After declining to intervene in southern Kyrgyzstan’s turmoil over the summer, the Collective Security Treaty Organization is facing a fresh challenge in Tajikistan. And once again the Russia-led security group appears set to refrain from acting. The CSTO’s hesitancy is a reflection of a lack of clarity about the possible mission in Tajikistan, as well as underlying problems with its decision-making mechanism.
Events over the past few months have revealed Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to be the sick men of Central Asia, both in need of outside stabilization help. The CSTO would, on paper, seem to be an appropriate choice to come to the aid of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, especially since both are members of the organization. Yet, despite a threat of the spread of instability to other Central Asian states, the CSTO in practice appears unready or unwilling to test its peace-making capabilities at this time.
In the Tajik case, catalyst for the CSTO’s dilemma is the upsurge in militant activity in the Rasht Valley over the past few weeks, underscored by a September 19 ambush that left 26 government soldiers dead.
The deteriorating security situation, coupled with persistent economic dysfunction, seems to argue in favor of some sort of outreach by Tajikistan’s friends and neighbors. Tajik security forces are currently engaged in a security sweep of the Rasht Valley, but given recent events, it is uncertain whether militants can be uprooted from their strongholds. The CSTO nevertheless shows no sign of wanting to help out.
When queried on September 28 by EurasiaNet.org, a CSTO representative described the situation in the Rasht Valley as Tajikistan’s “internal matter,” and abruptly hung up the telephone.
While Dushanbe has been quick to blame the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan --a Jihadist insurgency group with a multi-national complexion -- for the recent upheaval in Tajikistan, CSTO representatives and regional experts aren’t so sure. Some analysts believe the Tajik troubles could have domestic roots that stretch back to the country’s civil war during the mid-1990s.
“According to the government, military operations in Rasht are explained by the need to resist radical Islam. I think this threat is a little exaggerated,” said Parviz Mullojanov, a prominent independent political analyst in Dushanbe.
In the face of uncertainty about the origins and the aims of the Rasht Valley insurgents, the CSTO seems unlikely to act. Technically, the CSTO can intervene in a member state only if that state is facing an external threat. “It is still unclear whether the conflict is due to an intense internal situation, or an outside threat. If it were because of an outside threat, that is a different situation,” said Fyodor Lukyanov of “Russia in Global Affairs.”
Sources close to the Tajik government say they are confident the CSTO would provide security assistance, if Dushanbe requested help. Farrukh Umarov, a political analyst at the Center for Strategic Studies, which is linked to the Tajik president’s office, said that the Tajik government hadn’t yet requested CSTO assistance. He admitted that making a determination on the nature of the Rasht Valley insurgency was a necessary step. Complicating matters, he pointed out, was the fact that a considerable number of Tajiks are found in the IMU’s ranks.
“Although the IMU is called an international outside threat, there are many local Tajik citizens in it. And [both Tajik and CSTO officials] are trying to clarify whether it can be considered an outside threat or local,” Umarov told EurasiaNet.org.
Even if the determination is made that Tajikistan is facing an international threat, some experts still see daunting obstacles to CSTO intervention. Most importantly, there is disagreement among member states about the criteria for the deployment of the CSTO’s rapid reaction force, said Marat Mamadshoev, editor-in-chief of Dushanbe’s Asia-Plus newspaper. “You can’t count on [the CSTO],” Mamadshoev said. “Uzbekistan will oppose deploying CSTO forces in Tajikistan because Uzbekistan is very sensitive to the idea of imperialism in the region.” Mamadshoev explained that Uzbekistan harbors ambitions of being the preeminent state in Central Asia, and the presence of a CSTO force anywhere in the region would hamper Tashkent’s ability to project its own influence.
Beyond Uzbekistan’s fickleness on a Central Asian deployment, Russia has had to contend with CSTO-related disagreements with Belarus, which is scheduled to assume the group’s rotating presidency in a few months.
While not inclined to get involved in Tajikistan, CSTO officials are still eager to build the organization’s credentials as a security provider. On September 21, the CSTO deputy chief of staff, Russian Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, said at a gathering of organization representatives that the bloc had to be ready to engage in peacemaking operations in the future. At the same time, he tacitly acknowledged that the decision-making mechanism on deployment remained flawed, noting that Uzbekistan did not have representatives at the meeting.
On September 24, the CSTO Secretary-General Nikolai Bordyuzha held talks in New York with United Nations officials on the implantation of a joint declaration signed in the spring.
Even if the CSTO remains on the sidelines in Central Asia, there is still the possibility of Russia’s unilateral intervention. For that to happen, though, the situation in either Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan would have to get a lot worse, Russian officials indicate. And they make no secret of that fact that Russia would expect geopolitical payback in return for security assistance, in particular a drastic weakening of ties with the Kremlin’s regional rival, the United States.
“The Kyrgyz and Tajik leadership should understand and shouldn’t make bargains with others,” Semyon Bagdasarov, a member of the Russian State Duma’s International Affairs Committee, told EurasiaNet.org. “We will stand behind our interests.”