The situation in Afghanistan is one of the most important issues for the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which unites Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan, as well as for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO – India, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan). The civil war, together with the activities of the terrorists on Afghan territory, have posed a threat to the stability of the entire region of Central Asia for many years.
In September 2017, a meeting of the Foreign Ministries’ heads of the CSTO Member States took place at the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly in New York. The major topics of the meeting included cooperation with the United Nations Organization in the peace-making efforts, security and combat to terrorism, as well as the problems of Afghanistan. Several joint statements were adopted, including a provision on Afghanistan and the threat of terrorist organizations strengthening in the northern provinces of this country.
It should be recalled that Afghanistan shares borders with one of the CSTO states in the north – Tajikistan. Therefore, the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border is a zone of particular importance to the CSTO. The border is 1,344 km long, and runs through hard-to-reach mountainous areas that are difficult to cross and not less difficult to protect. The northern areas of Afghanistan also share borders with Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, which are not CSTO members, but whose security is also very important for the entire region.
On September 29, 2017, the Center for Strategic Studies under the President of Tajikistan in the Tajik capital Dushanbe hosted the international conference “Combating Terrorism and Extremism in Eurasia: Common Threats and Joint Experience.” Representatives of Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia attended the conference. Members of the CSTO Secretariat and the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure Executive Committee also participated.
The participants of the event discussed issues of regional security, the high-level threats and countermeasures, including the various measures of the domestic policies of the member countries and international cooperation, including that within the CSTO and the SCO.
The situation in Afghanistan was once more one of the major discussion topics. By autumn 2017, about 50% of Afghan territory had fallen under the control of Taliban terrorist organization (banned in the Russian Federation). In this case, the issue mainly concerns the northern districts that are close to the countries participating in the conference. According to the Russian Ambassador to Tajikistan Igor Lyakin-Frolov, who spoke at the event, the situation is very stressful, especially on Tajikistan-Afghanistan border.
However, according to the Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council Committee on Defense and Security Franz Klintsevich, the Taliban has no goals outside Afghanistan and Pakistan, and will not break the border with its northern neighbours. A much greater concern is the activity of another terrorist organization, the Islamic State (DAISH – banned in Russia), for which Afghanistan is a springboard for penetration into Russia and the CIS countries. According to available information, more than a thousand Taliban and DAISH members are located close to the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border. Nonetheless, according to F. Klintsevich, the Tajik and Russian military officers are ready to repel an attack in case of a direct invasion by the militants.
The Central Asian countries are the strategic partners of Russia, and Russia is firm in fulfilling its obligations to the CSTO. In addition, the unstable situation in the Central Asian countries is a threat to the southern borders of Russia. Therefore, Russia is providing all-round assistance to its partners in terms of security. Cooperation between Russia and Tajikistan is especially developed. The countries jointly protect the Tajik-Afghan border and cooperate in the military-technical sphere.
The 201st base of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation continues to operate on the territory of Tajikistan, where more than 7,000 Russian service persons are undergoing training to deal with specific tasks in the fight against terrorism, including in difficult mountain conditions. This is the largest foreign land military base of the Russian Federation, which has motorized rifle, artillery, anti-aircraft missile, helicopter, and aviation units. The base has three ranges for constant training of the Russian military officers and for the joint training with the military of Tajikistan.
On September 29, 2017, on the same day that the above-mentioned conference on combating terrorism took place, the media office of the Central military region, which includes Base No. 201, reported new special tactical training exercises. Motorists of the logistics support battalion successfully passed the extreme driving course on mountain serpentines delivering food and ammunition to hard-to-reach areas. About 600 military officers and 70 pieces of military equipment were involved.
In November 2017, Tajikistan will host the large-scale military exercises of the CSTO Collective Rapid Reaction Forces. Military officers from all the countries of the Organization will participate in it.
Thus, one can make a conclusion that Tajikistan and other CSTO Member States are able to protect themselves from direct military aggression from Afghanistan.
The only opportunity for militants to destabilize the situation in Tajikistan is through underground organizations. However, the authorities of Tajikistan intend to stop it by taking preventive measures.
According to Rakhim Abdulhasanien, Head of the Department for Combating Terrorism and Extremism of the General Prosecutor’s Office of Tajikistan, who also spoke at the conference, on the initiative of his department, 15 organizations that worked in the Tajik territory were recognized as extremist and banned.
However, prohibitive measures to prevent extremism among the population are not enough. The social and economic development of all interested states is required. Increased living standards contribute to the reduction of radical sentiments. Apparently, the Russian and Central Asian authorities sufficiently understand the connection between social and economic problems and extremism. This is evidenced, for example, by the fact that the SCO has paid serious attention to the economic cooperation. As mentioned above, this organization includes Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, that is, those countries that are most interested in stability in the territory of Afghanistan (except Turkmenistan), and, more recently, India and Pakistan, which also periodically feel the echoes of disturbing Afghan events. The main initial goal of creating the “Shanghai Five”, based on which the SCO was founded in 2001, was to strengthen cooperation in the defense industry. Presently, the main tasks of the SCO include the maintenance of security, the fight against terrorism and drug trafficking. Economic cooperation was considered secondary. However, such an approach is a thing of the past.
On September 28, 2017, Ufa hosted the Third Forum on Small-Sized Business of the SCO and BRICS Member States. Bakhtier Khakimov, the Special Envoy of the Russian President for SCO affairs spoke at the event. According to him, the economic interaction within the SCO should be brought to the same level as the political cooperation of the countries constituting this organization. Khakimov also stated that the heads of the SCO Member States understand the importance of this task and are gradually reaching its resolution.
Currently, the SCO is engaged in the implementation of the agreement to create favourable conditions for automobile transportation, which was signed in 2014. The possibility of establishing the SCO Development Bank and Development Fund is under discussion. Work is in progress to integrate the work of the SCO with such associations as the EAEU (Eurasian Economic Union) and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), as well as the Chinese global infrastructure project One Belt One Road Initiative. Relations among business circles are being established inside the SCO, and interstate cooperation is being built at the regional level.
Thus, it can be concluded that Russia and the states of Central Asia are not relying only on military force to combat terrorism and maintain stability. These countries understand that only complex measures will help put an end to the terrorist threat, and this fact brings hope that the terrorist threat in the region will be reduced in recent years.
Dmitry Bokarev, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”