Study: Poverty And Isolation, Not Just Extremism, Threatens Tajik-Afghan Border
Speculation about security threats in Central Asia has largely focused on the border with Afghanistan and the prospect of Islamist militants infiltrating the former Soviet space. This month, for example, Russia and Tajikistan conducted joint military exercises along the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border including over 50,000 troops and Russian strategic bombers.
But those who actually live along that border have a much different perception of what threatens them, worrying much more about isolation and poverty than military incursions, new research has found.
The authors of the report, Strangers Across the Amu River: Community Perceptions Along the Tajik-Afghan Borders, surveyed nine border communities in those two countries. "Border communities often have a different perception of the opportunities and threats posed by borders than do policy makers sitting in distant capitals," the report's authors -- Shahrbanou Tadjbakhsh, Kosimsho Iskandarov, and Abdul Ahad Mohammadi -- write. "The Tajik and Afghan border districts tend to be economically impoverished, environmentally insecure and isolated from the centre, thereby presenting limited opportunities for economic stability and growth—the primary concern of surveyed communities situated in such areas."
The study also found that residents see both positives and negatives of living on the border:
[P]roximity of borders is conceived by local communities as an asset in terms of providing trade opportunities, use of common resources such as electricity and water, safe havens in case of the need for refuge, travel for medical purposes and the exchange of know how. At the same time, however, borderlands are also viewed as a liability due to the possibility of the spillover of insecurity and criminal elements as well as the environmental difficulties caused by a fickle river that frequently floods and destroys farmlands.
While extremism is in fact a worry of border communities, the "hard security" policies pursued by regional governments can actually exacerbate the situation, the researchers found:
Strict border controls and limitations put on the type of goods that can be imported or exported harm border communities in two ways: first, they create incentives for the activity of traffickers and corruption in border regions which affects the everyday life of native communities. Second, these practices naturally create disincentives for the free movement of people and goods in the region. Isolationist policies exacerbate the poor socio-economic situations of border populations and can lead to increasing tensions and competition over resources. Leaving populations isolated and impoverished can also make them prone to despair and superstition, which in turn can produce conditions conductive to recruitment by extremists and engagement with smugglers that are the main concerns of regimes.
The report was published by the Open Society Foundations and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. (It was actually published in October 2015; The Bug Pit hopes readers forgive the very tardy coverage of some worthy research.) EurasiaNet operates under the auspices of the Open Society Foundations.
Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit.
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