Alwaght- The existence of potentials for insecurity in Tajikistan provides the extremist groups like ISIS and Taliban with a biggest opportunity to pierce and get a toehold in Central Asia. The gap between the centralized system of government and the diversified nature of ethnic, national and local identities on the one hand, and the contradictory visions of the country’s elites on forming the Tajik government, the political system and its development and transformation on the other hand, make the security situation in Tajikistan very shaky and fragile. While the government is insisting on the separation of the religion from the politics and establishing a secular governing system, the Tajik society is becoming more religious day by day, and the people show firmer adherence to the Islamic principles and beliefs. Creating contradictions, the divergence and chasm between the secular government and the religious society has posed some risks to Tajikistan’s national security. Such restrictive measures aim at controlling the society’s religious beliefs, and, at the same time, blocking the strengthening process of the political Islamic system of government.
A very focal point is that the US, the West and even Russia for the sake of saving their interests and securing their long-term and major objectives have a hand in the exaggerations about the possibility of penetration and presence of the terrorist group ISIS in Tajikistan, an issue which facilitates the growth and spreading of the ISIS' affiliates in the border areas between Tajikistan and Afghanistan and in the mountainous regions of Tajikistan itself. It is very likely that after Afghanistan the rise of new proxy wars would be observed in Central Asia, the starting point of which is Tajikistan. Charging and arresting the leaders of Islamic Renaissance Party, the Tajik government deliberately or unintentionally paves the way for flourish of extremism, as it could push the moderate Islamic party led by Muhiddin Kabiri toward more oppositions.
So, the Tajik government’s confrontation of different forms of expansion of Islam in the country has two “identity and political” aspects. That is why the government in Tajikistan in recent years has attempted to spread stability and security in the country by adopting repressive ways in dealing with the religious elements.
To actualize its aims concerning pressing and restricting the religion in the country the government has taken a variety of measures:
1-Putting the citizens under religious watch
2- Backing the conventional and moderate Islam and exploiting it to face the imported and extremist Islam.
3- Propagating secularism
4- Blocking the funding of Islamic conferences held in the country by international charity institutes
5- Introducing restrictions on the travelling of the Tajik youth for studying in foreign Islamic scientific institutes
6- Banning or limiting activities of the foreign Islamic charity institutions.
The remarkable point is that despite the Tajik government’s struggles, none of the decisions have made the people to yield, and in the recent years, just against the government’s will, Tajikistan has witnessed a sharp rise in Islamism among the people. Creating a deep gap between the community and the government, the religion issue in the Central Asian country, with a regard to the increasing role of paramilitary forces like Al-Qaeda in the region, could challenge the Tajikistan’s security. In addition to religion, there are other factors including ethnicism, drug smuggling, and Badakhshan province endeavor for autonomy, as it had a record of gaining autonomy, make the Tajikistan’s security situation vulnerable to challenges, as they could expose the country to the risk of the emergence of Taliban, Al-Qaeda and ISIS.
Islamism in Tajikistan
In the past years, the Islamism has appeared in apparently two different forms in Central Asia. The first is Islam as an official religion which is tightly controlled by the governments, and the second is unofficial Islam with two types of followers: moderate ones who follow traditional Islam, and the radical and extremist Islamist groups which are highly influenced by the Arab world Islamist movements.
Due to the unfavorable economic and social circumstances, the radical gravitations of fundamentalist groups like Taliban, ISIS and Al-Qaeda have managed to influence the Tajik people negatively. This makes Dushanbe face the mounting challenge of possibility of presence of extremism on its soil, and at the same time follow the issue of recruitment of the Tajik nationals by the ISIS terrorist group.
Regarding NATO's gradual withdrawal from Afghanistan, the issue of al-Qaeda’s penetration and presence in Tajikistan gain new significance. What adds to these worries is the increasing number of Tajiks joining the terrorists and ISIS fighters.
Tajikistan’s view on foreign forces’ withdrawal from Afghanistan
Tajikistan’s government is severely concerned over the exit of foreign forces from Afghanistan and fears the rise of the extremist groups in the country, so it was decided that Collective Security Treaty Organization help Tajikistan with protection of its borders after NATO’s exit. The Tajik president Emomali Rahmon has repeatedly expressed concerns over possibility of appearing new challenges after NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, as the Russian president Vladimir Putin in the organization’s recent meeting held in Dushanbe, cautioned against the spread of terrorism and extremism in Central Asia, including Tajikistan, President Putin went on saying on September 15 that Russia would examine repositioning its forces to Tajikistan-Afghanistan borders as the worries over influence of deteriorated Afghanistan’s security situation on Central Asian region have increased, specifically Tajikistan.
Due to security dire conditions in Afghanistan and with growth in Taliban and some ISIS-affiliated military groups' attacks in Afghanistan’s northern areas, especially in Kunduz, Badakhshan and Takhar provinces, it is likely that ISIS elements who are active in Afghanistan, start activity in Tajikistan.
Although the issue of penetration of the ISIS in Afghanistan and subsequently in Tajikistan is exaggerated about, there is a peril that the extremist militants, fighting the Pakistani government in northern Pakistan areas including North and South Waziristan and other tribal regions, would redirect attention to Central Asia, Tajikistan in particular. Due to the fact that Tajikistan has a secular government, while its people are increasingly inclining towards Islamic principles, extremist and terrorist organizations such as ISIS can exploit the situation to infiltrate the country.
Moreover, Russia views the presence of Taliban, ISIS and other takfiri-Salafis in Central Asia as a threat to is national security, as it is concerned about the return of the Central Asian fighters, currently fighting in Syria, through Afghanistan and Pakistan. Drug smuggling from Afghanistan to Tajikistan territories is a great thereat adding to the Russian, Eurasian and Central Asian countries’ concerns. Producing over 90% of the heroin and opium, Afghanistan is the world’s biggest drug producer. These reasons motivate Russia to decide to increase its presence in Afghanistan-Tajikistan borders directly or indirectly in order to block the drugs smuggling, and at the same time choke the passage of extremist militant groups to Central Asia. Russia several times claimed that after exit of its border guards from Tajikistan-Afghanistan borders the smuggling of illegal drugs saw a 3.5% increase, as the transit of the extremist militants has remarkably increased. Therefore, it seems that both Russia and Tajikistan adopt practical approach to face the challenges of extremism as well as drugs smuggling.
Future of extremists presence in Tajikistan
Regarding NATO forces withdrawal from Afghanistan as well as the fragile security conditions in Tajikistan, the rise of ISIS and Taliban in the country is not out of sight. Factors like Tajik government’s obvious opposition to the moderate Islam and its anti-Islamic policy, Tajikistan's 1400 kilometers border lines with Afghanistan which pose the risk of the penetration of the militant groups which are trained in Pakistan, economic and political discontent among Tajik nationals, unemployment, administrative corruption, the government’s failure to confront the groups related to Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Taliban, and drugs smuggling could help deterioration of security conditions in Tajikistan.
Conclusively, it seems that as a result of policies adopted by the Tajik government, the country is vulnerable to infiltration and spread of extremist-Takfiri organizations like ISIS. Besides, the ethnic, religious, political and identity gaps give way to the rise and growth of radical Takfiri ideology. If the Tajikistan’s government fails to facilitate the rise of a moderate Islam, the radical versions of Islam would certainly boom in the country.
It is estimated that in case the government, in the long run, would not stop unlimited controls and restrictions over the moderate Islamic movements like Islamic Renaissance Party, and go without any cooperation and communication with the party, it could pave the ground for the rise of extremist militant groups like ISIS. This issue, undoubtedly, will leave serious and dire impacts on Central Asia. SIS will penetrate Tajikistan with a direct or indirect Western-Arab support in order to gain access to other Central Asian countries, as it planned to put more risks on interests of China, Russia and Iran, and continue the proxy war with a new face in the region. This destructive policy not only pushes toward destabilization of and insecurity in the Central Asia but also provides the US and the West with excuses for a direct military presence in the region.