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Why Tajikistan Is Headed Toward Instability

Kamran Bokhari

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The Taliban will actively try to destabilize things north of the border.

On Dec. 27, the Islamic State’s franchise in Afghanistan claimed responsibility for an attack that killed the highest-ranking Taliban security official in Badakhshan province, located on the border of Tajikistan. It was merely the latest incident in a series of accelerated attacks by the Islamic State since the Taliban retook control of the country.

It is especially concerning for Tajikistan, which is the most vulnerable of Afghanistan’s neighbors to cross-border instability. It’s little surprise, then, that in sharp contrast with the more pragmatic approaches of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan (as well as Russia), Tajikistan has adopted a confrontational attitude toward the Taliban regime. The governments in Tashkent and Ashgabat along with the Kremlin have, for example, relied on the Taliban to keep the Islamic State from spreading into their respective territories. They figure that the Taliban, which is a nationalist jihadist group bent on creating an emirate limited to Afghanistan, is a natural counterweight to the more transnational ambitions of the Islamic State. Tajikistan shares this concern but, because of its historical and geopolitical connections, considers the Taliban a more immediate danger.

Cross-border Tensions

The influence of Afghanistan’s Pashtun minorities on Pakistan is well documented – and for good reason. Pakistan shares a 1,640-mile (2,640-kilometer) border with Afghanistan, and ethnic Pashtuns make up about 42 percent of all Afghans and 18 percent of all Pakistanis, most of whom live on either side of the internationally recognized border between the two.

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