U.S. helps Tajikistan strengthen Tajik-Afghan border

By Tamiris Tokhiri

2008-05-28

The U.S. government is helping Tajikistan strengthen the Tajik-Afghan border in order to strengthen the country’s territorial integrity.

Thomas Hushek, the U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission in Tajikistan said aid would be specifically aimed at, “preventing the transit of narcotics and materials related to weapons of mass destruction, and stop the spread of radical groups and terrorists from neighbouring Afghanistan.”

In 2005, Tajik border guards had little technical support or equipment. As a result, the U.S., partnering with international organisations and the Tajik government, are carrying out a number of projects to support and strengthen the border with Afghanistan.

According to Hushek, one major project the U.S. carried out in Tajikistan is the successful completion of a vehicular bridge built across the river on the southern section of the Tajik-Afghan border. The official ceremony to open the bridge took place in Aug. 2007, and was attended by Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez.

“The bridge is the biggest infrastructure project funded by the U.S. government in Tajikistan,” Hushek said. “It cost $37.1 million. Norway also contributed almost $900,000 towards building the bridge.”

In addition, the project includes the construction of a barracks for border guards, an administrative building, a dining hall, an area for scanning passing vehicles and a room for customs inspections.

In his remarks, Tajikistan President Emomali Rakhmonov, praised the trade and cultural benefits the new bridge will provide. “The opening of this bridge,” he said, “will become an impetus for the development of the economies of Tajikistan and Afghanistan, will promote an increase in trade, will revitalise border trade between our countries and, most importantly, will improve contact between our kindred peoples.” He stressed that the project is of strategic importance to Tajikistan, because it will shorten the country’s access routes to seaports by almost half.

Hushek said revitalised border trade between the two countries’ inhabitants is already apparent. An international entrepreneurs’ fair was held in the Afghan city of Kunduz on 21st-22nd Oct., with businessmen from the two nations displaying a wide assortment of their products. The project to develop border trade between Tajikistan and Afghanistan is being implemented with the support of the Eurasia Foundation of Central Asia and the U.S. Embassy to create small- and medium-sized businesses. A similar fair is planned for 2008.

Sources at the U.S. Embassy said a programme of export controls and border security is being carried out with Tajik experts to combat the illegal transportation of weapons and unlawful dual-use technologies. All this is intended to reduce the total number of border-security breaches. The programme includes training courses by the U.S. Army, and is helping to create a legal framework for export controls.

U.S. sources added that an international military training programme is helping to improve professionalism through reform that includes teaching English. Foundations providing foreign military funding are also helping transform the military personnel of Tajikistan into modern fighting forces. Additionally, the U.S. is helping Tajikistan create its own peacekeeping battalion.

The total amount of funding to date for projects aimed at strengthening the Tajik-Afghan border has been more than $50 million since 1999, Hushek said

The U.S. government provides technical assistance to Tajikistan’s border and customs services on a regular basis.

For example, a ceremony marking the handover of equipment under the export control and border security programme was held on Mar. 31, in Dushanbe. U.S. ambassador to Tajikistan, Tracey Ann Jacobson, and Tajikistan Customs Service chief and Gurez Zaripov signed documents for the transfer of mobile X-ray equipment and high-intensity, rechargeable torches. The gear, valued at $229,000, is provided as part of continuing efforts equip and train the Customs Service.

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