Tajikistan Reportedly Creates "Second Line Of Defense" On Afghan Border
Tajikistan has created a "second line of defense" along the border with Afghanistan in response to the flare-up in fighting in northern Afghanistan's Kunduz province, government officials have said.
"In connection with the battles between the security forces of Afghanistan and Taliban fighters in the Afghan province of Kunduz, it's been decided to create a second line of defense, and it was carried out in recent days," said one government official. (Tajikistan newspaper Asia-Plus and Russian news agency Interfax seem to have gotten identical statements; Asia Plus identifies the source as a Ministry of Defense official.)
"We are in constant contact with Afghan security forces, and our allies in the CSTO [Collective Security Treaty Organization]. Tajikistan today is able to prevent the escalation of tension in its border areas," the official continued.
The official didn't specify what is meant by a "second line of defense," and for much of the 800-mile long Afghanistan-Tajikistan border there is barely a first line of defense. Aid that Russia has promised to shore up border defenses has been slow to arrive, so it's not clear what might be forming this extra defense.
The fighting in Kunduz has displaced 2,000 families and killed 20 Afghan troops and 150 Taliban fighters, according to Afghanistan officials. Tajikistan officials last week said that the fighting represented no threat to their country.
Russian officials have been less sanguine. "We are worried by incoming reports about the deterioration of the situation in the north-eastern provinces of Afghanistan on the border with Central Asian countries. We are particularly concerned by the large-scale offensive launched by terrorists in Kunduz, a province that borders on Tajikistan, during which administration buildings were attacked in a number of districts," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement last week. "We are interested in stabilisation in that part of Afghanistan and in the country as a whole. We expect the Afghan government to take appropriate measures to stabilise the situation in the north-eastern provinces, which will also strengthen security in the regions bordering on Central Asian countries."
Opinions differ within Tajikistan as to the gravity of the threat. "Armed clashes being conducted in Kunduz, which borders Tajikistan’s Khatlon province, pose a threat to southern borders of our country and Tajikistan and its allies ought to be ready for all possible scenarios of continuation of war near our borders,” Qosimsho Iskandarov, a Tajikistani expert on Afghanistan, told Asia Plus.
But another local expert told the newspaper that "world powers" are exaggerating the threat for their own ends. "World powers such as the United States and Russia are interested in spread of so-called forecasts on threats that are allegedly posed by Islamic State (IS), Taliban and others militants to Central Asia’s nations, first of all Tajikistan," Davlatkhoja Nazirov said, according to Asia Plus. “Neither Islamic State nor Taliban militants will go far from Afghanistan.”
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.