well as their relations with the outside world and stressed that military-political relations between the member states should have priority over relations with non-member states.16
The purpose of the reorganization was to strengthen the CST and make it a potential partner for the West while at the same time rallying the Central Asian countries. Russian ambassador-at-large Vadim Lukov explained this in an article in which he argued that the West should regard the CST as a partner for cooperation in Central Asia: “The course of the antiterrorist operation in Afghanistan has supplied the West with a reason to have another look at the regional security structures to be successfully employed in the antiterrorist struggle and the efforts to stabilize the situation in Central Asia and the adjacent regions. Here I have in mind the Collective Security Treaty and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization ... the current antiterrorist operation has testified that it is not in the interests of the West to continue ignoring the security structures set up in the former Soviet Union. They should be treated seriously and with due attention as potentially useful collective partners.”17
Yet neither the U.S.A. nor NATO was interested in developing institutional contacts with the CST. Instead the Central Asian states, among them Tajikistan, were directly involved in bilateral contact with Western states.
The post-11 September developments undermined the rationale for the CST. Russia tried to keep together what was left of it, but with only limited success.
Putin and the Uzbek Factor
As late as May 2001 it seemed as if Uzbekistan was turning to Russia out of fear of more IMU incursions. Nevertheless, Uzbekistan seized the opportunity offered by the post-11 September situation and joined Russia and the other states of the region in offering the use of its airfields to the U.S.A. On 12 October the U.S.A. extended security guarantees to Uzbekistan in a joint statement with President Islam Karimov. As Uzbekistan distanced itself further from Russia after 11 September 2001, Russia lost all means of influencing the Uzbek factor.
At the end of December 2001 a slow process of normalization of relations between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan was initiated. For the former, this was a welcome sign as it had suffered from Uzbekistan’s policy of isolating it. On 27 December 2001 the presidents of the two countries, Islam Karimov and Emomali Rakhmonov, met in Tashkent before a summit of the Central Asian leaders. Their meeting restarted the work of the existing but inactive Uzbek-Tajik Inter-Government Commission, and on 12 February 2002 several agreements were signed when Tajik Prime Minister Akil Akilov visited Tashkent. Among them was one on the reopening of border crossing points.18 In August 2002, the prime ministers of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan signed agreements and protocols on rail transit, television broadcasting, Tajikistan’s debt to Uzbekistan, the functioning of border checkpoints and the delimitation of the border.19
The agreements contributed to the reopening of some border crossing points, but most of them remained closed. Severe disappointment with the slow development of the normalization process between the two countries was reflected in an article in the Tajik newspaper Biznes i politika accusing certain circles in Uzbekistan of hegemonic ambitions in Central Asia and calling Uzbekistan’s mining of the border and the Uzbek authorities’ harsh treatment of Tajik transit passengers “a kind of terrorism with regional means and on a regional scale.”20
As many Tajik commentators saw it during spring 2002, the U.S. presence was contributing to make Karimov more willing to make agreements with Tajikistan. Thus, the U.S.A. partly functioned as a regulator of bilateral relations in the region. Relations between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan had improved because of the stimulus for a cooperative framework provided by an external actor, the U.S.A.
Uzbekistan, however, continued to refer to the threat from the IMU when defending its policy on Tajikistan. The overthrow of the Taliban regime had contributed to removing IMU fighters from the scene, at least temporarily. Popular discontent and the process of Islamic radicalization in the Uzbek part of the Ferghana Valley guarantee that the domestic dynamics that have supported the growth and expansion of Islamic extremism will continue to exist in Uzbekistan for the foreseeable future. Hizb ut-Tahrir is gaining support, and Uzbek authorities have intensified their crackdown.21 Conservative estimates by human rights groups say that some 7,000 activists, the majority of them members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, have been put in jail in the past three years in Uzbekistan.22 Penalties are exceptionally severe in Uzbekistan. Members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, convicted of being members of a banned group or of distributing anti-government leaflets, are often sentenced to prison terms of 10-25 years.
The increased U.S. presence in Uzbekistan meant that the task of controlling the Uzbek factor in Central Asia was de facto transferred to the U.S.A. With democratization, human rights and reforms to promote a market economy on the U.S. agenda for Uzbekistan, the U.S. Government had to tread a fine line with Uzbek authorities. Russia, however, was already past having any means to influence Uzbek policy or contain the Uzbek factor.
Putin and the Tajik Factor
Tajikistan’s Participation in the U.S.-led Antiterrorist Coalition
While Tajikistan previously was exclusively Russia’s domain, the post-11 September situation paved the way for cooperation between Tajikistan and the U.S.A. Announcing to the U.S. Government its willingness to open the territory for overflights, landing and basing if needed, the Tajik Government offered all available sites and left it to the Americans to state their preferences. After a telephone conversation between Putin and Rakhmonov on 5 October, the Tajik Government made its offer public on 8 October. In mid-October Tajik Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov declared that Tajikistan “does not rule out the stationing of U.S. forces in the country.”23 On 3 November 2001, during a visit by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to Dushanbe, Tajikistan publicly gave its consent to the use of three military airfields by the U.S.-led coalition.24 A U.S. assessment team found, however, that of the three airfields under discussion (Dushanbe, Kulob and Kurgan-Tiube) only Dushanbe could be used—and, it was to be used only for refueling cargo planes.
During Rumsfeld’s visit, President Rakhmonov agreed to initiate regular exchanges of information on antiterrorist operations and to establish permanent military-to-military contacts between the U.S.A. and Tajikistan. Rumsfeld stated that Tajikistan would provide assistance with regard to “overflights, intelligence-gathering and various types of military-to-military cooperation.”25
The U.S. Government offered Tajikistan support and assistance to strengthen its border security system, and on 5 February 2002 when a delegation from the Central Command of the U.S. Armed Forces visited Tajikistan a bilateral agreement was signed under which the U.S.A. will provide support to the Tajik Border Force in training and the purchase of technical and communications equipment. As part of Tajikistan’s participation in the U.S.-led antiterrorist coalition, Tajikistan and the U.S.A. also developed full cooperation in intelligence-gathering, especially with regard to movements, events and people, on both sides of the Tajik-Afghan border. The Western military had paved the way for a new situation in Tajikistan, even if in June 2002 only 50 U.S. military personnel were involved in work on the Dushanbe airport and around 100 French military personnel in Ainy.
However, Tajikistan’s cooperation with the U.S.A. in intelligence exchange and U.S. supplies of technical equipment to Tajik border troops and training of personnel did not change the organization along the border, where the Russians maintained major responsibility. Rather, the U.S. assistance seemed to be a preparation for a future situation when the Russians would no longer carry out this function along the Tajik-Afghan border. Russia’s military presence along that border therefore remains important in securing it, and the Russian Government has indicated no plans to reduce the presence of the Russian border troops in Tajikistan. These troops have the responsibility for the first echelon of the Tajik border with Afghanistan, although they have demonstrated the difficulty of controlling the border and preventing drug trafficking.
The international attention Tajikistan attracted in the light of operations in Afghanistan had the effect of increasing the assistance and support it received from international organizations and foreign governments. The international presence created new hope for the country’s economic development and contributed to a certain political stability in the country, even if it did not yet actually solve any of the economic problems. International attention and assistance encouraged Rakhmonov to tighten control of the Tajik-Afghan border. He increased control over the national Tajik border troops when he dismissed the Chairman and all the deputies of the Committee for the Protection of the State Border in January 2002. In April in a speech to the Tajik Parliament he announced a forthcoming reform of the power structures of the country.
Domestic Problems of Tajikistan
Although the fact that an Islamic political party is allowed in Tajikistan has reduced the potential of Islamic radicalism in the country, there still is a breeding ground. In July 1999 the Islamic Revival Party (IRP) was legalized in Tajikistan and became the only legal Islamic political party in Central Asia. The IRP, which had entered the civil war as an Islamist movement with disparate voices, many of them radical, had become moderate during its years in opposition, and after it was legalized developed into a constructive political force. Party Chairman Said Abdullo Nuri often acts more as a statesman than as an opposition leader. However, the IRP never became as strong as had been expected. In the parliamentary elections of 1999 it received only two seats in the lower chamber of the Tajik Parliament and about 7 percent of the vote. Moreover, although it was given a formal position among the other political parties, the IRP was under pressure from the authorities, and local authorities especially treated it with suspicion. It lived under the threat of either being squeezed out by the authorities or being marginalized by the voters.
While on the surface radical Islam does not seem to be the dominant trend in Tajikistan at present, there are trends and processes that may work in that direction. It is currently unlikely that any appeal to the use of force against the government will find support among the war-weary Tajik population, but there is a risk of social discontent being channeled via radical organizations. There is an ongoing process of Islamization of values, and as has been said already the lure of extremism is present. The domestic roots of Islamic extremism exist, especially in the north of the country, which is part of the Ferghana Valley.
When the antiterrorist campaign started in fall 2001 the IRP feared that this would be the opportunity President Emomali Rakhmonov would exploit to clamp down on the IRP, accusing it of indirectly supporting terrorism, and forbid the party. This did not happen. During spring 2002 Rakhmonov pointed to the threat from terrorism and extremism but also stated that the threat to domestic stability came from the underdeveloped state of the economy and the difficult socioeconomic conditions in which the majority of the population live. Several times during 2002 Rakhmonov called for a mobilization against terrorism and extremism.
Although Rakhmonov did not point out any organization by name, Hizb ut-Tahrir was a main target. At the beginning of April 2002 Said Abdullo Nuri, Chairman of the IRP, declared Hizb ut-Tahrir a serious threat to national security. Speaking about the current situation in Tajikistan he said there were three factors that might pose a threat to peace and stability in the republic: (a) the activities of the Hizb ut-Tahrir party; (b) the economic crisis; and (c) the uncontrollable possession of arms.26
Hizb ut-Tahrir came to Tajikistan in the late 1990s, and in 1999 the first legal case opened against a member of the organization. Up to April 2002, 108 members of the party had been sentenced in the northern Soghd Region alone.27 Even though the organization has its support in the north, several members were arrested in Dushanbe and the south as well. While Hizb ut-Tahrir remains very small it is the fastest-growing radical organization in Tajikistan, and people are regularly arrested for carrying its leaflets and printed materials. It draws its support mainly from young uneducated and unemployed men, but its ideas of creating an Islamic state based on Shari‘a—a caliphate—across borders in Central Asia attract broader groups of the disaffected population. Although the party does not provide solutions to specific problems, its general call for a caliphate is presented as the solution to many practical problems of direct concern to the individual; the caliphate will dissolve state borders, and Shari‘a will eliminate corruption and social inequality. In contrast to the IMU, Hizb ut-Tahrir does not advocate the use of force.
Other factors besides public discontent with socioeconomic conditions lie at the domestic roots of Islamic extremism. One is frustration among the followers of the IRP, who believe that the party has given in to the Tajik Government and abandoned its ambitions to create an Islamic state. Another is strict control by the state authorities, which leaves no room for the official Islamic clergy to provide guidelines or make statements for believers on contemporary issues, whether social or religious. The Tajik state authorities control the official Islamic clergy strictly, and the lack of Islamic debate and guidance has created a vacuum, which is partly filled by Hizb ut-Tahrir.
In spring 2002 the state authorities initiated a campaign to strengthen their control over Islamic institutions, repeating the demand for all mosques to be registered. First several small mosques were refused registration and were closed. At the request of the State Committee on Religious Affairs, a nationwide campaign started to check the imams’ knowledge of religious issues as well as state laws on religious affairs. In summer 2002 the district of Isfara, in the Ferghana Valley near the borders of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, attracted particular attention from the government since three of the alleged Taliban fighters detained at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba were from Isfara. Again mosques were closed, including a couple of large Friday Mosques in Isfara District: it was claimed that there were too many mosques in Isfara. (The law on religion allows a Friday Mosque for up to 15,000 people.) In July several imams in Isfara were removed from responsibility for the mosques on the grounds that they were members of the IRP. Isfara has always been a stronghold of Islam. President Rakhmonov´s criticism on 13 July of IRP and especially his accusations against some of its members in Isfara was the harshest criticism he had leveled at the Islamic political opposition since the 1997 peace agreement.
These incidents illustrate the complex domestic situation after 11 September, 2001. There is a risk that the authorities give too much emphasis to the work by law enforcement bodies, exploit the antiterrorist struggle for weakening and removing opponents, and take to measures which are counterproductive. If the Central Asian governments are to fight extremism they have to strengthen democratic institutions, guarantee the rights of the political parties, and to take care of a party like the IRP, which has developed into a constructive political force in society. In order to be able to strengthen society against extremism and radicalism Tajikistan as well as Uzbekistan therefore needs the assistance and support of the other countries.
Russian-Tajik Economic Relations
The economic development of the country is a key issue for future stability. Here the Tajik Government is trying to develop a strategy for attracting investors and to develop economic contacts with foreign partners. In this perspective Russia’s difficulties in helping Tajikistan respond to new challenges become evident. While Russia has a large military presence in the country, its economic presence is more or less negligible. Although Russian-Tajik trade showed a slight increase in 2002, it had dwindled for several years and fallen well below the 1991 level.28 Russian investment in Tajikistan is also negligible. According to the Russian Federation State Committee on Statistics, during the first eight months of 2002 Russia invested only U.S.$ 4,000 in Tajikistan.29
There is one other aspect of the Russian-Tajik political and economic relations, which should not be overlooked. According to unofficial statistics, about half a million Tajiks work as “guest workers” in Russia. Their contribution to the national income of Tajikistan is crucial. Labor migration is not helping Tajikistan to make a leap forward but it does help the population to survive. The presence of the migrant workers in Russia constitutes a vital link in relations between Russia and Tajikistan. Since more than 90 per cent of them are in Russia illegally, they also contribute to tensions in bilateral relations.
While Tajikistan is a member of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Community (EEC), this has not yet improved its economic situation. The EEC is struggling with national quotas and obstacles to free trade. It is not yet able to help Tajikistan develop its economy.
* * *
To sum up, the general security situation in Central Asia improved after 11 September 2001. The major external threat from Afghanistan was removed, a process of normalization of relations between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan was initiated, and in Tajikistan government control of the country’s territory was strengthened. Yet, the threat remains that domestic Islamic radicalism will become the channel for popular discontent. Russia was left with minimal influence in Afghanistan and no influence in Uzbekistan. Although Russia remained in Tajikistan as previously, the new situation brought new challenges to Russian policy.
IV. Prospects for the Future
Putin introduced the antiterrorist agenda in 1999 in order to rally the Central Asian states under Russian-led security cooperation, thereby demonstrating a determined effort to counter the increasing trend of foreign engagement in Central Asia and to respond to the threats to security. In September 2001 he extended the antiterrorist agenda to his policy toward the West and thereby gave his consent to U.S. military presence in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
Putin will inevitably come to a point at which he has either to listen to his critics and counter U.S. influence in the region or to develop further cooperation with the U.S.A. It has been argued in this paper that developments within Central Asia and Russia’s loss of influence are the determining factors for Russian policymaking on Central Asia, and that they push Russia toward the latter option.
Putin’s policy was an effort to get control over the regional dynamics, which had been triggered by Islamic extremism in Afghanistan. The overthrow of the Taliban regime made the regional dynamics calm down. Participation by Central Asian states in the U.S.-led antiterrorist coalition shifted the Russian-led security cooperation to a secondary role. As a consequence of the developments in the region, and particularly after 11 September 2001, Russia’s capacity to influence the development in Central Asia—in Uzbekistan and also Tajikistan—was further weakened.
Central Asia will remain a volatile region for years to come. Although the security situation there now seems to be improving, developments in Afghanistan remain unpredictable. The external threat from Afghanistan remains first of all in form of drug trafficking, which continues since the warlords of Afghanistan have to finance their troops. Russia is preparing for a benevolent scenario in Afghanistan and for future economic and military cooperation with Afghanistan in which Tajikistan would also be guaranteed a role. Russia’s close relations with the Panjshiri Tajiks in Afghanistan may secure a certain influence over developments in the country, but they are not enough to contain the negative consequences for Tajikistan if Afghanistan again erupts in civil war. Russia has fewer means to help Tajikistan if the situation deteriorates.
As long as Uzbekistan does not allow its opposition to develop in constructive ways, the Uzbek authorities will have to continue fearing fighters like those of the IMU. As a result relations with Tajikistan will remain somewhat tense, even if Tajikistan manages to strengthen its border control.
In the post-11 September situation in Central Asia domestic challenges to security have become more important. In spring 2002 Kyrgyzstan demonstrated how illusory stability proves to be when popular discontent erupts into demonstrations and protests. The socioeconomic situation is a main danger, and there is a risk of discontent being channeled in the direction of Islamic radicalism. In all three Central Asian states Hizb ut-Tahrir is growing. The response to radical Islamism cannot come only from international cooperation in the fields of military, border troops, police, and intelligence; instead international assistance for economic development and democratization must come to the fore. Only greater engagement by international organizations, banks and foreign governments can set these countries on a course of economic development which will stabilize them to the benefit of Central Asia as a whole.
The new situation has created new challenges to Russia, which are illustrated by the case of Tajikistan, its closest ally in Central Asia. In spite of its large military presence in Tajikistan Russia has few means to help it develop and stabilize, since what is needed more than anything else is support for economic development, democratic institutions and the rule of law. If Russia is to maintain its influence in Tajikistan its policy has to rely less on its military presence and more on an economic presence. The Russian economy is recovering, and in the future a stronger economy may make Russia a more attractive and effective partner to the Central Asian countries. Tajikistan, however, needs international assistance now.
Full acceptance of U.S. and Western engagement in Tajikistan paves the way for Russia to greater international cooperation in Central Asia in responding to threats and challenges in the region. By accepting other international actors in the region Russia may create for itself a new foundation both for international cooperation with other powers engaging in Central Asia and for a new partnership with the states of the region. In order to promote such developments in Central Asia and encourage Russia to further develop its Central Asian policy in that direction, real multilateral structures in Central Asia have to develop. The development of strong multilateral structures, of which Russia and the U.S.A. as well as regional powers are members, may be the only possible option in the future in order to meet the challenges to security in Central Asia.
This is a shorter version of a paper prepared for the project “Systemic Change and International Security in Russia and the New States of Eurasia” at the Department for Russian and Eurasian Studies, School of Advanced International Studies, The Johns Hopkins University, Washington, DC. I am grateful for the grant provided by the Smith Richardson Foundation.
1 See: L. Jonson, Russia and Central Asia: Terrorism as the Issue. Paper prepared for the AAASS 33rd National Convention, Arlington, Virginia, 15-18 November, 2001.
2 See: L. Jonson, The Tajik War: A Challenge to Russian Policy, Royal Institute of International Affairs, London, 1998.
3 See: “Zasedaniya vyshykh organov SNG,” Diplomaticheskii vestnik, No. 7, July 2000, pp. 47-48.
4 Valery Trubnikov, in: Diplimaticheskii vestnik, No. 5, May 2001, p. 125.
5 See: Jamestown Monitor, Issue 100, 23 May, 2001.
6 ORT Vremia Program, 14 September, 2001 / ITAR-TASS, 14 September, 2001 / Jamestown Monitor, Issue 170, 18 September, 2001.
7 See: Jamestown Monitor, Issue 170, 18 September, 2001.
9 Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said: “President Putin reached agreement on this issue with the leaders of the five Central Asian countries over the weekend” and “only flights with humanitarian cargo are meant here,” Interfax, 26 September, 2001.
10 See, for example, the CST meeting of 2 October, 2001.
11 “Konsultatsii polnomochnykh predstavitelei gosudarstv-uchastnikov dogovora o kollektivnoi bezopasnosti,” Diplomaticheskii vestnik, No. 11, November 2001, p. 81.
12 As reported in March 2002, although documents on weapons and equipment had been ratified, for a number of practical reasons no deliveries of weapons had so far taken place (see: V. Georgiev, “Nash otvet ‘Kerzonu’,” Nezavisimaia gazeta, 23 March, 2002, p. 5).
13 “Vystuplenie V.V. Putina na sovmestnoi press-konferentsiyi glav gosudarstv-uchastnikov SNG 1 marta,” Diplomaticheskii vestnik, No. 4, April 2002, p. 65.
14 See: V. Panfilova and V. Georgiev, “Rossiia vozvrashchaet sebe rol pravoflangovogo,” Nezavisimaia gazeta, 15 May, 2002, p. 5.
15 See: “Sessiia Soveta kollektivnoi bezopasnosti gosudarstv-uchastnikov Dogovora o kollektivnoi bezopasnosti,” Diplomaticheskii vestnik, No. 6, June 2002, pp. 76-78.
17 V. Lukov, “Russia’s Indispensable Role in the Fight Against Terrorism,” International Affairs, Vol. 48, No. 1, 2002, p. 59.
18 Asia-Plus News Agency (Dushanbe), 0606 GMT, 13 February, 2002, reported by BBC Worldwide Monitoring.
19 Asia-Plus, 27 August, 2002. 70 percent of the border has been demarcated so far.
20 I. Asadullaev, “O kornyakh terrorizma,” Biznes i politika, 1 March, 2002, pp. 1-2.
21 Furkat Yakvalkhodjaev, an independent journalist in Uzbekistan, has been monitoring the Uzbek Government’s fight against radical Islamic groups. In an interview with RFE/RL, Yakvalkhodyaev said that the mass arrests of members of Hizb ut-Tahrir have, indeed, had an impact on the visibility of the group’s activities.
22 See: Z. Eshanova, “Central Asia: Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan Differ in Approach to Hezb ut-Tahrir,” RFE/RL [www.rferl.org/nca/features/2002/07/12072002171856.asp].
23 DPA, 18 October, 2001; and Jamestown Monitor, Issue 204, 6 November, 2001.
24 See: Jamestown Monitor, Issue 204, 6 November, 2001.
25 R. Khatchadourian, “U.S. Eyes Bases in Tajikistan,” Eurasia Insight, 6 November, 2001.
26 See: Asia-Plus, 5 April, 2002.
27 See: Kurbonali Mukhabbatov, “Religiozno-oppozitsionnye gruppy v Tadzhikistane: Hizb ut-Tahrir,” in: Religiozniy ekstremizm v Tsentral’noi Azii: problemy i perspektivy, OSCE Mission to Tajikistan, Dushanbe, 2002. They were mainly sentenced under the articles in the Criminal Law that cover attempts to seize power by force, overthrow of the constitutional system, and stirring up national and religious dissent.
28 Bilateral economic exchange fell in 2001 by 33.5 percent compared with year 2000, to U.S.$198 million (see: Asia-Plus, 18 March, 2002).
29 This can be compared with investment worth U.S.$3.64 million in Kazakhstan and U.S.$0.6 million in Uzbekistan (see: Varorud, 17 September, 2002).