How many Central Asians are fighting for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and do they want to return to wage jihad upon their return home? No one knows for sure, but in recent months Russian officials and pundits have sounded the alarm.
Tajik Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Aslov (center right) speaking at the House of Lords on July 2.
Two weeks after Tajikistan's secret police arrested researcher Alexander Sodiqov on bogus treason charges, Tajikistan’s foreign minister visited London for a series of long-planned bilateral talks. At times, the atmosphere was tense. The Tajiks wanted to focus on issues of political and economic cooperation, but they came away from London with little to show except for a lot of bad press concerning Sodiqov.
What led Tajikistan’s security services to suspect a respected researcher of treason and arrest him last month? The answer can be found in recent developments in Tajikistan, and indeed across the former Soviet Union. Alexander Sodiqov’s June 16 arrest comes amid a spike in growing anti-Western rhetoric from Tajik officials.
It may not be their preferred destination, but increasing numbers of Afghan refugees, seeking to escape the growing insecurity of their homeland, are making their way to Tajikistan. The former Soviet republic on Afghanistan’s northern border is seen as safer than Pakistan, less socially restrictive than Iran, and a more culturally familiar place, as many of the refugees speak a dialect of Tajik.
Fardin Saidulayev manages a newspaper kiosk in the Russian city of Novosibirsk, where he is one of the few Tajik laborers to hold a coveted work permit. Yet he faces an uncertain new year. As of January 1, new Russian legislation bans foreigners from working in trade. Saidulayev says he now lives in constant fear he will be fired, or even deported.
Officials in Tajikistan, apparently worried about a potential rise of militant activity in the economically embattled Central Asian state, are putting pressure on Tajiks studying abroad at Islamic universities and madrasas to return home.
Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon attended the groundbreaking ceremony on Tajikistan’s second-annual Flag Day on November 24. State television reported that the flagpole is part of a series of new monuments and renovations to existing sites in preparation for the twentieth anniversary of statehood in September 2011. Rakhmon congratulated his citizens and proposed renaming a region of Dushanbe after the Tajik flag.