The president of Tajikistan on May 24 attended the inauguration of a vehicle assembly plant that officials have indicated will serve to bolster the country’s defense capabilities.
The activities of the Sipar Guruh, or Shield Group, a newly formed company based in Tursunzoda, a city near the border with Uzbekistan, appear mainly geared toward producing military automobiles, although it has capacity to build civilian vehicles too.
On a tour of the company’s premises, President Emomali Rahmon was shown several exemplars of the kind of armored vehicles that the company proposes to produce.
According to a statement on the president’s official website, Sipar Guruh currently has capacity to assemble up to 17 different types of vehicles with imported components, but it plans to increase that number in future. The parts used for assembly are produced by STREIT Group, an armored vehicle manufacturer based in the United Arab Emirates.
Sipar Guruh’s projected annual output of vehicles is set at 120 units.
“These vehicles are intended as supply for units in Tajikistan’s armed forces, but there are [also] plans to explore export opportunities,” the president’s office said in its statement.
The authorities are trumpeting the opening of this new assembly plant as a bold achievement in furthering Tajikistan’s industrial agenda. State media noted that the facility would provide work for 100 people.
The martial aspect of the project may, however, arouse concerns about mounting militarization against the backdrop of Tajikistan’s ongoing border dispute with Kyrgyzstan, which has in recent years turned increasingly deadly.
More than 100 lives were lost during a four-day border conflict in September that saw the deployment of weaponry more powerful than that seen in any earlier armed confrontation.
Most notable was Kyrgyzstan’s use of Turkish-made Bayraktar TB-2 drone, which was used in at least one instance to fire an MAM-L laser-guided bomb at the Tajik village of Ovchi Kalacha. Investigators with advocacy group Human Rights Watch have said at least 10 civilians may have been killed in that attack, which they described as a probable war crime.
And earlier this year, Kyrgyzstan bolstered its fleet of Turkish-made military drones with acquisitions of an unspecified number of Aksungur and Anka UAVs.
Tajikistan is likely to have its own reserve of UAVs too. In May 2022, the chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces, Major-General Mohammad Bagheri, traveled to Dushanbe to attend the opening of a facility for the production of Iranian-designed Ababil-2 tactical drones. The unmanned aerial vehicle is described by U.S. military sources as a single-engine, long-range, low-technology drone that can be deployed for “rudimentary surveillance capabilities” and as “a loitering munition.”
President Rahmon is certainly devoting more attention to defense of late.
In his annual state-of-the-nation speech to parliament in December, said that the Defense Ministry and “other military structures” have been instructed to draw up and present a national defense strategy.
“The difficult situation in the modern world is a prompt for us to take additional measures to accelerate the modernization and outfitting of our armed forces with equipment and ammunition, to increase combat readiness and to strengthen our country's defense capacity,” Rahmon said.
When alluding to security threats, Tajik officials typically have neighboring Afghanistan in mind. The two countries share a border more than 1,300 kilometers long and anxieties about a possible spillover of unrest are routinely expressed by Tajikistan and its closest security partner, Russia.
In the meantime, though, Dushanbe has shown little serious readiness to resolve its decades-old border disagreement with Kyrgyzstan by means of talks. Multiple rounds of demarcation negotiations have produced no firm results, meaning that Kyrgyz and Tajik communities live along the border cheek-by-jowl, compelled to uneasily share scant natural resources with weak mechanisms for coordination.