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Central Asia: Rising Taliban Threat Prompt Regional Border Cooperation

A joint operation, involving the border services of every Central Asian state except Turkmenistan, is underway. The operation aims to enhance security along Central Asia's southern frontier in response to the rise of Islamic militant activity in northern Afghanistan.

Operation "Milestones of the Fatherland-2009" is bringing together border troops from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Russia. Its stated purpose is to "suppress the infiltration [. . . ] of weapons, ammunition, narcotics and illegal migrants, as well as detect and suppress the activities of criminal groups and organizations engaged in illegal activities," according to a press release from the Kyrgyz Border Service.

A spokeswoman for the Border Service told EurasiaNet on September 15 details of the operation were being kept confidential until after it concludes on September 20.

Some experts now worry that the resurgence of the Taliban could cause Islamic militancy to spread across Afghanistan's borders into Central Asians states. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

A new draw for militants in the area may also be the development of the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), an American-led initiative to funnel supplies destined for Afghanistan via Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

In addition, Central Asia's infrastructure is currently used by drug traffickers, and Russia has a vested interest in seeing border security tightened. Local law enforcement agencies are perceived as not being up to the job, Mars Sariev, a Bishkek based political analyst, told EurasiaNet on September 15.

"I think the reason why this operation attracted so many countries is that they have to coordinate their actions and cooperate in the fight against terrorism and outside threats. It's especially vital for Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan," he said.

"The situation on the southern front, especially at the intersection of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan is potentially very dangerous," Sariev added. "The position of law enforcement agencies in these countries, in that region particularly, is not that strong. I think there is potential for negative processes to appear."

Experts say the main drug trafficking routes linking Afghanistan and Russia pass through Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Avazbek Shamshiev, the coordinator of the governing Ak Zhol Party in the Osh Region, said he welcomed the joint border operation.

"The problem of drug trafficking, which comes from Afghanistan, worries us all. And if this operation is aiming to stop it, then without a doubt, we need this operation," he said in an interview with EurasiaNet on September 15.

"I can't say that the situation has catastrophically changed and worsened, but everyone knows that drugs go through Osh from Afghanistan, and if there are any operations being held to minimize or to stop this, then I warmly greet them," he added.

Meanwhile the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border remains closed. It is traditionally shut, at Uzbekistan's initiative, around the Uzbek Independence Day holiday in early September. It was due to re-open on September 10 but is now expected re-open on September 20 after the border operation is completed.

Deirdre Tynan is a freelance journalist who specializes in Central Asian affairs.

Central Asia: Rising Taliban Threat Prompt Regional Border Cooperation

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