According to the service’s sources, officials are going house to house to identify and inform those who are likely to be sent to the border region, an indication of just how serious the authorities take the threat and how explosive the situation could become if any of the radicals on the Afghan side cross over into Turkmenistan.
Equally indicative of how serious conditions on the border now are is that Turkmenistan, a closed country which jealously guards its neutrality and seeks to avoid entering into international relationships even when those could benefit the country, its government and people is now considering what aid it might be able to get from regional players and others.
In a Nezavisimaya gazeta commentary, Viktoriya Panfilova who covers the former Soviet space for that Moscow paper picks up on the Radio Svoboda reporting and says there may be as many as 20,000 militants just over the Turkmenistan border in Afghanistan. Such a force could be a real threat ( ).
“If the militants approach the border and attempt to destabilize the situation in Turkmenistan,” the Russian journalist says, “Ashkhabad, despite the neutral status of the country will be forced to appeal for assistance to some one of the major players,” first in Central Asia and then more broadly.
She quotes Rafik Sayfulin, an Uzbek political analyst, to the effect that “none of the neighboring countries in Central Asia or more distant foreign figures will remain on the side [in that event] especially Uzbekistan and Russia. All understand that any disorders will threaten still greater chaos.”
The Uzbek analyst says that despite its problems with the West, “Russia also will not remain on the sidelines.
Aleksandr Knyazev, a Russian specialist on Central Asia, says it is important to understand how diverse the militants on the Afghan side of the border are. Some are Islamist radicals, but others are ethnic Turkmens, in many cases, descendants of Turkmens who fled the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s and who tried to enter Turkmenistan in the 1990s.
“Besides appealing for assistance to Moscow or Tashkent,” Panfilova continues, “Turkmenistan may also appeal to the UN. But in this case, it would have to take on obligations before the international community” regarding the return of emigres, obligations that Ashkhabad has been reluctant to do.
A major reason it has and why the Turkmen authorities are seeking to oppose the militants in Afghanistan is that it fears that if the Turkmens living in Afghanistan were to return, they would constitute a threat to the regime because their cultural values are now so very different from those the post-Soviet authorities there have sought to promote.