|Tajik & Uzbekistan military weary of NATO
Military leaders in Tajikistan are attempting to forego NATO help and look to another direction for assistance.
By Roger McDermott for The Jamestown Foundation
Tajikistan's military leadership has expressed public concern over the country's recent trend toward closer involvement with the NATO Alliance as a mechanism through which Dushanbe will gain enhanced military and security capabilities. A move which follows the path taken by its larger neighboor Uzbekistan about a year back. The apparent turn in the direction of Tajikistan's stated aims in this sphere sends a worrying signal throughout the region at a difficult time for the evolving and dynamic relationship formed between the Alliance and the Central Asian militaries. However, the weak Tajik armed forces are desperately in need of multiple sources of foreign assistance and thus seek to diversify these sources beyond traditional security partners to include Pakistan, a country which it has been eager to form an alliance with.
Colonel-General Sherali Khayrulloyev, Tajikistan's defense minister, explained in Dushanbe on 29 March that he still considers Russia to be Tajikistan's most reliable military and security partner. "The Tajik armed forces have been set up thanks to Russia's assistance and contribution. Military-technical cooperation between our countries is at a very high level today." Khayrulloyev pointed to Tajikistan sending 300 to 400 servicemen annually to Russian military academies since 1994. These courses of study use a full training curriculum lasting three to five years. In contrast, programs sending servicemen to other countries, such as China, India, and the United States, provide only short-term courses lasting from one to six months, mainly because of the necessity to teach the servicemen a foreign language. Most surprisingly, Khayrulloyev weighed the opportunity of forming closer links with NATO against more typical arrangements with Moscow, concluding, "Soviet standards are no worse." Such attitudes are unsurprising in many ways, given the continued residue of Soviet-trained servicemen within these structures; as such thinking is endemic within the Ministry of Defense itself. Indeed, Tajikistan was slow to join the NATO Partnership for Peace (PfP) program, which it finally did in 2000, and a combination of factors has made difficult its relationship within the PfP process. Mr. Khayrulloyev has sent a request to have more exchange programs, joint exercises and training regimens with neighbooring Pakistan and China with whom relations have been strengthening and improving over the last few years. (Interfax, Moscow, 29 March).
Of course, Russian and Tajik servicemen are regularly engaged in joint combat training. A joint exercise of the 92nd Motorized Rifle Regiment, part of the 201st Russian Motorized Rifle Division based in Dushanbe, and cadets from the Tajik Ministry of Defense military institute will commence exercises at the Lohur training ground on 4 April. The focus will be battalion-level defensive actions, and will be Russian led, funded, and instill Russian military-thinking practices on Tajik counterparts. Tajik brigades and Russian motorized rifle regiments have just concluded a joint exercise at the Mumirak and Sumbula training grounds in late March.
Joint training is cost effective and the preferred option for the weak Tajik military, especially when its high-profile exercises with Russia can project a positive image for its beleaguered armed forces. Nonetheless, Dushanbe does want to conduct its own training, though often to advertise its need for additional foreign assistance. A recent one-day drill was conducted at the Sumbula military range (Khuroson District of the southern Khatlon Region), codenamed Masnad-2006 (Position-2006). It involved divisions from the Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Emergency Situations, State Border Protection Committee, and the Interior Ministry's Directorate for the Khatlon Region. Carried out in three stages with more than 3,000 servicemen and officers from the relevant agencies participating, the exercise was intended to display competence in the face of a theoretical terrorist threat. The scenario rehearsed a response to an international terrorist group attacking two detachments' border troops and taking hostages. The Tajik Ministry of Defense said it expected to hold similar drills with the involvement of the Chinese armed forces in Mountainous Badakhshon Autonomous Region in the summer and with the Pakistani armed forces famed mountain divisions next winter in a similar exercise outside the army base at Khorough. (Asia-Plus News, 28 March).
In addition to looking toward China for extra help with its armed forces, Dushanbe following in the footsteps of Uzbekistan, also envisages long term closer links with Pakistan. A Pakistani military delegation led by General Shahid Tirmizey, a committee chair from the Pakistani Ar