What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tajikistan's perilous state

So the International Crisis Group is sending us a warning signal about Tajikistan. It feels alarmist to a degree, not in its prediction of possible instability ("signs of cracks and fissures in the regime"), but rather in terms of its wording and some of its conclusions here and there. Of course it's the sort of report that one wishes to be able to call alarmist a year or two down the road.

This is the warning signal part below:

"Far from being a bulwark against the spread of extremism and violence from Afghanistan, Tajikistan is looking increasingly like its southern neighbour – a weak state that is suffering from a failure of leadership. Energy infrastructure is near total breakdown for the second winter running, and it is likely migrant labourer remittances, the driver of the country’s economy in recent years, will fall dramatically as a result of the world economic crisis. President Emomali Rakhmon may be facing his greatest challenge since the civil war of 1992-97. At the very least the government will be confronted with serious economic problems, and the desperately poor population will be condemned to yet more deprivation. At worst the government runs the risk of social unrest. There are few indications that the Rakhmon administration is up to this challenge. To address the situation, the international community – both at the level of international organisations and governments – should ensure any assistance reaches those who truly need it, place issues of governance and corruption at the centre of all contacts with the Tajik government, and initiate an energetic dialogue with President Rakhmon on democratisation."

What I immediately thought of the part about Tajikistan looking like Afghanistan was that it was significantly stretching it. Come on, the absence of an ongoing, organised insurgency is no small difference. Neither is it a minor deviation from the Afghan pattern that war is "rapidly ceasing to be a living memory" for the young growing up in Tajikistan. There are problems, but of a different nature. (And let's also clarify that corruption in Afghanistan cannot be regarded as a comprehensive explanation for the growth and the spread of the neo-Taliban and related insurgencies.)

Of course, the timing of ICG's report is not random. It never is. Photo illustration of present argument (only this small, low-rez pic was available over at NATO's). President Rakhmon of Dangara in Brussels, shaking hands with SG Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at NATO HQ, on February 11:

So NATO may soon cooperate more with Tajikistan, and there is a chance that transport infrastructure, territory and perhaps some base or bases may be used down the road for transiting supplies across the country. Just the time to tell Western leaders not to be uncritical in their approach entirely, in the name of gratitude for much needed assistance with the logistics of the Afghanistan mission.

Another reason for the timeliness of the report is the economic crisis and its anticipated impact on potentially as many as 1.5 million Tajik migrant workers, for whom some of the currently available opportunities to earn may disappear, as demand for their labour might shrink (for example in Russia, where some 50,000 migrants are said to be regularly working in Sochi alone, in the construction sector, ahead of the 2014 Olympics).

Those signs of cracks and fissures within the regime (and on its peripheries) cannot be discounted, either - it's worth reading the report for an overview of the recent period's incidents and concerning issues.

Finally, here's an interesting example of how far ICG was ready to venture in speculation in this report (page 18):

"Growing concern about Pakistan’s ability to provide a reliable supply route for military operations in Afghanistan could lead to an expansion of U.S. or NATO bases in Central Asia, perhaps including Tajikistan. Establishing a major logistics base in a near-failed state, however, would be a risky proposition. Rakhmon would probably welcome the idea, assuming he could persuade Moscow to accept it. But the creation of a base within striking distance of the Afghan border might finally make Tajikistan, with its threadbare security structures, an appealing target for Islamist extremists."

Expecting such harrassment of bases in Tajikistan is an interesting prediction, in the sense that it might make one raise one's eyebrows. The capability to infiltrate there is not exactly there on the part of the Taliban. Whether the IMU or the IJU could pull off something like this is another question. Anyway, at this point we of course do not know if anybody really wants a base in Tajikistan in the first place. It's not clear if the final word was said regarding Manas in Kyrgyzstan, either. What emerged most recently is that, come the end of February, 20 to 30 trainloads of supplies may be sent by the US alone from Riga harbour in Latvia down through Russia.


Anonymous said...

I live in Tajikistan, and have done so for the last two years. i would agree with the ICG report. From my perspective corruption is rife, the Government are increasingly disliked by the local people, the social infrastructure is crumbling more and more as the years pass the the authorities steal. If the immigrants come home from Russia this country could easily become a tinderbox, with the smallest provocation sliding the country into chaos.

Péter MARTON said...

I see. Of course I cannot argue with your assessment, it is always likely to be better informed than mine.

I tried not to fully downplay ICG's warnings here - they just seemed a touch too alarmist. But it does indeed look like Rakhmon's regime may not be the most stable one on Earth.