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Tajikistan denies funneling weapons to Taliban

Dushanbe said that it opposes the Taliban and that supplying the group arms would violate its position on promoting peace and security.

Tajikistan has staunchly denied accusations leveled by a high-ranking US general that it is assisting Russia in supplying weapons to the Taliban insurgency in neighboring Afghanistan.

The Foreign Ministry said in a March 26 statement that Tajikistan “has never provided its territory to third countries for pursuing actions that contradict its fundamental approaches and principled positions … in matters of peace and security.” The ministry said the claims made by General John Nicholson, the head of US forces in Afghanistan, in an interview with the BBC last week, were a source of “profound regret.”

The exchange of allegations and denials injects an uncomfortable tension into otherwise largely cordial relations. Cooperation on security issues, usually at the expense of concerns over human rights violations, has long been the cornerstone of bilateral ties between Tajikistan and the United States.

Recent reporting has found that the US remains strongly committed to training hundreds of Tajik special forces with a view to countering terrorism and narcotics trafficking.

The bulk of criticisms from Nicholson were addressed at claimed Russian involvement in arming the Taliban. 

"We've had weapons brought to this headquarters and given to us by Afghan leaders and said, this was given by the Russians to the Taliban," Nicholson told the British broadcaster. "We know that the Russians are involved.”

Nicholson said that while he was unable to provide details on the amount of weapons involved, he believes the equipment involved appears to have been left over during Russian-led antiterrorism operations conduced near Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan.

“We've seen the Russian patterns before: they bring in large amounts of equipment and then they leave some of it behind,” he said.

The Russian Embassy in Afghanistan has derided the charges as idle gossip.

“We insist that such statements are absolutely baseless and appeal to officials not to talk nonsense,” the embassy said in a statement cited by Reuters news agency.

These are not new allegations. In 2015, the Sunday Times cited a Taliban field commander as claiming that Russian President Vladimir Putin had during a visit to Tajikistan that year met with a high-ranking representative of the insurgency. At the time of this alleged encounter, Putin was attending a summit in Dushanbe of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization.

Russia and the Taliban alike denied such any such meeting had occurred.

Countenancing cooperation between Moscow and the militant Afghan group might appear odd at first, but both parties have ostensibly shared goals in wishing to resist the possible ascendancy of the Islamic State in the war-scarred country.  

Russian officials routinely make dramatic pronouncements about the perceived growing influence of Islamic State in Afghanistan, but they have publicly expressed concern over the Taliban too.

On March 23, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Artyom Kozhin said that the situation in Afghanistan is a source of “considerable concern” for Moscow.

“The Taliban is pursuing terrorist activity and systematically mounting attacks in various parts of the country and continues to maintain partial or total control over around half of [Afghanistan’s] territory,” Kozhin told a press briefing.

Kozhin said the presence of the Islamic State was further worsening matters. 

“Islamic State militants are gradually boosting their troop numbers in the north of the country. What worries us is that there are Islamic State militant camps in north Afghanistan training, among others, nationals of Central Asia, Russia and other countries. We are seeing instances of cooperation as well as clashes between the Islamic State and the Taliban,” he said.

And Moscow is as capable as Washington of making strong allegations.

Russian Foreign Ministry official Zamir Kabulov, an old Afghanistan hand, last week demanded explanations from NATO for purported reports of unmarked helicopters being used to ferry Islamic State fighters. 

“We are particularly concerned by outside support for the Afghan wing of the Islamic State. We have already repeatedly drawn attention to the use of unmarked helicopters in various regions of [Afghanistan],” Kabulov said.

As to the Tajikistan component of all this, it is unclear what the fallout of Nicholson’s remarks may be.

On March 27, Tajik Foreign Minister Sirodjidin Aslov, who was in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, to attend an international conference on the Afghan peace process, met with the US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Thomas Shannon. Beyond generalities, no details have been provided about the topics discussed.

Tajikistan denies funneling weapons to Taliban

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