Monday, July 8, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Rising Ethnic Tensions in Afghanistan Exacerbating Dushanbe-Tashkent Relations, Russian Expert Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 8 – Clashes between Tajik and Uzbek groups in northern Afghanistan are likely to lead Dushanbe and Tashkent to provide more assistance to their co-ethnics there, aid that will exacerbate both ethnic tensions in Afghanistan and relations between the two Central Asian countries, according to a Russian expert.

            Andrey Serenko, a researcher at the Moscow Center for the Study of Contemporary Afghanistan, says that fighting between Tajik and Uzbek groups at the end of June near Talukan are creating problems not only inside Afghanistan but between the countries where they are the titular nationality (

            He told Deutsche Welle that “the spectre of 2014” – the date the US has set for the withdrawal of its forces – “is forcing field commanders and politicians among the Afghan Uzbeks and Tajiks to prepare strategic  rear areas through the use of their connections in Uzbekistan and in Tajikistan respectively.”

            On the one hand, he said, they are seeking more military assistance, including weapons and ammunition, and he chance to train fighters on the territory of these countries. And on the other, in the words of the German broadcaster, “many politician of the Northern Alliance from among the Tajiks have already acquired property in Dushanbe” in case they have to withdraw.

            Tashkent and Dushanbe for their part need to defend their borders and thus want to continue to count on their co-ethnics in Afghanistan to help them, Serenko added.  Consequently, “one should expect an intensification of tensions between Afghan Tajiks and Uzbeks and an increase in support which Dushanbe and Tashkent will provide them” in the coming months.

            The two Central Asian countries began providing assistance to their co-ethnics in the Northern Alliance after the collapse of the Soviet Union in order to keep the Taliban away from their own national borders. After the US-led intervention in 2001, the Taliban threat to Tajikistan and Uzbekistan receded, and the calculations of Tashkent and Dushanbe changed.

            Now, according to Deutsche Welle, given the prospect that the Taliban will again be a power in northern Afghanistan after the Americans depart, that calculus has changed yet again, and both governments appear to be more intent on aiding their co-ethnics inside Afghanistan. 

            The two countries could cooperate, but tensions between Tajiks and Uzbeks in Afghanistan and between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as states are high, making separate and ultimately competing efforts far more likely (  and

                Gunter Knabe, a German specialist on Afghanistan with whom Deutsche Welle spoke, agreed. “Both Uzbekistan and Tajikistan recognize the threat of a growth in narcotics trafficking and the danger of the penetration of Islamists from Afghanistan across their borders after 2014.” And “they are showing heightened attention” to the Uzbeks and Tajiks in Afghanistan.

            According to Knabe, the two countries are preparing for “an armed struggle” in the northern portion of Afghanistan, with Tashkent viewing Uzbek General Abdul Rashid Dustum as “a strong political leader,” and Dushanbe reaching the same conclusion about the Tajik Atta Mohammad Nur.”

            The situation for Dushanbe is “more complicated,” Knabe said, because “there is no ‘centralizing’ figure like Dustum in the Tajik community.” Instead, there are “several groups of influence,” which fight with each other. That makes these relationships difficult and means that Afghanistan’s Tajiks and Uzbeks approach Tajikistan and Uzbekistan with caution.

            And the German expert added that while the two countries both are interested in the security of the Afghan border, “the logic of competition quite possibly will [continue to] predominate over the logic of collective action,” almost regardless of what happens in Afghanistan more generally.

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