Tajikistan striving to convince the world that it can contain terrorism

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Tajikistan, a Central Asian state with limited means, is trying to project a get-tough-on-terror image following the late March attack at a Moscow concert venue, in which Tajik militants are accused of killing over 140 people. But the government steps being taken appear to address the symptoms of the domestic challenge, not the disease.

The March 22 terror tragedy prompted a wave of retribution against Tajik citizens in Russia and placed President Imomali Rahmon’s regime in an unwelcome spotlight, reminding the world of its numerous flaws in governance. Rahmon’s damage-control efforts have included a mixture of denial and a “round-up-the-usual suspects” approach that does not address the underlying causes of economic and social discontent fueling the spread radical Islamic ideas in the country.

Rahmon’s reflexive reaction to the involvement of Tajik nationals in the terror attack was to deflect. In a March 24 phone call with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, the Tajik president downplayed the notion that conditions inside Central Asia’s poorest nation had any connection to the events in Moscow. “Terrorists have no nationality, no homeland and no religion,” Rahmon was quoted as telling Putin.

Underscoring the Tajik response, reports circulated April 4 that China will assist Tajik authorities in the implementation of the second phase of the Safe City project, which entails saturating the Tajik capital Dushanbe with surveillance cameras. The first phase of the project resulted in the installation of over 800 security cameras across the city. The second phase will enhance surveillance capabilities in Dushanbe, Chinese television channel CGTN reported, and will expand the project to other Tajik urban centers

Meanwhile, the official Tajik news agency, Khovar, reported April 17 that Interior Ministry officials were conducting an awareness campaign in several Dushanbe districts, including Firdavsi, Sino and Shokhmansur. The report indicated that authorities sought to compel allegiance to the government, and were not interested in learning about on-the-ground conditions. “The public was called to patriotism, self-knowledge and reverence for the highest national values,” according to the Khovar report.

Rahmon’s regime is also using the clampdown as cover for questionable activities to quash critical voices abroad. Human Rights Watch reported April 16 that Tajik dissidents affiliated with a democracy-oriented political movement, Group 24, have “in recent months disappeared, or have been arrested and threatened with extradition to Tajikistan.” Group 24 was designated as a terrorist organization and banned in Tajikistan in 2014. HRW called on EU states and Turkey to refrain from sending the opposition activists back to Tajikistan.

In addition, RFE/RL’s Radio Ozodi reported April 16 that the Tajik parliament earlier had ratified an agreement with Turkey paving the way for the potential purchase of Turkish drones and other military equipment. According to the agreement, the text of which was reviewed by Ozodi reporters, Turkey will allocate roughly $1.5 million for the Tajik purchase of drones and other military items over a five-year period. Tajikistan will have the ability to purchase additional equipment at the government’s own expense.

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