Rakhmon Courts NATO, But Where's the CSTO?
A notorious Central Asian terrorist group has claimed responsibility for Sunday’s slaughter of Tajik troops in Rasht District, while President Imomali Rakhmon is in New York meeting with NATO. If the claim is true, the attack signals a much larger security threat to come and raises the question: which coalitions of countries will be able to work together to counter it?The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan – a group linked to al Qaeda and blamed for many recent attacks in northern Afghanistan – said it was behind the attack that left at least 25 soldiers dead in the Kamarob Gorge, according to the Tajik language service of Radio Free Europe.The attack, a self-styled spokesman said, was in response for Rakhmon’s campaign against Islam. The IMU is also unhappy with NATO’s increasing use of Tajikistan to ferry supplies to fight their brothers-in-arms, the Taliban, in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Rakhmon has held meetings with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Dushanbe’s Asia-Plus news agency reported. It is unclear what they discussed, but there was backslapping on their “cooperation” and joint efforts to fight terrorism. (Despite the tumult afflicting Tajikistan, NATO’s website only published the photo op.)If the IMU was indeed involved, the ante has been upped, auguring a much longer struggle for power in the region than if the attack were simply the work of a rogue group left over from Tajikistan’s civil war. Last year, Dushanbe said a band of IMU fighters, led by former opposition commander Abdullo Rakhimov, aka Mullo Abdullo, had returned home from Afghanistan. Another issue to consider: Rasht is a major drug trafficking route between Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan’s narcotics capital, Osh.In all this, where is Russia? Moscow has been dropping hints it would like to retake control of security on the porous Afghan border, fearing rightly that drugs and militants will move northward as the Americans lose in Afghanistan. The recent attack in Rasht offers a perfect opportunity to test out the CSTO’s Rapid Reaction Force (designed to combat just such an external threat). A CSTO presence in Tajikistan could put Russia and NATO at loggerheads or offer an opportunity for cooperation. But Rakhmon has never been a fan of Moscow expanding its presence in his dominion. Is he teasing Moscow with his NATO schmoozing?
David Trilling is Eurasianet’s managing editor.