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Central Asia in Focus: Tajik Authorities Claim Militants Crossed from Afghanistan


TAJIKISTAN -- Darvoz district: Photos of the weapons seized from the militants. Photo courtesy Khovar.tj
TAJIKISTAN -- Darvoz district: Photos of the weapons seized from the militants. Photo courtesy Khovar.tj

In this week’s edition: Tajik authorities claim militants crossed over from Afghanistan, forced labor in Turkmenistan’s cotton fields, Kyrgyz authorities crack down, and more.

In the Region

Tajik Authorities Claim Militants Crossed from Afghanistan

Tajikistan’s State Committee for National Security (GKNB) says it thwarted an attempted terrorist attack from militants who had crossed into Tajikistan from Afghanistan.

The GKNB said in a September 6 press release that three members of an international terrorist group crossed into Tajikistan during the night of August 30.

“Their aim was to carry out a terrorist attack in Tajikistan on the eve of the state’s (September 9) independence day,” according to the statement.

When Tajik security forces moved in and ordered them to surrender, the militants reportedly opened fire and were all killed in the clash, the GKNB said. According to the GKNB, the militants were from the Ansarullah militant group that are an ally of the Taliban.

Ansarullah is a domestic Tajik extremist group that carried out an attack in the northern Tajik city of Khujand in September 2010 that killed two policemen and wounded 25 other people.

For more than a decade the group has been in Afghanistan, fighting alongside the Taliban against foreign and foreign-backed forces.

Since their return to power in August 2021, the Taliban have been saying that they would not allow any group inside Afghanistan to use Afghan territory to attack a neighbor.

If Ansarullah militants crossed from Afghanistan into Tajikistan, it would seem the Taliban are not keeping their promise.

The Tajik government has been the lone Central Asian government that has refused to deal with Taliban government since they returned to power in Afghanistan.

In the first weeks after the Taliban took control, tensions rose along the Tajik-Afghan border as the Tajik government criticized the acting Taliban government and warned of the threats from militant groups in Afghanistan.

The Taliban deployed Ansarullah militants to watch the Tajik-Afghan border and armed them with weapons given to Afghan government troops by foreign forces.

GKNB photos of the weapons and equipment the GKN seized from the militants show western-made weapons, including American M-16s that foreign forces gave to Afghan government forces.

Taliban officials have not commented on the incident.

Why It’s Important: Tajik authorities have a long-established reputation for weaving tales that make little sense or are at odds with the evidence.

The amount of weapons and ammunition seized from the militants appears to be more than three men could carry, yet there was only mention of three militants.

Eurasianet also suggested internal fighting in the Tajik government between the GKNB and the prosecutor general’s office could be behind the GKNB’s reported security operation, or that the GKNB might be trying to score some points by reporting an operation to neutralize militants ahead of a national holiday.

If this militant story is partially or completely contrived, it would mean Tajikistan’s GKNB is playing a dangerous game, boosting its domestic image by essentially implicating the Taliban in an attempted cross-border terrorist attack.

The Season of Forced Labor in Turkmenistan’s Cotton Fields Starts

It’s cotton harvest time in Turkmenistan and that means state employees and others, including children, are being sent into fields around the country.

Among those being sent to the cotton fields in Turkmenistan’s western Balkan Provinces are doctors and teachers.

Speaking under condition of anonymity, one of the doctors picking in Balkan told RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service, Azatlyk, that medical facilities in the area are effectively shut down while personnel pick cotton.

The doctor said everyone sent to the field is expected to pick 60 kilograms of cotton per day and added the crop is so poor this year due to drought that is difficult to gather even 13.

To the east, in Turkmenistan’s Mary Province, older school students are picking cotton after school; younger children go in the early afternoon.

They are paid about $0.75 per kilogram of cotton they pick.

Why It’s Important: Uzbekistan started a campaign to eliminate forced labor in the cotton fields shortly after Shavkat Mirziyoev became president in 2016.

That campaign has proven effective.

That leaves Turkmenistan as the only Central Asian state that still conscripts people at cotton harvest time.

Turkmen authorities have not given any sign that they intend to change this odious practice.

The Latest Majlis Podcast

This week’s Majlis podcast looks at Kyrgyz authorities are tightening their grip over the country.

For nearly one year, the government has cracked down on critics and opponents. That campaign intensified at the end of August and in early September.

Kyrgyz authorities have moved to shut down another independent media outlet, detained a leading opposition figure who is a serving member of parliament, and are preparing to strip the Constitutional Court of its powers over a ruling that supported women’s rights.

This week’s guests are:

  • Erica Marat, Associate Professor at the National Defense University in Washington DC; and
  • Syinat Sultanalieva, Central Asia Researcher for Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan at Human Rights Watch.

What I'm Following

People Flock to Turkmen Capital to Buy Flour, Bread

RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service, Azatlyk, reports residents of Turkmenistan’s Ahal Province are traveling to the capital Ashgabat to buy flour and bread.

Azatlyk also said that because of the significant influx in people to the capital, prices for some goods, such as vegetables and fruits, have doubled as sellers run out.

Food problems in Turkmenistan now, at the height of harvest season, bode ill for the coming winter.

A Central Asian Summit

Dushanbe is hosting the Central Asian summit on September 14-15.

It will be interesting to see if the leaders sign the Friendship Agreement.

That agreement was supposed to be signed at the summit last year in July in Kyrgyzstan.

Turkmenistan and Tajikistan said at the time they needed more time to review the agreement.

One note on the summit: Turkmenistan’s former president, currently chairman of the Halk Maslahaty (People’s Council), Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov is apparently representing Turkmenistan at the summit.

No word on why President Berdymukhammedov’s son Serdar is not leading the delegation.

Fact of the Week

Former Kazakh Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tleuberdi presented his credentials as Kazakhstan’s permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency on September 6.

Kazakhstan is preparing to conduct a national referendum to build the country’s first nuclear power plant.

Thanks for Reading

Thanks for reading Central Asia in Focus! I appreciate you sharing it with other readers who may be interested.

Feel free to contact me on Twitter or by responding to this email, especially if you have any questions, comments, or just want to connect about topics concerning Central Asia. See you next week for more on what’s happening in Central Asia.

Until next time,
Bruce

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    Bruce Pannier

    Bruce Pannier authors RFE/RL's "Central Asia in Focus" newsletter and appears regularly on the RFE/RL's Majlis podcast.

About Central Asia in Focus

An authoritarian tide is sweeping through Central Asia, resulting in political repression and a stark retreat in civil liberties. Central Asia in Focus, a bi-weekly newsletter, focuses on key events shaping the course of the region. Author Bruce Pannier shares personal insights informed by his three decades of experience covering Central Asia, and tells his readers what may come next.

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