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By Dilafruz Nabiyeva
DUSHANBE –Although Tajikistan faces threats from Islamic militants, according to a recent International Crisis Group (ICG) report, the Tajik government said it is ready to thwart any potential attacks.
“Should any militant group attempt to change the situation in this country, it would be deeply frustrated, because each Tajik citizen highly values peace and accord,” MP Amirkul Azimov, a former Security Council secretary, said.
He challenged the ICG report as groundless but said, “We can effectively rebuff any external threat and crush any enemy – that’s for sure.”
The ICG’s May 24 report warned of the danger posed by the “resurgent Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), a group with a vision of an Islamist caliphate that is fighting in Afghanistan alongside the Taliban.”
Casualties incurred in fighting militants in Rasht have left the Tajik military with few special force members capable of fighting hardened guerrillas from Afghanistan, the ICG report said.
Islamists have been moving closer to Afghanistan’s 1,400km-long border with Tajikistan, the ICG said. The insurgency in northern Afghanistan “seems to be focusing on its fight against the government in Kabul but may at some stage turn its attention northwards.”
But Tajiks are convinced they have both the domestic unity and security guarantees from regional allies to withstand potential external threats.
Mullo Abdullo, an insurgent field commander from the 1992-1997 civil war who was killed in April, was the last key internal threat to Tajik security, Tajikistan Association of Political Scientists Chairman Abdugani Mamadazimov said.
“If a new insurgent leader appeared, he would not come from within Tajik society – he would more likely be ... from either Afghanistan or Pakistan,” Mamadazimov said.
Any imported leaders would carry less clout, Mamadazimov said, since they “wouldn’t have the moral authority of the kind previous field commanders used to enjoy.”
Support from abroad
The country also has support from its political partners should problems arise.
“Although the Tajik army is not capable of rebuffing threats from outside, we are a full-fledged member of some specialised organisations within the territory of the Commonwealth of Independent States, and since we share certain interests with the European Union and NATO, it is very likely and possible that those organisations will step in to defend our national interests,” Social-Democratic Party deputy leader Shokirdzhon Khakimov said
The Tajik army demonstrated its ability to secure the homeland during the recent Rasht Valley operation, Azimov said.
“Mullo Abdullo and his group stayed at large for the past three years, but once they started threatening Tajikistan’s stability in real terms, they were destroyed,” Azimov said.
“President Emomali Rakhmon and Defence Minister Sherali Khairulloyev, too, have repeatedly pointed to our army’s high combat efficiency,” Defence Ministry spokesman Fariddun Makhmadaliyev contended. Tajik troops are also undergoing training to improve their ability to fight in the mountains, Makhmadaliyev said.
“Also, one shouldn’t forget the Tajik army helped wipe out criminal groups that operated on Tajik soil for many years after the civil war,” Makhmadaliyev said.
“It participated in repelling raids launched from Uzbek territory by field commander Makhmud Khudoiberdiyev’s group,” he continued, referring to an unreconciled insurgent who Tajikistan says is hiding in Uzbekistan. “So our army has some experience in withstanding threats.”
“Khudoiberdiyev will always remain a threat to Tajikistan,” said Khikmatullo Saifullozoda, chief of the Dialog think tank. “But he can hardly attempt anything serious without assistance from larger external players.”
Civil war memories said to prevent new strife
Large-scale internecine fighting is unlikely to recur in Tajikistan, where memories of the civil war linger, Saifullozoda said.
“One thing that cannot be ruled out is that some external groups may be interested in destabilising Tajikistan and that current social and political difficulties may cause some people to allow themselves to be led by insurgents,” Saifullozoda said. “But that would be an extreme situation.”
International organisations in the past few years have repeatedly predicted social catastrophe in Tajikistan, Islamic Renaissance Party leader Mukhiddin Kabiri noted.
“Ours is not the quietest situation indeed, but so far those forecasts have not come true,” he said.
Tajikistan can effectively resist external threats, political scientist Sherzod Saidov agreed.
“Long before the international anti-terrorist operation began in Afghanistan in 2001, Tajikistan had already faced these kinds of threats and, to this country’s credit, successfully contained them,” Saidov said.