Tajikistan To Bear The Brunt For Islamist Attack On Moscow Concert Hall; Will Russia Punish Its Key Ally?

A Russian lawmaker wrote on Telegram that Tajik passports were found inside the car the suspects allegedly used to flee before being caught by Russian police in the Bryansk region, about 340 kilometers southwest of Moscow. Russian police said that four of the suspects taken into custody are the migrated citizens from the erstwhile Central Asian State of Tajikistan. 

The Russian police said that of the eleven suspects in the 22 March bombing of Concert Hall, which took the lives of 140 persons, four were of Tajik origin and came to Moscow as migrant laborers.

In a press statement, President Putin said that the attack was conducted by “Islamist extremists.” He did not take the name of any of the known Islamist terror groups, but the Islamic State–Khorasan group declared it had conducted the criminal act.

Some months back, a similar attack was made on a crowd that had assembled in Kerman town of south Iran to condole the fourth anniversary of the death of Qasem Soleimani, the chief of the Iranian Quds Force in Iraq.

Why Attack Russia

ISIS does not consider Russia a friendly countryThey argue that a massive Muslim population is to be found in the Russian Federation, and Moscow has enslaved the entire Muslim community. They consider it their moral duty to fight a state that is “oppressive” to the Muslims.

This argument sounds hollow. Russia is not the only country that has a large Muslim community living in the State. There is hardly any country in the world which has not a sprinkling of Muslim population. 

Secondly, what is the measuring rod of “oppression” of the Muslim population? What measuring rod would the ISIS-K apply to China, Pakistan, Myanmar, Sudan, Burkina Faso, and many other countries?

It has to be noted that the attack came only five days after Putin’s re-election. Hundreds of thousands of Muslim labor migrants have moved from various Central Asian States to Russia essentially for a livelihood.

There are a fairly large number of Tajiks, and many have also obtained citizenship. They speak fluent Russian and are well-integrated into Russian society.  

Russo-Tajik Relations        

Tajikistan has been a close ally of Moscow even after she joined other CARs in declaring their independence after the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Generally known as the underbelly of the Russian State, Tajikistan had its security compulsions to remain glued to the Russian Federation. President Emomali Rahmon, the Secretary of the Tajikistan Communist Party during Soviet power, became the first president of the independent Central Asian Republic of Tajikistan in 1991. He continues to hold that position. He has proved to be one of Moscow’s most trusted allies.  

Tajikistan is a 90% mountainous region with very little arable land. It was the poorest State of the erstwhile Soviet Union, mostly underdeveloped and economically fragile. After declaring independence, Tajikistan remained a recipient of Russian largesse and signed a defense agreement with Moscow.

In 1996, when the Afghan Taliban seized control of Kabul and executed the Russian protégé, Dr Nagibullah, Tajikistan had fears that the advancing Taliban could cross the Tajik-Afghan border and impose a fundamentalist regime in Dushanbe.

President Rahmon had no option but to obtain a firm commitment from Russia that it would become a partner in protecting its southern border.

Civil War In Tajikistan

Of all the nascent independent states of Central Asia, it was only Tajikistan that was dragged into a six-year-long civil war between the Islamic extremists and the national government.

Nearly a hundred thousand people perished in the war, and finally, with Iran’s intervention, normalcy was restored. However, the bloody war had caused a severe economic recession in the country, and unemployment among the youth in rural and urban Tajikistan was a glaring phenomenon.

The impact of the civil war was pervasive, and the government in Dushanbe had to approach international money-lending agencies for loans and assistance. In slow degrees, the government was able to restore some normalcy in the country and could attend small developmental projects and reforms.

Tajik Society & Radicalism

Tajiks are the most peace-loving people in the entire region of Central Asia. They have retained the good and fundamental characteristics of ancient Zoroastrian culture, as this region was the origin of Zaradaushtara and the faith of Ahura Mazda that held sway over ancient Iran and Turan for thousands of years.

After the conquest of Turan (also called Trans-Oxiana by the Greek historians), the orthodox Arab Islamists, who were warriors and propagators of the Islamic faith, concentrated at a few places in Tajikistan, like Garm and Kolab. The progeny of these tribes have always been rabid Islamists who have tried to dominate Tajik society.

Religious fanatical leaders from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi, and Iran have been recurrently visiting the Garm, Badakhshan, and Kolab areas of Tajikistan much before the Islamic resurgence movement took full shape. These rabid Islamists had the agenda of grabbing the mosques and making these centers for indoctrination. In this way, large cadres of religious extremists came into existence with fully radicalized ideology.

The implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the declaration of independence by Tajikistan provided a congenial environment for these rabid elements to foment insurgency against the government. They welcomed external clandestine support to further the cause of Islamic supremacy. They formed the legions and obtained arms and ammunition from the sources inimical to the Tajik nationalist government.

The Tajik government finally defeated and neutralized these anti-national and insurgent elements. With the disbanding of their rank and file, these disbanded activists fell to bad days. There was no employment, there were no industries and there was an economic recession. Therefore they decided to move out of Tajikistan and headed towards Moscow. They had linguistic facilities and could easily find work in Russia.

Along with these former insurgents, ordinary, peace-loving Tajiks also moved to Russia for work. As long as they remained peaceful laborers or wage earners, they had a comfortable life.

But with the rise of ISIS, a completely different ideological phenomenon, the former Tajiks with engrained insurgent psychosis came under the influence of the ISIS extremists, and we saw the carnage at the Concert Hall on 22 March.

File Image: Putin

Moscow’s Reaction

Russian police have arrested eleven persons so far suspected to be involved in the crime. Further investigation is going on.

The police will reach the roots of the case, no doubt. Among the masses of Russians, there is much anger and hatred against the migrant laborers, not only from Tajikistan but from other CARs also. Russia plans the deportation of the suspected migrant laborers. A wave of xenophobia is raging in the Russian polity.

But Moscow has to be cautious, patient, and sensible. It needs a large labor force, particularly after the Ukrainian war, as the Russian economy will have to be rebuilt.

All migrant laborers have no criminal history. Most of them are proud to be citizens of a great country. Moscow’s policy planners must consider all the implications and dimensions of the expulsion of all migrants from Russia and act with caution and sagacity.

Above everything else, Moscow has to understand that Tajikistan is a buffer between the violent Taliban and the peace-loving humanity in the great Trans-Oxus steppes.