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Tajikistan Concerned About Taliban Plots To Infiltrate From Afghanistan

Hundreds of Tajik citizens are believed to have fought under the Taliban flag in Afghanistan. (file photo)
Hundreds of Tajik citizens are believed to have fought under the Taliban flag in Afghanistan. (file photo)

Officials in Dushanbe say they've received reports that Tajik militants who fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan are now making plans to cross the border into Tajikistan.

An official at Tajikistan's Border Service, a branch of the State National Security Committee, confirmed to RFE/RL that Tajik authorities are reviewing information from various sources that militants are preparing infiltrations from northern Afghanistan.

"We do have such reports," the official said September 22 on condition of anonymity. "Regardless of whether it will happen or not, we see certain security threats from the other side of border and we are prepared to deal with them."

Tajikistan shares more than 1,400 kilometers of border with Afghanistan. The former Soviet republic has been on high alert since the Taliban's rapid advance along the borders of northern Afghanistan in early summer, weeks before the militant group took over Kabul on August 15.

In June, security sources in Dushanbe expressed concern that a notorious 25-year-old Tajik militant commander named Mohammad Sharifov had been put in charge of security in five border districts seized by the Taliban in the northeastern Afghan province of Badakhshan.

Security sources in Tajikistan also say that Sharifov -- known by the alias Mahdi Arsalon -- also traveled to Kabul after it fell to the Taliban, apparently for consultations with Taliban leaders there.

Mohammad Sharipov (aka Mahdi Arsalon)
Mohammad Sharipov (aka Mahdi Arsalon)

Sharifov returned to Afghanistan's northern border region a week ago and has been seen in Badakhshan in recent days, several local villagers told RFE/RL on condition of anonymity.

A former Afghan security official with detailed knowledge of the area told RFE/RL on September 22 that Tajik Taliban militants have been gathering information about the easiest places to cross the border into Tajikistan.

Martyrdom Battalion

The latest reports come as pro-Taliban media in Afghanistan reported on September 22 that a new branch of the so-called the Lashkar-e Mansouri Martyrdom Battalion was established in Badakhshan Province.

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According to the Bakhtar news agency, the move is aimed at countering "possible threats" to Afghanistan's new Taliban rulers.

In Tajikistan's eastern province of Badakhshon, which borders Afghanistan, regional government spokesman Gholib Niyatbekov said there have been many "rumors" about the possibility of a militant attack from Afghanistan in recent days.

Speaking to RFE/RL on September 24, Niyatbekov cast doubt over the seriousness of the threat. But he said Tajik border guards have been reinforced in the area.

Taliban spokesman in Kabul Zabihullah Mujahid denied that militants are plotting ways to infiltrate Tajikistan. Mujahid told RFE/RL on September 22 that "no one will be allowed to use Afghanistan's territory to harm its neighbors."

In June, Mujahid also denied reports that the Taliban put Sharifov in charge of security in areas near the border with Tajikistan.

But multiple sources and eyewitnesses in northern Afghanistan insist that "Arsalon" oversees the districts of Kuf Ab, Khwahan, Maimay, Nusay, and Shekay.

CSTO troops on the lookout over the Tajik-Afghan border in July.
CSTO troops on the lookout over the Tajik-Afghan border in July.

During the Taliban's advance in the summer, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon ordered the deployment of 20,000 additional forces to help guard Tajikistan's border.

Tajikistan has also recently conducted military drills with troops from Russia and other members of the Moscow-led security group, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).

After the Taliban's seizure of power in Kabul, Rahmon warned that Dushanbe will not recognize any government in Afghanistan that undermines the "interests of ethnic Tajiks and other minorities" there.

Brutal Killings

The Taliban has said it poses no threat to neighboring countries. Nevertheless, Tajikistan remains wary of the presence of hundreds of Tajik militants in Afghanistan.

Sharifov and his fighters are members of Jamaat Ansarullah, which is banned in Tajikistan as a terrorist group.

Jamaat Ansarullah -- also known as Ansarullah or Ansorullo -- was founded by a rogue former Tajik opposition commander a decade ago with the ultimate goal of overthrowing the government in Dushanbe.

Sharifov was said to be involved in recruiting Tajik citizens to join the Taliban in the past when the Taliban was still fighting against the Western-backed government in Kabul. One security source in Tajikistan claimed that he has "introduced" about 200 Tajik militants to the Taliban.

Tajik fighters in Badakhshan Province caught the Afghan authorities' attention in November 2020 when footage appeared on social media showing insurgents brutally killing men in Afghan Army uniforms.

Some of the militants spoke with a distinct Tajik accent. The video purportedly showed the fall of the province's Maimay district to the Taliban.

Authorities in Tajikistan have identified at least 10 of the insurgents as Tajik citizens. Tajik Interior Ministry officials confirm that Sharifov was among the group.

Written by Farangis Najibullah with reporting by Mumin Ahmadi of RFE/RL's Tajik Service

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