View: Afghan crisis and the importance of Indo-Tajik cooperation
The Taliban’s takeover has implications for both domestic politics and regional security. In this context, India and Tajikistan can cooperate effectively to tackle the security challenges emanating from Afghanistan. Cooperation between the two countries is necessary at this stage, as the two share a common vision for the security and stability of Afghanistan. Likewise, New Delhi and Dushanbe have also cooperated in the past against the Taliban when they took power in Afghanistan in the mid-1990s. At the same time, Tajikistan has also faced the problem head-on since the emergence. Taliban as Afghanistan’s new center of power without legitimacy. As it has been reported that fearing persecution by the Taliban, the Tajik population of Afghanistan, which constitutes around 27% of the Afghan population, is fleeing to Tajikistan. Reports also suggest that with the coming to power of the Taliban, there could be a substantial increase in the production of narcotics in Afghanistan to generate income. This creates additional security concerns for the Emomali Rahmon government of Tajikistan. As highlighted by various United Nations Drugs and Crime Organization (UNODC) reports over the years, Tajikistan has become the main transit point for the illegal transport of narcotics from Afghanistan. India also faces threats from the Taliban. There are also various new reports that suggest there is a movement of Afghan drugs via the sea route to India after the Taliban took power in Afghanistan. At the same time, security analysts believe that radical and terrorist groups will receive a boost with the Taliban takeover and pose a threat to India’s security.
Coming to the issue of Indo-Tajik relations, the two countries have developed strategies for their relations in different areas, including defense cooperation. India has an air base near Dushanbe at an Ayni location and it has played a crucial role in providing humanitarian assistance to the civilian population of Afghanistan in the past. This air base rose to prominence recently when it was used as a base for itinerant Indians stranded in Kabul after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan.
The importance India attaches to Tajikistan is evident from the fact that in recent years Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Tajikistan in 2015 and President Ram Nath Kovind subsequently visited the country of Central Asia in 2018. It can be recalled here that the President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon also visited India in 2016. All these visits demonstrate that the two countries share a common perspective on global and regional issues.
India and Tajikistan share a common view that there should be an “inclusive political process” in Afghanistan. At the same time, Delhi and Dushanbe have rejected the role of extremist and radical groups like the Taliban and the ISKP who perpetuate terrorism in Afghanistan and neighboring regions. .
It is in this context; closer strategic cooperation between India and Tajikistan can be expected to ensure political stability in Afghanistan. Since the Taliban regime is not acceptable to both Delhi and Dushanbe, it is necessary to recognize Amrullah Saleh, as chairman of the exile government of Afghanistan. Even Afghan embassies located in various parts of the world are disassociating themselves from the Taliban regime. It can be emphasized here that even the UN has suggested to the Taliban to pursue a governance structure rooted in democratic ethics and an inclusive process. The same has however been rejected by the Taliban and it rules Afghanistan from a medieval perspective where there is no room for ethnic minority groups, women and the absence of the rule of law.
It can be noted here that Tajikistan and Russia operate under the aegis of the CSTO and carried out military exercises in September 2021. However, there are differences in perception between Russia and Tajikistan vis-à-vis the Taliban . Russia is considering engaging with the Taliban. In contrast, for Tajikistan, the Taliban are a terrorist group. Over the years, Tajikistan has suffered from the destabilizing role of the Taliban in Afghanistan. There are also reports that there is a massive deployment of troops by Tajikistan to put down the advancing Taliban.
Within the framework of the regional security of Central Asia, a geopolitical change is also occurring. Russia is trying to re-admit Uzbekistan into the CSTO just to balance Tajikistan. Even Russia is sending a strong signal to Tajikistan not to have a military alliance with the United States. This has placed Tajikistan in an isolated position in the Central Asian security structure. However, the Tajik people are calling for strong action against the Taliban. Likewise, over the years, Tajikistan has expressed concern over Pakistan’s support for radical and terrorist groups, including the Taliban and the ISKP. Likewise, there is growing resentment at ground level in Tajikistan against China for its expansionist movement. This is all the more true in the context of the transfer of Tajik lands to China in which the local populations express their dissatisfaction.
In this context, India and Tajikistan should pursue closer cooperation, including military. Already, there is security and defense cooperation between India and Tajikistan. The last consultative meeting between the two countries took place in February 2021 before the current Afghan crisis. Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar during his visit to Dushanbe to attend the recent SCO Foreign Ministers Summit, met with Tajik President Rahmon and discussed issues relating to the security situation in the aftermath of the emergence of the Taliban. Tajikistan also wants to use the port of Chahbahar which India operates in Iran. Iran also faces the threat to its security following the emergence of the Taliban in Afghanistan. In recent years, Tajikistan and Iran also share good relations. Likewise, India and Iran share a very cordial relationship. In this context, one can envisage a common front of India, Iran and Tajikistan against the Taliban.
It is from this perspective that India and Tajikistan can cooperate to curb the negative fallout due to the Taliban’s seizure of power in Afghanistan. Cooperation between the two countries is essential to bring peace to this failing state torn by turmoil in Afghanistan by installing the government of Amrullah Saleh.
The author teaches at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.