Staunton, April 8 – Maj.Gen. Mohammad Bakeri, chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, and Sheradli Mirzo, the defense minister of Tajikistan, today in Tehran signed an agreement creating a joint military defense committee (en.irna.ir/news/84288522/Iran-Tajikistan-planning-to-establish-joint-defensive-committee).
The two sides say that the new body will promote security cooperation and help them counter terrorism, but exactly how it will work remains unclear. Nonetheless, because this accord is between the only non-Turkic country in Central Asia and because it involves Iran more deeply in an area Russia considers its backyard, its existence challenges both Ankara and Moscow.
Turkey has been working to organize the Turkic countries of the region into a pan-Turkic alliance, and Russia remains opposed not only to that but to any outside involvement in security arrangements in the region. But now Iran has exploited the existence of a non-Turkic country in the region to project power into the region.
This Iranian move also links Tehran more closely with China which has established a major economic and security presence in Tajikistan and gives Iran new possibilities for influence in Afghanistan (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/05/new-chinese-airport-near-tajik-afghan.html).
Iran and Tajikistan speak mutually intelligible Persian languages and thus would seem to be natural partners. But they are not the soul mates some might think. First, Iran is Shiite while Tajikistan is Sunni. Second, Tajikistan is far less religious because of the Soviet occupation. And third, they are not contiguous.
Moreover, they have a history of tensions. Dushanbe was upset when Iranian leaders received Mukhiddin Kabiri, head of the Tajik Party of Islamic Rebirth in December 2015 (fergana.media/articles/108122/and relations stayed cool until earlier this year when the Tajik president received the Iranian foreign minister (fergana.ru/news/121924/).
The announcement of a joint military defense committee now appears to be the result of that earlier meeting, but it is also likely to unsettle the geopolitics of Central Asia still further, opening the way not only for Iran to play a greater role but for China as well, two moves that will complicate life for both Turkey and Russia.