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Tajikistan needs international support to secure its Afghan border and prevent drugs and extremists from entering the country.
By Nadin Bahrom
DUSHANBE – Mindful of Afghanistan's struggles, Tajikistan is seeking to block extremists and narcotics from crossing the border.
President Emomali Rakhmon and other officials during recent cabinet meetings have repeatedly raised the issue of securing the border with Afghanistan.
So have the media. Incidents like an alleged conspiracy by foreign-trained Tajik terrorists to blow up buildings in Dushanbe have officials and analysts warning of the need to beef up border security.
Anxiety about terrorism and drugs
Tajikistan needs to monitor the situation in its turbulent border areas, Tajik political scientist Parviz Mullajanov said.
"All the predictions point to an increase in tensions in Afghanistan and to an increase in the activity of religious [extremist] organisations in Central Asia, such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan [IMU]," he said.
Even during times when terrorists are not massing on the Tajik-Afghan border, "Tajikistan still faces certain threats and challenges, and we must be prepared to deal with them," Tajik Presidential Centre for Strategic Studies Deputy Chairman Saifullo Safarov said. "Terrorists pose threats on several fronts: in the east, the south and the centre of Badakhshan [Province, Afghanistan]. And we must be prepared to deal with threats [of attack] from all directions."
Drug trafficking is another threat the poor border protection poses, he said, citing the fact that Afghanistan produces about 90% of all opium.
"As a result ... steps are being taken to create an anti-drug belt, which ... Rakhmon has been talking about for a long time," Safarov said. "Also, our neighbours Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan and [other] Asian countries ... are keen on seeing the border with Afghanistan strengthened."
Foreign help sought
Upgrading the border security is seen as a vital cog in the country's efforts to prevent an upsurge in terrorists entering the country, which would cause a multitude of problems, security analyst Sulton Hamad said. Thus, it is imperative to devise a comprehensive plan.
The government is working out a more comprehensive approach to guarding the border with Afghanistan, the Tajik Border Service says, pointing to plans to create a large number of new check-points, train border guards and update their equipment.
And while the country receives substantial aid targeting border security from the OSCE, EU and other international organisations, Tajikistan needs additional military and technical assistance if it really wants to bolster its border security, Safarov said.
"We have enough personnel to guard the border, but we need other countries to advise and equip us so that we can boost security on our borders," he said.
Tajikistan can't repulse the various threats from Afghanistan on its own, Mullajanov agreed. "International organisations have invested heavily in Tajikistan's border management, but we still lack aviation and modern weaponry, which are essential for a combat-ready military on the border."
"In addition to lacking the equipment, we don't have enough professional [border security] personnel [as opposed to draftees]," he said.
With greater integration, it will be possible to shore up border security, Mullajanov said.
The weak Tajik economy makes the task harder, political scientist Shokirjon Khakimov said.
Tajikistan's ability to produce goods and services is feeble, and the government budget is small, he said. "The country is unable to equip its border guards with the latest technologies."