The Taliban government in Afghanistan has reacted angrily to Russian plans to establish a permanent military base in Tajikistan. The Taliban foreign minister, Mohammed Hasan Akhond, complained about the plans in a letter to UN secretary general Kofi Annan on April 11. Akhond said the plan’s main objective was to facilitate increased Russian interference in the internal affairs of his country. “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan considers this move by the Russian Federation as a flagrant interference in the internal affairs of our country and declares its opposition to it,” he said. The message added that the existence of such a base, besides damaging the UN peace process in Afghanistan, was in contravention of international conventions and posed a serious threat to the region’s stability. That the UN peace process in Afghanistan, like its namesake in Palestine, is getting nowhere, is a moot point but the threat of the Russian military presence is real enough.
Russia’s stationing of troops along the 1,600km Tajik-Afghan border is the most obvious manifestation of Moscow’s attempts to re-establish its influence in the regionsparticularly in Central Asia and the Caucasusthat it abandoned after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. These efforts have been stepped up under the leadership of Yevgeny Primakov, who is conveniently also a former spy chief.
The massive presence of Russian troops in Tajikistan is under the pretext of defending the country from instability and Islamic fundamentalism. A peace deal struck two years ago to end Tajikistan’s civil war seems to be holding, but only just.
Russia also has defence agreements with other former Soviet Republics, many of them under the umbrella of the CIS Collective Security Treaty. However, it has not had its own way everywhere. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan both withdrew from the Treaty recently. Kazakhstan accused Moscow of gross interference in its internal affairs, claiming that Russia was using the Russians in Kazakhstan (nearly 40 percent of the population) to destabilise the country and to undermine its ability to make deals with the west without Russian approval.
Muslimedia: May 1-15, 1999