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MOSCOW, April 8. /TASS/. The situation in Afghanistan poses a threat to Russia’s security largely because Islamic State groups, which have emerged there lately, make no secret of their intention to destabilize the situation in Central Asia, south of Russia’s borders, military experts say. Assistance to Tajikistan in strengthening its borders is central to Russia’s efforts to counter that challenge.
Russia is prepared to extend assistance to Tajikistan for the purpose of resisting new threats coming from Afghanistan, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at last Friday’s meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization foreign ministers in Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe. He warned that the situation in Afghanistan was turning from bad to worse, as the extremist group calling itself Islamic State expanded its operations. Lavrov mentioned a pro-active campaign by IS emissaries for recruiting new members and warned that IS groups had repeatedly penetrated into Tajikistan already. He warned that the IS, in conjunction with its newly-discovered ally - the radically-minded members of the Taliban movement - was endangering peace in the whole of Central Asia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin back last year put the focus on the IS intention to expand its activities in Central Asia and to the CSTO’s task of resisting that threat and taking preventive measures, such as "financial and technical assistance to Tajikistan in upgrading its armed forces."
Of late, Russian media quoted a source at the General Staff as saying that Moscow had made a decision to extend 70 billion roubles (1.2 billion dollars) in military aid to Tajikistan. At the end of last year Russia’s 201st base in Tajikistan had been considerably reinforced with new military equipment. The strength of its personnel was built up.
Tajikistan is getting ready in earnest to repel a likely intrusion: in the middle of last March the country hosted a major military exercise, unprecedented in the territory of a not very big country. The exercise was held along the 1,300-kilometer border with Afghanistan and in the whole of Khatlon Region. The exercise involved 50,000 men. Since last February the Tajik border guards have considerably tightened security along the state border.
"Taliban militants are gathering forces in northern Afghanistan. There have been confirmations of this from reliable sources," the Svobodnaya Pressa (Free Press) portal quotes Russia’s ambassador in Tajikistan, Igor Lyakin-Frolov, as saying. "There has been evidence Islamic State cells have cropped up in the region."
"For Russia the risk of destabilization in Central Asia is fraught with creeping extremism and terrorism. With the reduction of Western coalition’s presence in Afghanistan that threat has soared," the director of the Centre for Modern Afghan Studies, Omar Nessar, has told TASS. "A surge in drug trafficking may be another side effect."
Nessar believes that the Taliban as such does not pose a threat to countries in Central Asia, as the chances of getting support from the local population are close to zero. However, among them there are certain groups that of late developed a drift towards the Islamic State and vowed allegiance to it. Some of them have links with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Their strength in the north of Afghanistan grew noticeably in recent months. Also, there are some such groups in the south.
"Russia made up its mind to avoid direct involvement in the conflict inside Afghanistan a long time ago. Extending assistance to Tajikistan in reinforcing its borders is the most effective policy of all at the moment," Nessar said.
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