- Islamist terrorist infiltration is weakening Tajikistan’s grip on its pivotal eastern province
- The area is a vital security zone to China, while Russian recently deployed troops there
- A violent flare-up could test mostly cooperative relations between Moscow and Beijing
The collapse of the Islamic State’s (IS) so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria sent a wave of jihadist fighters back to their countries of origin. One destination for this trek is northern Afghanistan, where the new arrivals are being blended with Taliban militants. Although their exact numbers are impossible to ascertain, this group has emerged as a rival to the Taliban, contributing to the recent spike in violence in the region. From a Russian perspective, this represents a nightmare coming true.
The Kremlin has long been fearful that the drawdown of American troops in Afghanistan would lead to a Taliban resurgence. Moscow’s concern centers on the withdrawal’s spillover effects, which could spur Islamist radicalization in Central Asia, an area Russia has long regarded as its own backyard. The influx of battle-hardened IS fighters exacerbates such fears.