Russian border guards to fight Taliban
The following commentary is reprinted with permission from Pravda, Moscow.
Russian border guards to fight Taliban
By Sergei Balmasov
December 17, 2010
Russia is once again prepared to take custody of the Tajik-Afghan border. This was stated by head of the CIS Department of the Foreign Ministry of Russia Maxim Peshkov, formerly a Russian ambassador to Tajikistan.
According to him, it can be done “with regard to the situation in Afghanistan and the growing threat of terrorism.” He said that the issue is currently under review and “if the Tajiks invite us to protect their borders, there is no reason to deny this request.”
You do not have to be a psychic to predict that Dushanbe will ask Russia about it. Tajikistan is becoming increasingly restless. On September 22, a gang of an Islamist Mullah Abdullah Rakhimov defeated a unit of Tajik troops. According to local media, this operation involved militants from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The successful operation against the Tajik military once again proved that they are not good. It is not a coincidence that after the incident president Rahmon begged foreign countries to help strengthen the border so the “plague” would not come from Afghanistan to Central Asian countries.
Five years ago there were Russian military on the Tajik-Afghan border. The results of their work speak for themselves: in 1992-2005 they detained over three thousand trespassers and militants, seized 1,003 firearms, including anti-aircraft and MANPADS, and over 447,000 munitions. Nearly 11.5 tons of heroin was seized, not counting thousands of tons of recreational drugs.
However, these heroic deeds have cost them dearly: 161 Russian border guards have been killed, 362 injured. In some cases, Russian border guards had to withstand real battles against the enemy largely surpassing them in number. On July 13, 1993, Afghan and Tajik Mujahideen attacked Moscow frontier detachment number 12. They did not hide the fact that its destruction was the act of retaliation for an active struggle of the Russian military with the mafia. In that battle 25 Russian border guards and soldiers out of 48 have been killed.
It is worth mentioning that the reaction of Tajikistan on possible return of Russian border guards is rather strange: many do not like the idea, assuming that Dushanbe is capable of defending itself. Some speak in a spirit that “there is no need for Russian kids to die somewhere in Tajikistan” and that the appearance of Russian military may complicate bilateral relations.
The latter concern was not expressed by accident. Transportation of Afghan heroin through the Panj has long become a very profitable business on both sides of the border. Everyone knows the existing rates for safe transportation of drugs through the barriers of Tajik border guards.
In recent years heroin production in Afghanistan has increased tenfold. Its lion’s share is still being transferred through the well-organized “northern route” through Tajikistan.
There is another issue: in Tajikistan Russian guards will be at risk of finding themselves between a hammer and anvil. Sooner or later, NATO will leave Afghanistan and the Taliban regime will reign there that promises to punish those who helped “the crusaders to destroy the Afghan people.” They consider the supporters of Rakhmonov’s regime who provided the territory of Tajikistan for the rear base of NATO to be such “helpers.”
Will Russian border guards stand if the Taliban decides to go through the Panj? It is rather doubtful. It is true that Russia has its Infantry Division number 201 located in Tajikistan. However, given that much of the personnel of this division are contractors from the Tajiks, it is a very big question whose side they would take when it comes to it.
A question arises – should Russians remember the lines from the song “Tajikistan is another Afghan?” Head of the Department of CIS Foundation Center for Political Technologies Sergei Mikheyev answered this question:
“The emergence of our border guards would be useful to combat drug trafficking and to maintain our influence in the region as a whole. However, due to the fact that it is not beneficial for the Tajik authorities, the conclusion suggests itself: do we need this? Drug trafficking in Tajikistan is under their care. For Tajik authorities the struggle with transit of drugs that brings humongous profits is clearly not profitable. And I’m afraid that in case of the dispatch of guards we again will not do without coffins.”
According to Deputy Director of the Institute of Political and Military Analysis Alexander Khramchikhin, “on the one hand, location at the border is necessary to combat drug trafficking, since the Tajik border guards are good-for-nothing. But sending them there no one can guarantee that they will return. Soon NATO troops will withdraw from there, and the Taliban will reign. A handful of border guards obviously will not be capable of defeating them. We cannot count on unit 201 to save the situation, because most likely, the Islamists will be conducting a combined attack, both against the border guards, and against the unit. There is a threat that Dien Bien Phu will be repeated [humiliating defeat of the French army in May of 1954 by the Vietnamese. – Ed.] with the Russians. Our units will be surrounded, and they will have to battle their way out. The number of possible victims is a separate issue.”
The expert’s concerns are not groundless. The situation on July 13, 1993 demonstrated that Russia is not able to send extra help. Unit 12 was destroyed by rocket artillery in half a day, until the remnants of the border guards have broken through to their allies without even air support. Only this time the scale of the defeat could be much more significant.
Of course, the fight against the drug threat is necessary. But maybe, in the first place we should pay more attention to ethnic criminal gangs that control the business without threatening the lives of Russian border guards?