September in Central Asia: How Tajikistan is handling the Afghanistan crisis4 min read
After Kabul fell to the Taliban on August 15, most neighboring countries began to scramble in response to the ensuing fallout. Thus it came as a surprise when it was announced that Tajikistan was not only preparing to take in 100, 000 Afghan refugees, but the Tajik government strongly criticized the new Taliban regime and its disrespect for diversity. In addition to providing support for those fleeing and the ethnic Tajiks still living in the country, Tajikistan has also become a center for international attention, as world powers have concentrated a large amount of military infrastructure in the region.
As the situation in Afghanistan continues to unravel, let’s take a look at three crucial challenges for the Tajik government while handling the unfolding crisis.
The issue of resettlement
Tajikistan and Afghanistan are joined by a 1,300 kilometers long border, making Tajikistan vulnerable to possible military attacks from the Taliban. Its proximity has also made it easy for many of those now fleeing Afghanistan to enter the country. In the last few weeks, approximately 3,000 have already been granted asylum. However, Tajikistan lacks the proper infrastructure to support the growing number of refugees, especially after taking thousands in over the past decade.
Facing difficulties in following through on its promise to assist 100,000, the country has done more to help the situation than its neighbors. For example, Turkmenistan has denied entry to everyone, including ethnic Turkmen trying to get out of Afghanistan. Turkmen authorities have also started creating ties with the Taliban and have seemed supportive of the change in power – most likely for economic reasons. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have offered to assist, but then quickly rescinded any aid. Uzbekistan, on the other hand, has let in a few hundred refugees but has mainly offered to just serve as a transportation hub between Afghanistan and other nations.
One of the most pressing concerns seems to be over the possibility of Taliban fighters entering with refugees. Many journalists have cited the emergence of support for the Taliban within Central Asia, stoking fears of a possible rise in religious extremism. These fears are not unfounded, as extremists have been documented to leave their home countries to fight alongside the Taliban.
A Last Stand
Another challenge that has emerged in the wake of the crisis started online as several hundred Tajik citizens went online and expressed their desire to enter Afghanistan to support the ethnic Tajiks in the Panjshir Valley. It was the last region to not have fallen to the Taliban, unfortunately, the region is now under their rule, despite claims amongst the resistance that the fight is not over. Internet users have expressed sympathy for the fighters and even offered to take up arms alongside them. However, the government has been vehemently opposed, especially as fighting in a foreign war is a crime in Tajikistan.
Despite the ban on fighting in foreign conflicts, Tajikistan’s government awarded two famous figures from the region, Ahmad Shah Masud and Burhanuddin Rabbani, with the country’s third-highest honor in the wake of intensifying violence in the region. The gesture did little to help the resistance or replace actual aid. Conditions in Afghanistan have been deteriorating rapidly as the Taliban cements its control over the region. Resistance fighters have been attempting to reach out for foreign aid. Unfortunately, this is unlikely, as many world powers have been keeping the issue at arm’s length.
The crisis in Afghanistan has also provided some opportunities for Tajikistan, as many world powers are pumping money and military aid into the country. Russia has even been making a show of its military presence in the region. Since the Taliban took control of the country, they have been holding military drills on the Tajik-Afghan border, and have a few more planned in the coming months. The country also maintains several military bases in Tajikistan. Many scholars have considered this display by Russia to be mere posturing, stating it is unlikely for Russia to take an active role. This theory would make sense, considering its own disastrous war with Afghanistan. The Kremlin’s spokesman has even stated that “no one is going to intervene in these events,” in regards to a possible civil war breaking out.
Other superpowers have also remained rather uninvolved in the situation. China has a relatively large military presence in the country, operating a military base there. However, China has been very cautious regarding the situation in Afghanistan and remains unlikely to use any actual force in the region. The United States, despite removing troops and ending its military presence in the region, has actually promised to build new border facilities for Tajikistan. However, construction is not set to begin until early next year, so this will do little to help mitigate the current situation.
Given the support that Tajikistan has been receiving from these countries, it makes sense why President Emomali Rahmon would feel comfortable standing in opposition to the Taliban’s regime. Its proximity and connections with Russia, China, and the United States have brought the country to prominence on the world stage, as it is often left out of media coverage. Despite not being able to fully deliver on promises made early in the crisis, Tajikistan has positioned itself as critical to the still unfurling situation in Afghanistan.