asiaNet Eurasia Insight
The Chairman of the Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), Sayed Abdullo Nuri, told journalists on Monday, he did not rule out the possibility that recent events in Afghanistan could adversely affect Tajikistan. "When there is a fire in the house it may singe the neighbour's," he said.
A former head of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) in Tajikistan's brutal five year civil war, Nuri said that calls from fundamentalists in Afghanistan for a jihad were unjustified.
"We have re-established and are striving for peace in Tajikistan," he said, warning that an Afghan refugee influx could bring in extremists intent on sowing instability. Various unaffiliated groups, totalling some 600 men, were waiting for an opportunity to destabilise the peace in Tajikistan, he said.
Tajikistan's civil war ended in 1997 with a UN-brokered reconciliation agreement, which led to a power-sharing arrangement between President Emomali Rahmonov's government and the UTO, a loose array of opposition groups.
Some still express discontent with the authorities in Dushanbe. As recently as June this year, the Tajik security forces launched a campaign to flush out a renegade former opposition commander who had resorted to a spate of kidnappings in an attempt to coerce the government.
There had been concerns following the assassination of Afghanistan's opposition leader Ahmad Shah Mas'ud would lead to the collapse of the Northern Alliance and prompt a massive influx of refugees into Tajikistan. Tajik officials have maintained that a large influx of refugees from northern Afghanistan would mean "economic and political suicide for Tajikistan".
N Humanitarian Coordinator in Tajikistan, Mathew Kahane, reaffirmed this fear. "With the death of Commander Mas'ud one month ago, I did wonder if we were facing our worst-case scenario," he told IRIN on Tuesday. However, with coalition air strikes now under way in Afghanistan, and with reports of the opposition forces readying themselves for an offensive, he said the likelihood of a major refugee influx into Tajikistan was remote.
Kahane said he now expected international staff would be returning to Faizabad, the capital of the north-eastern Badakhshan Province, under the control of the Northern Alliance, to resume assistance to approximately 120,000 displaced people and residents in the area. The US-led air strikes had appeared to obviate the risk of Taliban air raids on Faizabad, he said.
The UN team in Tajikistan would provide support to emergency relief operations in northern Afghanistan if so required, said Kahane. "If it was felt that there was a need, then we could send staff over. However, we cannot judge humanitarian needs on the other side of the [Amu Darya] river unless asked to do so by the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan," he maintained.
Fears of large numbers of Afghan refugees reaching Kyrgyzstan or Kazakhstan were regarded as unfounded. "I don't see that scenario evolving. There's no Afghan border remotely near Kyrgyzstan, and I don't see Taliban forces crossing into Tajikistan in hot pursuit of refugees," he said.
Kahane added that the Tajik authorities were adamant that they would not let Afghan refugees into the country, for fear of increased drug trafficking and insecurity.
On Tuesday the secretary of the Tajik Security Council, Amirqul Azimov, declared that Tajikistan would not admit refugees on economic grounds, and said he feared international terrorists might cross over disguised as refugees, according to Russian news agency ITAR-TASS. However, he added that there was no evidence of a build-up of large numbers of Afghan refugees near the Tajik border.
His Kyrgyz counterpart, Misir Ashirkulov, said that Kyrgyzstan was prepared to admit 2,000 Afghan refugees, a revision from the 10,000 it had originally said it would accept, according to ITAR-TASS.
Meanwhile, food and medical assistance to 10,000 Afghans stranded on islands in the Pyandzh river for nearly a year would continue. "These people should not be forgotten," said Kahane, adding that UN agencies and NGO's were planning an assessment there later this week.
UNICEF aimed to implement a child immunisation campaign on the islands, while other agencies would provide displaced families with portable supplies - such as blankets and clothes - in the event that movements on the front line would enable them to return home.
With numerous international journalists arriving in Dushanbe to report on the Afghan crisis, Kahane said he and colleagues were trying to raise awareness of the critical situation inside Tajikistan, an impoverished country with a fragile peace and where one million people are entirely dependent on international food relief.