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By Dilafruz Nabiyeva
DUSHANBE – NATO and Tajikistan signed a Partnership Trust Fund agreement to locate and destroy caches of munitions and military equipment. The yearlong project has a budget of €575,000 (3.6m TJS) with Japan donating € 100,000 (638,500 TJS) and Great Britain donating the rest.
Rustamjon Soliyev, the Tajik ambassador to Belgium, described the event as “the first step in Allied co-operation.”
The agreement was signed January 31 at NATO headquarters.
NATO’s official website reported that “NATO hopes that by securing these unidentified stocks, the project will help prevent illegal cross-border trade in munitions.”
The British Embassy said experts would train Tajik military engineers and soldiers and deploy them as a weapons and ammunition disposal (WAD) team.
“The team will work with government agencies and local communities to locate and dispose of dangerous munitions stocks, co-ordinating with three other groups already operating in Tajikistan and working under different frameworks. Weapons and ammunition that are still serviceable will be secured and transferred to proper storage facilities,” said British Embassy public relations officer Dzhamila Majidova.
“The Civil war left thousands of tonnes of munitions throughout Tajikistan. Some caches are under control; others were abandoned and represent a danger to ordinary people,” Majidova said. As weapons and ammunition degrade, they create a risk of fire or explosion, she explained.
The Defence Ministry declined to specify how much degraded ammunition that needs to be destroyed is already in the possession of the armed forces.
A Defence Ministry officer, who identified himself only as Murodjon, said the emphasis would be on locating and destroying illegal munitions caches in southern Tajikistan, along the Afghan-Tajik border.
“It is impossible to say how many weapons stores left over from the Civil War (1992-1997) we can even expect in this area of the Tajik border,” Murodjon said. “Until now, security forces have been regularly finding caches of weapons and ammunitions there and in other places, including in Rasht District, which had long been considered a stronghold of armed Tajik opposition.”
Mahmadullo Asadulloyev, director of the Interior Ministry’s Press Services, said his ministry does not know how many weapons caches will be found.
“If we knew, then we would have found and destroyed these caches ourselves long ago, but we do not know, and we need to continue our work to this end,” he said. “Local residents often accidentally find the weapons stores, and in rare cases we find them on our own. Most of the weapons seized from the caches are fully fit for use, including the ammunition.”
Asadulloyev said a large number of weapons are still being confiscated from the public. More than 34,000 illegal weapons and ammunition have been seized since enactment of the Unregistered Weapons and Ammunitions Decree of 1994.
“We have a specifically designated place where we destroy the seized weapons and ammunition,” Asadulloyev said.
Abdugani Mamadazimov, chairman of the National Association of Political Scientists, called the agreement very important.
“In Soviet times, Tajikistan did not have a single business in the military-industrial complex, so none of the components were produced in the country and, correspondingly, none were disposed of here,” he said. “And to this regard, the NATO countries have already proven themselves a significant help to other former-Soviet countries.”
Chairman of the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) Muhiddin Kabiri praised the agreement.
During the civil war, the IRP was part of the United Tajik Opposition, which now holds most of the caches in Rasht Valley and along the Afghan-Tajik border. Authorities fear that opposition fighters in Afghanistan could return and use the weapons stashes they left during the civil war to their advantage, he said.
Kabiri said NATO has an interest in the stability of the Afghan-Tajik border.
“This border is unofficially considered a boundary for the entire Eurasian area. It is not just a border between two states, it is a border between two geopolitical regions; therefore, they are interested in stability,” he said.
Political analyst Rustam Haidarov said the project is primarily aimed at ensuring Tajikistan’s security.
“For NATO, the Central Asian countries are partners in achieving common security in Eurasia, especially in the oil-rich regions. The emergence of any sort of conflict in this area may pose a serious threat to the energy and economic security of the NATO member states,” Haidarov said. “As such, NATO and the Central Asian countries are establishing a policy of co-operation.”
In addition to weapons and ammunition, the Tajik Mine Action Centre has discovered and destroyed 19,000 mines and 3,500 pieces of unexploded ordnance since its creation in 2003.