Kyrgyzstan Protests Appearance Of Tajikistan Paramilitaries Near Border
A paramilitary band led by a veteran of the Tajikistan civil war has reportedly been deployed to the border with Kyrgyzstan, prompting Bishkek to send an official note of protest to Dushanbe. Arkady Dubnov, the top Russian journalist covering Central Asia, reported this week that Shoh Iskandarov, a former opposition commander who later joined the government, is leading a paramilitary group of about 150 men in the Isfara region. That's near the Kyrgyzstan border, which was recently the site of fighting that included heavy weaponry. Although the situation has calmed somewhat since the fighting on January 11, and both sides have agreed to pull back their forces, the alleged arrival of Iskandarov adds a potentially dramatic new element into the tense situation.
Tajikistan has yet to officially comment on whether or not Iskandarov is in fact getting involved in the border conflict, but Kyrgyzstani website 24.kg reported that the Kyrgyzstan Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent an official note of protest to Dushanbe over his arrival, complaining about the "unacceptable massing of armed forces in the border region."
Iskandarov is a bit of a wild card; one of the best-known opposition field commanders during the 1992-1997 civil war, he was rumored to have defected to the opposition again during the Rasht operation of 2010; a year later he was named to a senior police position in the same region. In December 2013 he took another interior ministry position in Tursunzade, west of Dushanbe near the Uzbekistan border.
A couple of other intriguing characters also have recently gotten involved in the conflict. One is former defense minister Sherali Khairulloev, who just in November was removed from his post, but on January 25 rejoined the government, this time as a "presidential aide on security affairs." And according to Tajikistan newspaper Asia Plus, he is leading the Tajikistan government delegation to negotiations between the security services of the two countries on the border.
The second interesting character is Nikolay Bordyuzha, the secretary general of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization. The CSTO's absence in this conflict between two member states has been conspicuous. But this week Bordyuzha seemed to be doing some low-profile shuttle diplomacy, traveling to Dushanbe and then Bishkek to discuss the crisis, though very little was said about the visit from any side. But regional analyst Alexander Knyazev speculates, in Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta, that Iskandarov's presence may prompt Kyrgyzstan to lean more heavily on Russia and/or the CSTO to get involved.