Asia

Tajikistan fears instability as Afghan conflict rages on

A security post along the 1,400 kilometre long Tajik-Afghan border
Image caption A security post along the 1,400km long Tajik-Afghan border

US Secretary of State John Kerry is heading to a regional summit in Uzbekistan amid fears that the Afghan conflict could spill over into neighbouring countries in Central Asia. The BBC's Khayrullo Fayz reports from Tajikistan, where the government is increasingly concerned by the threat of militancy.

At the Pyanj-i Poyon crossing on the Tajik Afghan border, things are deceptively quiet.

Two young border guards in smart green uniforms stand on either side of the dusty road by a red and white striped barrier.

A barbed wire fence runs along the banks of the River Amu that separates Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

Warehouses on the Afghan side are clearly visible, and in the distance, the blue dome of a mosque sparkles in the sunlight.

A year ago this area was full of trucks queuing to cross the border.

But now, it's almost completely deserted.

Image caption Tajik border guards at the Pyanj-i Poyon crossing; security has been reinforced amidst fears that militants could breach the frontier

Less than 70 km away on the Afghan side, there's been heavy fighting after the Taliban briefly took the town of Kunduz in early October.

"At night you can hear shooting on the other side," a Tajik border guard officer, who asked not be identified, told the BBC. "We're in a constant state of high alert. "

Violence on the Afghan side of the border is not unusual, but there's a new element to the latest fighting that has set alarm bells ringing in Central Asia and Russia.

It's been reported that large numbers of Central Asian militants have been fighting alongside the Taliban in Kunduz.

Image caption Cross border trade between Afghanistan and its Central Asian neighbours has suffered because of the fighting in Northern Afghanistan

"There are hundreds of Uzbek, Kyrgyz, Uighurs and Chechen fighters in Afghanistan," says Tajik analyst Kasimshoh Iskandarov.

"The Central Asians aren't just interested in fighting the Afghan government," he says, adding that many wish to wage jihad in "Central Asia and perhaps even Russia".

To prevent any possible incursions the Tajik authorities have taken steps to secure all seven crossing points along the 1400 km Afghan border.

"We are in constant contact with our Afghan colleagues," says Amirshoh Hakimov of the Tajik Defence Ministry. "When we have a problem we contact them to solve it together."

Moscow has also been quick to react, boosting its 7,000 strong military presence in Tajikistan by sending attack helicopters to one of its three bases in the country.

Image caption Amirshoh Hakimov of the Tajik Defence Ministry says there's close co-operation with Afghanistan to counter the threat from militants

In the small town of Kumsangir, not far from the border, people are also worried.

"There's a Tajik saying - if your neighbour's house is peaceful, your house will be peaceful too," says an old man in the bazaar.

Armed rebellion

The spread of radical ideas is a big concern.

In May the government was shaken when a senior Tajik special forces officer defected to the Islamic State group.

He joined the hundreds of young Tajiks already fighting in Syria, many of whom regularly post videos on social media enthusing about their new lives and generous salaries.

And in September, dozens of people were killed when a deputy defence minister led an armed rebellion against the government.

The authorities accused the Islamic Revival Party (IRP) - up until now Central Asia's only officially sanctioned Islamic political party - of masterminding the uprising.

It was a claim met with scepticism by many in Tajikistan - but the IRP was banned shortly afterwards, following months of pressure, and those of its leaders who didn't manage to flee the country in time are now in jail.

Crackdown

In the Tajik capital Dushanbe, photographs of the party's leader, Muhiddin Kabiri, a moderate, be-suited businessman, are plastered across the front pages of newspapers on sale all over the city.

Many brand him a "terrorist".

Image caption Tajik newspapers denouncing Islamic Revival Party leader Muhiddin Kabiri as a terrorist

Taxi-driver Abror, a member of the party and a father of four, now fears he could share the same fate.

"If I get stopped by the police I'm scared they'll think I'm a terrorist," he says.

Although the IRP had no seats in parliament it was popular because it spoke out about issues like corruption and the rights of migrant workers.

Now the party has been silenced, some observers fear the space it leaves could be filled by more radical groups.

The Russian economic downturn, which has hit the earnings of millions of Tajik men who work in Russia and send money home, has also sparked concern.

Image caption Many Tajik workers have been forced home by the Russian economic crisis

"The main reasons for any extremists groups spreading their ideas is about poverty, police brutality and corruption," says newspaper journalist Abdullo - not his real name.

"When the younger generation is exposed to radical ideas online, who is there to guard them or show them an alternative?"

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