Countering Jihadist Threats: Pakistan-Tajikistan Defence Cooperation in Focus and Geopolitical Implication

Jihadist threat and Pakistan-Tajikistan cooperation
Jihadist threat and Pakistan-Tajikistan cooperation to counter terrorist group and control the Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan (Credits: Chaccard, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 32 Issue 2
Author: Giuliano Bifolchi

By improving security and defence cooperations, Pakistan is trying to increase its influence on Tajikistan and the regional security system of Central Asia as a whole and prevent the rise of jihadist groups.

  • Pakistan aims to increase influence on Tajikistan and the regional security system in Central Asia, a region which has a strategic position in the Eurasian geopolitical chessboard.
  • Dushanbe, Beijing, and Islamabad consider the stability and control of the Wakhan Corridor in Northeast Afghanistan to be crucial. Enhanced cooperation between Tajikistan and Pakistan could prove beneficial for not only Dushanbe and Islamabad but also for China’s economic strategies and partnership with Pakistan.
  • Pakistan’s augmented influence in Central Asia has the potential to reinforce partnerships and counterbalance New Delhi’s presence, considering that India has escalated its activities in the region and proposed assistance and security cooperation to Tajikistan since August 2021 to counter China and Pakistan.

Information Background

On July 4th, 2023, Pakistani Defence Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif met with Tajik Defence Minister Sherali Mirzo to discuss security and regional cooperation. The Pakistani minister stressed that Islamabad and Dushanbe face similar security threats and challenges because of their proximity to Afghanistan.

The head of the Pakistani Defence Ministry proposed to strengthen cooperation with Tajikistan in intelligence, military-technical cooperation and the fight against terrorism.

It is noteworthy that the meeting of the two defence ministers occurred shortly after the start of the campaign to relocate jihadist elements from Pakistan’s Waziristan to northern Afghanistan, directly to the border with Tajikistan.

The transit of jihadists is an essential part of Pakistan’s strategy to counter terrorism and develop a new regional security system, in which Islamabad will participate and seek to become the principal actor.

Moving jihadists from Waziristan to Northern Afghanistan alarms Dushanbe regarding its border security and regional stability. Indeed, since the U.S. troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban’s rise to power, Tajik authorities have often emphasised the necessity to counter the jihadist threat coming from the Afghan territory, especially since the creation of Tehrik-e-Taliban Tajikistan announced in July 2022.

Considering Dushanbe’s concerns about Afghanistan’s security and stability, Pakistan should provide more reassurance and support to Tajikistan in order to make the Central Asian republic more accommodating.

Geopolitical Assessment of Tajik-Pakistan Cooperation Against the Jihadist Threat

Following the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and the subsequent rise of the Taliban to power in Kabul, the geopolitical risk in Central Asia and the AfPak region has increased. The reason behind this is the apprehension that terrorist groups could utilise Afghanistan’s terrain as a base for different activities in the vicinity.

Tajikistan shares the same concerns as Pakistan, a country which has experienced a significant increase in violent attacks, especially after Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan ended the ceasefire with Islamabad in November 2022.

The growing operations of terrorist organisations like the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) are the reason for Islamabad and Dushanbe’s concerns about Afghanistan’s security situation. Indeed, under the Taliban rule, Kabul has not proven its ability to contrast jihadist propaganda and terrorist activities.

Tajikistan has frequently expressed concerns regarding the security situation, the Tajik-Afghan borders, and the rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan. These issues are perceived by Dushanbe as a threat to national security and stability.

Therefore, Dushanbe has increased military and security cooperation with Moscow, which had a military base in the country, and Beijing, which supported the Tajik Government in the project to establish a military base in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO), to address the security and terrorist problems in the area.

The focus ought to be directed towards the Northeast region of Afghanistan, specifically the Wakhan district located in the Badakhshan province. This district shares borders with the Tajik Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO), the Chinese Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), as well as the Pakistani Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral districts.

Because of its strategic location, stabilising and controlling the Wakhan Corridor is fundamental for Dushanbe, Beijing, and Islamabad. Therefore, these countries have discussed cooperation in security and defence sectors to counter jihadist threats and terrorist groups’ activities and local movements.

Strengthening Tajik-Pakistani cooperation could aid Islamabad and Beijing in their economic plans, particularly concerning the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the Belt and Road Initiative.

If Pakistan assumes the position of a major Tajik partner in the fight against terrorism, it could expand its influence in Central Asia. As a result, Islamabad could leverage this advantageous position to enhance its economic and strategic collaboration with Beijing and counterbalance New Delhi in the region.

Indeed, especially after August 2021, India has become much more enterprising in Central Asia and Afghanistan with the purpose of counter China and Pakistan and increase its operativity in the regional market.

Risk Scenarios

  • Escalation of Border Tensions: The relocation of jihadists from Waziristan to northern Afghanistan, near the Tajikistan border, increases the risk of border tensions and potential clashes between security forces. This could escalate into a broader conflict, jeopardising regional stability. In the event that Dushanbe views Pakistani strategy as a threat to its border security and national stability, Tajik authorities may suspend their cooperation with Islamabad and turn to Moscow’s military assistance and Indian aid.
  • Rising Influence of Extremist Groups: Despite efforts to counter terrorist threats, there is a risk that extremist groups could acquire influence in the region. The establishment of jihadist elements in northern Afghanistan could pose a significant security threat to Tajikistan, the wider Central Asian region, Pakistan, and China, and severely undermine Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative.
  • Geopolitical Competition: The pursuit of influence by Pakistan, China, and India in Central Asia could lead to increased geopolitical competition. Such competition could undermine regional stability and hinder cooperation on security issues, particularly in counterterrorism. Tajikistan’s geographical location in Central Asia may lead to heightened exposure to the foreign policies and endeavours of Islamabad, Beijing, and New Delhi aimed at establishing their complete regional presence.

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