U.S. Working in Concert with Tajikistan and Afghanistan to Secure Their Border

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People walk along a bridge at the Tajik-Afghan border in Nizhny Pyandzh, Tajikistan.
People walk along a bridge at the Tajik-Afghan border in Nizhny Pyandzh, Tajikistan. (AP Photo)

U.S. Working in Concert with Tajikistan and Afghanistan to Secure Their Border

The Tajikistan-Afghanistan border has a long-turbulent history. From the 19th century Great Game to more recent conflicts, the border’s porous state continues to be a source of concern for both governments as well as the international community.

Tajikistan and Afghanistan are landlocked, and their shared 1,344 kilometer border is a hub for controlled and dual-use military and industrial materials, as well as a major drug smuggling route. Threats in the region include violent extremism, as well as narcotics and weapons trafficking.

Because this border is susceptible to trafficking in WMD, the United States has a stake in facilitating closer cross-border ties between Tajikistan and its Afghan counterparts. In 2018, the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation announced a change in foreign assistance programming to focus on areas that present the most critical threats and challenges to U.S. national security. As a result of that decision, earlier this year, ISN’s Export Control and Border Security (EXBS) program initiated talks with border security and customs agencies in Tajikistan and Afghanistan to develop a program and process for training officials in both nations that would help them better secure the border and work as partners.

The EXBS program works to enhance U.S. national security by building partner country capacity to comply with international strategic trade control norms to prevent the proliferation of WMD and illicit trade in conventional weapons. Specifically, EXBS helps partner countries build strategic trade controls that are consistent with international best practices, working to strengthen legal and regulatory structures, licensing procedures, and enforcement capabilities.

The EXBS-Tajikistan-Afghanistan partnership kicked off with the establishment of a new facility in Dushanbe called the Regional Training Center on WMD Nonproliferation and Export Control. This training center now works to train Tajik and other Central Asian regional officers in a wide variety of techniques including nuclear and radiological smuggling detection, interdiction, containment, and response. An added benefit: Afghan and Tajik customs and border officials are also receiving assistance with compliance on strategic trade controls, as well as UN Security Council Resolution 1540, a binding resolution that requires all countries to establish laws prohibiting the transfer of WMD.

Workshops at this new training center aim to improve the skills of Afghan customs, border security, and law enforcement officers to become more skilled in detecting and interdicting illicit chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive materials. Future workshops are slated to include WMD interdiction, detection and response, and countering improvised explosive devices.

In April 2019, U.S. Ambassador John Mark Pommersheim met with Afghani students at the Nuclear Radiation and Safety Agency’s training center—the venue for all current and future Afghani training workshops. (U.S. Embassy Tajikistan)

Improving security on this heavily traversed border is a high priority for our EXBS program. The Tajik and Afghan governments are committed to the partnership as well, and we look forward to working with them to promote greater security and stability on this turbulent border.

About the Author: Mary Lindsay serves in the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation's Office of Strategic Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of State.