The effect of terrorism in Afghanistan on Russian-Tajik relations

Taliban Humvee in Kabul, August 2021 (Credits: Voice of America News, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Geopolitical Report Volume 12 Issue 5
Author: Giuliano Bifolchi

The recent terrorist attack in Kunduz alarmed Tajikistan and Russia on the stability and security of the Afghan-Tajik borders and the Taliban ability to counter Islamic State and other terrorist groups in Afghanistan. In this framework, Moscow and Dushanbe are seeking to enhance their cooperation in the security field, confirming the Russian strategy to play a decisive role in Afghanistan and Central Asia.

On October 8th, 2021, a powerful explosion took place on the territory of a Shiite mosque in the northern province of Kunduz. The attack was carried out by a suicide bomber who detonated himself during the Friday prayers when many believers were in the mosque. Taliban officials in Kunduz said the blast killed 43 people and injured more than 140. However, several media outlets reported that the death toll could be as high as 100. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for this terrorist attack.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres condemned the attack and expressed condolences to the families of the victims. Iran also made a statement condemning the bombing of the mosque. In addition, the attack in Kunduz was condemned by Afghan politicians Abdullah Abdullah and Hamid Karzai.

On October 3rd, 2021, there was another explosion near a mosque in Kabul, and, also in this situation, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for it. In addition, another attack occurred on Wednesday night (October 6th, 2021) outside a religious school in eastern Khost province.

These recent violent attacks highlight that the Islamic State is a threat to Afghan security and stability and might pose a severe risk to the Taliban Government, causing an internal conflict that rapidly might influence entire Central Asia. Indeed, the Russian Foreign Ministry expressed concern about the growth of Islamic State activity in Afghanistan and called on the Taliban to fight terrorism.

Although the last week, the Russian Foreign Ministry called on Dushanbe and Kabul to search for mutually acceptable options for resolving the current conflict situation (Relazioni Tagikistan-Afghanistan e possibile escalation regionale), the recent attacks pushed the Kremlin to realise that the Taliban might be incapable of guaranteeing security on the Afghan territory. Consequently, Moscow is looking for a stronger partnership with Dushanbe in security, border control, and counterterrorism to prevent the spread of terrorism in Central Asia and the Russian Federation (Tajikistan: the Kremlin’s frontier against the Taliban).

As stated by Maria Zakharova, the Director of the Information and Press Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, at the press conference held on October 7th, 2021, the Russian Federation proceed from the assumption that the Taliban Movement will make every effort to implement the voiced and given assurances, including in terms of ensuring that no security threats to third countries emanate from Afghan territory. On the one hand, the Kremlin continues to use its contacts with the Taliban to consistently promote forming an inclusive government that reflects the interests of all ethnopolitical forces of the country. On the other hand, Moscow is concerned about the situation on the Tajik-Afghan border, which is the focus of Russian attention. In this framework, Moscow and Dushanbe maintain intensive contacts between defence departments, border services and diplomatic missions and continue cooperation in strengthening the defence capability of Tajikistan and its border service.

During the press conference, Maria Zakharova highlighted the role of the 201st Russian military base in Tajikistan, which, according to the Russian sources, is equipped with everything necessary to assist the Government of Tajikistan in case of aggravation of the situation. Therefore, if the Kremlin will evaluate as necessary a military intervention, the Russian Federation will adopt decisive measures under the principles of the Russian-Tajik alliance and strategic partnership.

During the same day, a telephone conversation between Tajik President Emomali Rahmon and Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed the strong partnership between Russian and Tajikistan on security and regional issues.

Conclusion

Considering recent events in Afghanistan after the U.S. troops withdrawal (The new geopolitical game of Afghanistan), there is a severe menace that different terrorist organisations will exploit the current uncertain Afghan situation to create training camps and logistic bases on the Afghan territory and coordinate from there their jihadist propaganda and violent attacks. The Russian Federation is concerned that a destabilised Afghanistan might influence entire Central Asia, a region part of the Kremlin’s lebensraum (vital space) and blizhnee zarubezhe (near abroad), but also the Russian territory where several Central Asia migrants live. In conclusion, it is possible to foresee a significant Russian military, economic, and political involvement in Central Asian dynamics to guarantee Moscow’s presence and strategy in the region, promote the Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation and affirm its influence in a strategic area which attracts the interests of international and regional powers.