How Tajikistan became the hub of Afghan resistance
As the international community grapples with whether to recognize the new Taliban regime in Kabul, one country quickly made it clear where it stood. Neighboring Tajikistan has become a vocal critic of the government and a hub of Afghan resistance.
Ahmad Massoud, leader of the Afghan National Resistance Front and son of Soviet-era resistance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, Amrullah Saleh, former vice-president and self-proclaimed interim president, and Abdul Latif Pedram, leader of the National Congress Party Afghanistan, were all protected in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan.
Afghanistan’s neighbors in Central Asia fear that the Taliban takeover could unleash radicalism and spur drug trafficking in the region, as well as increase refugee flows. But for Tajikistan in particular, support for the ethnic Tajiks who make up the Afghan resistance and who have long suffered discrimination is non-negotiable.
“The full weight of the negative consequences of the departure of the international coalition falls on the shoulders of neighboring countries,” said Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, referring to the US withdrawal last month of its last troops from Afghanistan, ending 20 years of war. the.
“If we leave the situation without attention, there is a risk that the situation of 2001 will repeat itself,” he said, referring to the September 11 terrorist attacks in America which precipitated US involvement in Afghanistan.
The history of the two countries has long been linked, with several hundred thousand Tajiks – Afghanistan’s second largest ethnic group – taking refuge there during the civil war of the 1990s.
A sign of Rahmon’s close ties to resistance leaders, this month he bestowed the highest honor on Massoud’s father, Tajikistan, for his support during the Tajik civil war. Rahmon had supported the opposition Northern Alliance, led by Massoud during the Taliban rule in the 1990s.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Western diplomat in the region said Rahmon could use the Taliban threat to bolster his domestic support and as a “pretext for a new crackdown on the opposition” and the introduction of more counterterrorism measures.
The fallen Afghan government and the resistance, which is fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan’s Panjsher province, are using Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe, as a base to plan their next steps. “We plan to announce formal resistance to the Taliban within a month,” said Pedram, who has a bounty of $ 200,000 on his head. He and his wife, journalist turned politician Fereshta Hazrati, cousin of the late Ahmad Shah Massoud, head the resistance council.
Given the Taliban’s reluctance to engage in federal government talks, they have no choice but to go to war, Pedram said. “Either we accept the Islamist state or we resist. Nothing is more important to us than freedom. We cannot afford to live in the circumstances we know under the Islamist state, ”he said.
Support for the resistance will increase once it gains momentum, he said. While it is currently only funded by wealthy Afghans, it hopes to rely more on Russia, the traditional guarantor of security in Central Asia. “We want good relations with all the countries in the region. But of them all, Russia undoubtedly has the most power, ”he said.
Pedram said the resistance had “very good” contacts with Moscow “beyond the ministerial level” and that Rahmon, in power since the collapse of the Soviet Union, should champion the cause of the resistance with President Vladimir Putin on a future visit.
But Temur Umarov, a Central Asia expert at the Carnegie Moscow Center, doubts the resistance can count on Moscow’s support. “Russia understands that the most likely scenario for the future of Afghanistan is one where the Taliban play a key role there while the resistance forces are no longer able to regain power, even in some provinces”, Umarov said.
Still, resistance members argue that Afghan resources such as copper, lithium, iron and aluminum provide Moscow with an incentive. “It is also an economic war. The Russians are not helping us for God’s sake, but they will help us with the economy, ”Pedram said.
As the larger resistance is beset by infighting, with Pedram and Massoud reluctant to work with Saleh, they are united on the need for global support.
Mohammad Zahir Aghbar, Ambassador of Afghanistan to Tajikistan under the former government and now considered Saleh’s deputy, said: “We don’t want a few countries to support us, we want the international community to support us. Because it is international terrorism that we are talking about here and that it threatens the whole world. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021