Tajikistan Watches As Fighting Flares In Northern Afghanistan
While heavy fighting has broken out in northern Afghanistan, near the border of Tajikistan, officials in Dushanbe say they have the situation under control.
Last week, the Taliban formally announced the beginning of their spring offensive. While attacks have spiked across the country, northeastern Afghanistan has seen unusual amounts of violence. Earlier this month fighting broke out in Afghan Badakhshan, the narrow panhandle bordering the Tajikistan region of the same name. Dozens of fighters on both sides were reportedly killed in those clashes.
Now, heavy fighting has erupted in Kunduz, about 60 kilometers from the border of southern Tajikistan. That fighting has killed at least 30 people and forced President Ashraf Ghani to delay his planned trip to India on Monday. (It's also reportedly come close to the Tajikistan consulate in the city.)
The violence has of course not gone unnoticed in Dushanbe. Last week President Emomali Rahmon convened senior security officials to discuss Afghanistan and ordered "increasing military readiness for the protection of state borders, and the fight against terrorism, extremism and illegal drug trafficking."
And at another meeting last week of anti-drug officials of Shanghai Cooperation Organization member states, Rustam Nazarzoda, director of the Drug Control Agency under the President of Tajikistan, said that several Taliban units in northern Afghanistan -- including Balkh, Kunduz, Takhar, and Badakhshan provinces -- have aligned themselves with ISIS and have become more active.
"Regardless of the announcements by high-ranking Afghanistan government officials about their ability to combat destructive groups, the situation in that country, unfortunately, including the northern provinces bordering on Tajikistan, is becoming quite complicated," Nazarzoda said.
But with respect to the latest fighting in Kunduz, a spokesman for the border service, Mukhaammaddjon Ulugkhodjaev, told RFE/RL that the battles were between internal groups in Afghanistan and represented no threat to Tajikistan.
The issue of spillover from Afghanistan, and more recently the alleged threat of ISIS, has dominated security conversations in Central Asia. And while militant activity in northern Afghanistan is clearly increasing, there still remains no indication that those groups have any interest in moving north into Central Asia, or that they would have any support at all if they did.
Tajikistan's leadership has to walk a bit of a tightrope with respect to the threat of spillover from Afghanistan. On the one hand, the threat benefits Dushanbe, as it attracts aid and support from foreign powers (most recently, promises of $1.2 billion in military aid from Moscow). But on the other, it can attract too much "support" -- in particular, pressure from Russia to reintroduce Russian border guards to the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border. Russians guarded that border until 2005, when Tajikistan managed to get rid of them, but Moscow has consistently (though lately, more quietly) continued to lobby to get them back. All of this, of course, is subject to events in northern Afghanistan, which are getting increasingly unpredictable.