Tajikistan Concerned By Provocative Taliban Watchtower On Border

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A watchtower being built on the Afghan-Tajik border that is manned by members of the "Tajik Taliban" has caught the attention of Tajik officials.

The Taliban and Tajik militants who have joined forces with the Taliban are building a new observation post directly across the river from Tajikistan's Darvaz district.

The inscription "M. Arsalon," written in graffiti at the foot of a mountain right next to the watchtower, is viewed by Tajik authorities as a "deliberate provocation."

M. Arsalon is Mahdi Arsalon, the nickname of Muhammad Sharipov, a 27-year-old Tajik citizen from the Nurabad district who the Taliban put in charge of managing the border along the Darvaz district.

Arsalon has been wanted by the Tajik authorities for eight years on terrorism charges. Officials say Arsalon and more than 200 Tajik citizens are in the ranks of the Taliban, forming a group known as the "Tajik Taliban."

A border-guard official in Tajikistan's Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous region, which borders Afghanistan, told RFE/RL on July 4 that the graffiti was a symbolic threat of unrest that the Taliban militants sent to Tajikistan.

"Mahdi Arsalon's name has been demonstratively written in a large font that can be easily read on the soil of Tajikistan, and with this they want to annoy and provoke us," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official added that the Tajik fighters, citizens of Tajikistan and many of them wanted by police, walk demonstratively along the banks of the Panj River that separates the two countries.

"They come with their cars almost every day to this new observation tower and yell loudly and ostentatiously with a loudspeaker in a Tajik dialect, insulting Tajik authorities," he said.

The official said Arsalon had been responsible for the Taliban-run border guard in five districts of Afghanistan's Darwaz Province, but that he and a group of his fighters had since been transferred to Khwahan district, in the northeastern Badakhshan Province.

Khawan is located just across from Tajikistan's Shamsiddin Shahin district, which is considered the most troublesome area along the Afghan-Tajik border.

Tajik authorities say the Taliban's granting of official duties to the Tajik fighters as they are doing along the border increases distrust in the militant organization and gives the sense of a threat from Afghanistan.

The Taliban does not confirm or deny the presence of Tajik fighters in Afghanistan but emphasize that no groups will use Afghanistan territory to threaten Tajikistan.

Taliban government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in an interview with RFERL's Tajik Service on July 4 that Tajikistan should not worry about the graffiti on the mountain or the presence of any groups there and to send its security concerns to Kabul.

"We will not allow Afghanistan to [be used by groups to] threaten neighboring countries," Mujahid said. "If the Tajik side has any issues or concerns, if they talk to us officially, God willing, they will be satisfied and we will remove the threats.

"Secondly, in any border post where the name [of Arsalon] is written...there is someone who is abusing his power or causing problems. From that point of view, we want the government of Tajikistan to enter into official dialogue with our government, to enter into contact, so that there is trust between the two sides."

But Tajikistan does not recognize the Taliban government and, like other Central Asian countries, has not announced it will cooperate with the militant group since it came to power in August 2021 after ousting the pro-Western government.

Tajik officials have also angered the Taliban by not returning Afghan military jets that flew to Tajikistan last year to avoid capture by the Taliban.

Tajikistan is also host to several Afghan opposition leaders who oppose Taliban rule, including National Resistance Front of Afghanistan leader Ahmad Masud.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.