Books on Tajikistan
Update No: 318 - (28/06/07)
The Russians reverse the US advance into Central Asia
Tajikistan used to be a remote backwater. No longer. 9:11 has transformed its
geopolitical status, if nothing else. It is now in the front line against rogue
states and terrorism - albeit, given spectacular US ineptitude of late, not
quite so much as before.
Since the peaceful implosion of communism in the USSR in December 1991, both the
Russian Federation and the US have been manoeuvring to sign up the former Soviet
republics of Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan as
client states. Here was a yawning hole waiting to be filled.
Moscow watched nervously as the US developed joint military exercises in Central
Asia, but after 11 September 2001, Washington managed to secure over-flight
rights in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan and the use of bases in Kyrgyzstan,
Tajikistan and Uzbekistan for the war in Afghanistan.
While Russia had maintained the 201st Motorized Rifle Division in Tajikistan
since 1991, only in October 2003 did it open its first air force base since 1991
outside of the Russian Federation, in Kant, Kyrgyzstan, as part of the
Collective Security Treaty Organization.
Reversal of fortune
Now events have gone in reverse. The US has lost its basing rights in
Tajikistan; has been booted out of Karshi-Khanabad; and the Kyrgyz Parliament is
considering shuttering Manas. Russia meanwhile has only boosted its strength in
the region, reinforcing Kant and holding discussions with Turkmenistan about
possibly returning to facilities there.
Russia currently has 25 bases beyond its borders, mostly radar tracking
stations. Eleven are in Central Asian nations (four in Kazakstan, five in
Kyrgyzstan and two in Tajikistan). The Pentagon, by contrast, maintains over 800
foreign military bases, but it now look increasingly likely that it will lose
its sole remaining Central Asian base in Kyrgyzstan.
While Moscow managed to maintain forces in Tajikistan even after the implosion
of the Soviet Union, the remaining four "Stans" moved swiftly towards
neutrality - a fact that Washington was quick to exploit, beginning in 1995 when
NATO under its Partnership for Peace (PfP) program began to draw up joint
training exercises under US supervision.
The August 1995 Cooperative Nugget exercise at Fort Polk, Louisiana involved US,
Kazak, Kyrgyz and Uzbek troops. Cooperative Nugget exercises were also held in
March 1997 and May 2000. Cooperative Osprey, another NATO PfP program was held
in North Carolina in August 1996, where US, Dutch and Canadian troops joined
with 16 PfP countries, including Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan in training exercises.
The Pentagon then swiftly moved to hold joint exercises in Central Asia,
Russia's traditional "backyard." The first were NATO PfP Central Asian
Peacekeeping Battalion, or "Centrazbat" joint military exercises in
1997. The manoeuvres took place in Chirchik, Uzbekistan and Kazakstan in
mid-September and involved Kazak, Uzbek and Kyrgyz paratroops, who had trained
at Fort Bragg, North Carolina prior to an 18-hour 6,700-mile non-stop flight to
Uzbekistan, were along with 500 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division they
participated in the largest airborne operation since World War II. The scenario
was that the battalion was conducting operations against "dissident
Deputy Assistant Defence Secretary Catherine Kelleher said that the US presence
in Centrasbat was justified because of the "potential for conflict."
In a telling aside illuminating Washington's interest in the region's vast
energy reserves Kelleher added "the presence of enormous energy
resources" as a justification. In an even more revealing remark as to how
the exercise would be interpreted in Moscow, NATO commander four-star Marine
General John Sheehan, who led the drop, said simply: "The message I would
leave is that there is no nation on the face of the earth where we can't
go." That is clear enough but the next question is, that having gone there,
can they stay?
Similar operations were held annually through 2000, when more than 2,000 troops
from the US, Kazakstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Mongolia,
Turkey, the UK and Russia participated.
The terrorist attacks of 9/11 gave Washington an unparalleled opportunity to
move into Central Asia. On 9 February 2002, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell
told the House International Relations Committee that "America will have a
continuing interest and presence in Central Asia of a kind that we could not
have dreamed of before." Within six months of 9/11, the Pentagon
established 13 bases in nine nations in and around Afghanistan. Some of the
groundwork for the US presence predated 9/11; Central Command General Tommy
Franks had first visited Uzbekistan in September 2000, shortly after his
appointment as CENTCOM Commander-in-Chief, following the visit up with a trip to
Tashkent in May 2001.
Gains and losses
After 9/11, Kazakstan on 8 December 2001 ratified a Status of Forces
agreement with Washington, which allowed for over-flights, increased
intelligence sharing and for coalition aircraft involved in Operation Enduring
Freedom to be based in the country. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said
his country was "ready to fulfil its obligations stemming from UN
resolutions and agreements with the United States" to combat terrorism.
Washington still has over flight rights in Kazakhstan and signed a five-year
bilateral military agreement in September 2003.
On 4 December 2001, Kyrgyzstan and the US concluded a Status of Armed Forces
(SOFA) agreement, allowing the Pentagon to use the Manas airbase for the bargain
rent of US$2 million annually. Manas was chosen by the Pentagon for its
14,000-foot runway, which was originally built to handle Soviet bombers, but
could handle US C-5 Galaxy cargo planes and 747s in their 1,000-mile flight to
Afghanistan. Of Kyrgyzstan's 52 airports, Manas was the only one with a lengthy
runway and the only one capable of supporting international flights. An adjacent
32-acre field was designated as the site of a tent city for US personnel.
Relationships between Washington and Bishkek slowly began to deteriorate,
however, a pattern that was exacerbated after Kyrgyzstan's March 2007
"Tulip Revolution," when it emerged that a number of American NGOs
were actively supporting the opposition. Resentment in the new parliament also
grew over the paltry rent paid for the use of Manas and the environmental damage
inflicted by the incessant aerial operations.
Things came to a head on 6 December 2006 when US soldier Zachary Hatfield shot
and killed 42-year-old Kyrgyz Aleksandr Ivanov, an ethnic Russian Kyrgyz
civilian, at the airbase's entry gate. Despite Kyrgyz demands that Hatfield be
handed over for trial - as the Main Directorate of Investigations of the Kyrgyz
Interior Ministry filed charges under Article 97, Part 1 of the Criminal Code
dealing with deliberate homicide - the US military spirited Hatfield out of the
country on 21 March.
The incident left Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who had earlier demanded
that American servicemen stationed in the country be stripped of diplomatic
immunity, in a difficult position. Kyrgyzstan subsequently raised the leasing
fee for Manas to US$150 million annually, but a final agreement with Washington
has yet to be finalized.
Four of Kyrgyzstan's parliamentary committees are now agitating to close Manas
and expel its 1,200 US personnel. The Defence Committee, headed by Rashid
Tagayev, is leading the initiative to force the government to cancel the 2001
military agreement with the US.
On 23 May, Committee for Defence and Security Deputy Hajimurat Korkmazov said in
a statement: "The military actions in Afghanistan have ended, and today
there is no need for the presence of an American military air base on the
territory of Kyrgyzstan. If necessary, I will lead my people out to close the
air base at Manas!"
While Bakiyev maintained that the US presence provided an important source of
income, it is unclear at this point if he will be able to withstand the mounting
In contrast, Kyrgyz Parliamentary Speaker Marat Sultanov has spoken about
increasing military cooperation with Russia, enlarging the Kant air base and
even returning Russian border guards to Kyrgyzstan's southern border after an
Washington was also able to benefit from 9/11 by acquiring basing rights in
Tajikistan's Kulob air base, along with France and Italy, about 48 kilometres
from the Afghan border. At its height, the Pentagon maintained about 200
personnel with helicopters at Kulob. The French had a fighter squadron based
there. The US endeavour was short-lived and wound up by the end of 2002. The
Russians in contrast, never left.
In the aftermath of 9/11, Turkmenistan allowed coalition forces to use Turkmen
airspace and refuel at Ashgabat airport. Washington's fumbled opportunity is
most noticeable in Turkmenistan, where the death last December of President
Saparmurat Niyazov opened up possibilities for a new relationship between
Washington and Ashgabat.
It was Russia, however, that moved quickly to consolidate its relationship with
Turkmenistan's new president, Gurbangeldy Berdymukhammedov, who visited Moscow
on 23-24 April, while many political observers remained focused on the fact that
the major item on the agenda was Turkmenistan's immense natural gas reserves.
The most notable aspect of the summit was that Russian President Vladimir Putin
and Berdymukhammedov discussed reopening some Soviet-era military facilities
that had been mothballed since the 1991 collapse of the USSR, including
Following his return to Ashgabat, Berdymukhammedov reportedly ordered the
Ministries of Defence and Civil Aviation to coordinate the routes of
international passenger airlines with the work of military installations,
according to an ISN Security Watch source in the Turkmen Defence Ministry.
The sites under consideration are shuttered underground testing sites under
Serkhatabad and west of Mary and several other complexes with military cities,
airfields and missile silos.
Uzbekistan moved swiftly to support the Bush administration's so-called war on
terror in the form of a Status of Armed Forces (SOFA) signed agreement on 7
October. In a telling moment, the allied air campaign in Afghanistan began an
hour later. Under terms of the SOFA agreement, the US was allowed to use Uzbek
airspace and base up to 1,500 military personnel at Karshi-Khanabad (K-2) in
Sukhandariya province on the border with Afghanistan.
Washington's loss of influence in Uzbekistan can be summed up in a single word:
"Andijan," where on 13 May 2005, Uzbek security forces fired into a
crowd of demonstrators who were protesting the trial of local Islamic activists.
While Tashkent maintained that 187 people, mostly "terrorist
organizers," died during the Andijan unrest, tardily producing video shot
by the protesters showing hostage taking, armed men, manufacturing of Molotov
cocktails etc., human rights groups immediately went on the offensive and
maintained that the actual death toll was far higher.
Washington's equivocal response led Tashkent on 29 July 2005 to inform
Washington that it was abrogating the agreement permitting the US military to
use the Karshi-Khanabad airbase under terms of the bilateral SOFA, giving the
Pentagon 180 days to end its activities there.
While the Pentagon put a brave face on the directive, the loss of the army's
Camp Stronghold Freedom Karshi-Khanabad logistics base just 96 kilometres from
the northern Afghan border was a significant blow, as the 416th Air
Expeditionary Group averaged 200 passengers and 100 tonnes of cargo per day on
C-130H missions supporting Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
On 21 December 2006, Russia gained the right to use Uzbekistan's Navoi air base
in the event of emergencies or "force majeure" contingencies in return
for military supplies.
A decade after the peaceful collapse of the USSR, US influence in Central Asia
reached its apogee in the months following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Since
that time, however, Washington's policies in central Asia have led to a gradual
withdrawal of support by nearly all the nations involved as they slowly
reoriented their priorities again towards Russia.
There are many reasons for this, including local rulers' reluctance to be
lectured by Washington on human rights as well as the Pentagon's stinginess in
paying prevailing market rates for military facilities.
If the US is to regain a modicum of its former influence in Central Asia, then
it is time for Washington to take a long hard look at the reasons for the
gradual decline of its influence there.
Dushanbe, Tehran sign 5 agreements
The Tajikistan radio and television network has been working as an independent
organisation for the past 15 years. The managers of Tajik radio are now
proposing to increase their activities with the help of Iranian experts, Tajik
Radio manager Abdulqader Toledov, New Europe reported.
Toledov commented that he was well acquainted with Iranian radio, adding,
"I listen to the voice of Khorasan when I am in Tajikistan and it is quite
educational for me." Toledov said, "We recently signed an agreement
with the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), and since Iranian radio
has high quality programmes, we are planning joint productions. We are also
sending some of our young people to study in various fields at the IRIB
University." Tajik Culture Minister, Mirzoshohrokh Asrorov, urged for
expansion of cultural ties between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Tajikistan.
Speaking for Tajik clerics studying at theological centre of the holy city of
Qom, he said expansion of mutual relations would be effective to resolve minor
issues between the two countries. He said that given common language and
culture, the two countries should enjoy very profound ties. Tajik clerics are
ambassadors from Tajikistan who should endeavour to bolster ties between the two
nations, he said. Exchange of views on various issues, setting up cultural and
handicrafts exhibitions would help broaden ties between Iran and Tajikistan, he
pointed out. Iran and Tajikistan are to launch a joint TV channel in the near
future, which could help promote cultural cooperation between the two nations,
Asrorov met governor general of Iran's northeastern province of Khorassan Razavi
and stressed the need for the preservation of Tajikistan and Iran's joint
identity and utilization of all potentials for the development of both states.
Khorasan Razavi, Tajikistan ink MoUs
Khorasan Razavi province and Tajikistan signed two memoranda of understanding
and two other agreements during a trip by a provincial delegation to the Central
Asian state. The aim of the delegation is supporting Iranian investors and
providing facilities to Iranian businessmen to participate in Tajik markets,
Governor General of Khorasan Razavi province Mohammad-Javad Mohammadizadeh, who
headed the economic delegation on the visit to Tajikistan arrived in Dushanbe to
sign a memorandum of understanding for bolstering economic cooperation. He held
talks with ministers of energy and industry, agriculture and environment,
building and architecture and culture of the Central Asian country. He said the
two sides reached consensus on expansion of cooperation in all fields. "In
an agreement with the Tajik minister of energy and industry, we expressed our
readiness to construct a cement plant with a production capacity of one million
tons, reconstruct the existing plant, and increase its potential by
two-fold," he added.
Tajikistan to boost cooperation with NATO
NATO is planning to increase its transit shipment of humanitarian aid and
military hardware for peacekeeping forces in Afghanistan through Tajikistan,
NATO Special Representative for Central Asia Robert Simmons told Interfax News
Simmons arrived in Tajikistan for a three-day working visit. He noted that the
number of NATO troops deployed in Tajikistan would not be increased. However,
given that agreements allowing the use of Tajikistan as a transit country have
existed for more than three years, NATO can now increase the amount of transit
shipments going through Tajikistan, Simmons told Interfax after his meeting with
President, Emomali Rakhmon. During talks with Simmons, Rakhmon said Tajikistan
is in cooperation with NATO. "Tajikistan is interested in broadening the
cooperation with the alliance that has a big experience in the conduction of
joint military exercises, coordination of search and rescue operations,
humanitarian actions and liquidation of consequence of emergencies," the
president's press service cited him as saying.
Tajik-Kyrgyz water consortium set up to resolve problems
During a recent visit by the Kyrgyz Foreign Minister, Ednan Karabaev, to
Dushanbe, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan agreed to set up a joint Water and Energy
Consortium on their which will resolve regional water and energy disputes, New
The water consortium would also be open to the other Central Asian countries.
However the observers said the water problems would not be resolved unless the
other Central Asian states are brought on board. The idea of a water consortium
involving all the countries in the region has been on the table for around 10
years. From time to time, a head of state will float the idea again, through
Central Asian regional groupings or also within the Eurasian Economic Community
of which Russia is a member. The issue was last brought up during an informal
summit involving four Central Asian heads of state in Astana last September, but
failed to reach the discussion stage. Despite Karabaev's insistence that
Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan see eye to eye on energy issues, experts in both
countries doubt the two states can revive the idea and turn it into reality.