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Is Russia Considering Returning To The Afghan Border?

Viktor Ivanov during his visit to Tajikistan

Viktor Ivanov during his visit to Tajikistan

Viktor Ivanov, the head of Russia's Federal Drug Control Service, was in Tajikistan at the start of July and made a curious remark.

Ivanov said Russian border guards could return to duty in Tajikistan keeping a watch on the Central Asian country's border with Afghanistan. It was a function the Russian border guards performed from 1991 until 2006, when they completely handed over the task to their Tajik counterparts.

Ivanov said Russia was not holding talks with Tajikistan on sending the Russian troops back but added, "if the countries have goodwill it is possible." Ivanov made his comments just after meeting with Tajik President Emomali Rahmon.

It is no secret Russia, as well as other countries, are concerned about increasing drug trafficking from Afghanistan through Tajikistan and onward toward Russia and Europe or China and Asia.

Many in Russia and some of the Central Asian states were displeased to see the last of the Russian border guards leave the Tajik-Afghan border and feared the Tajik border guards were not up to the task.

Results since have been mixed. Seizures of narcotics are up, but many feel that simply reflects the fact that ever more narcotics are crossing the border and that the percentage of drugs intercepted remains only some 5 to 10 percent of the total.

Russia may have another reason for wanting to help Tajikistan keep watch on its southern frontier. Kyrgyzstan, to the north of Tajikistan, has been experiencing severe difficulties -- the ouster of a president and violence between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks.

With instability both to the south and north, Tajikistan's border guards are stretched thin, a situation that gives the "bad guys" -- drug traffickers, Islamic militants, and others -- easier access and freedom of movement in the southeastern Central Asian region.

Ivanov said the question was: are Russia and Tajikistan "ready to take this action"? Since Ivanov appears to have been the one talking about it, we can assume Russia at least is ready.

-- Bruce Pannier

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