EXCLUSIVE: Uncertain Efforts to Broker Peace Between Tajikistani Jihadist Group in Afghani-stan and Tajik Government

February 2024

As the Swiss Institute for Global Affairs (SIGA) can exclusively reveal, the Afghan Taliban have, in separate secret meetings with Tajik officials and the jihadist group Ansorullah Tajikistan in Afghanistan, been attempting to broker peace negotiations between these two sides. Such efforts prove to be fraught with difficulties though and their outcome remains uncertain, if not outright doubtful — meaning that worries about foreign jihadists in Afghanistan will remain a geopolitically hot topic.

The Palace of the Nation (the official residence of the Tajik president) and Tajik flags in the centre of Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe (Franz J. Marty, 26th of April 2013)

How It All Began

On 8th of November 2023, a motorcade sped through the northern Afghan province of Kunduz towards the river Panj that marks the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan. There, the cars crossed the bridge that spans between Shir Khan Bandar on the Afghan and Panj-i Poyon on the Tajik side into Tajikistan. Few people noticed the convoy. Even fewer knew about the cars’ high-profile passengers: high-ranking Taliban officials, including Rahmatullah Najib, the second deputy director of the Taliban’s infamous secret police, the General Directorate of Intelligence (GDI), as well as representatives of the Taliban’s Ministries of Defence and Interior Affairs.


Over the next days, these Taliban met with Tajik officials in an undisclosed location in Tajikistan. According to a source with direct access to a Talib familiar with the matter who also recounted the above, it was the Tajik side that had requested this meeting to discuss the issue of Ansorullah Tajikistan.


Tajik officials had reportedly reached out to the Afghan Taliban somewhen after Tajik security forces had, on 5th of September 2023, killed three heavily armed men in the eastern Tajik province of Badakhshan. Tajik authorities claimed that these men were members of Ansorullah Tajikistan who had, only days earlier, crossed from the Afghan province of Badakhshan into the Tajik province with the same name to conduct “terrorist” operations inside Tajikistan (see here and here).


Ansorullah Tajikistan is a jihadist group that was founded in 2006 by Tajik citizen Amriddin Tabarov who was killed in Afghanistan in summer 2015. The group strives to replace the Tajik government, which Ansorullah members see as an infidel Russian puppet regime, with an Islamic government. There is also information indicating that Ansorullah Tajikistan is affiliated with al-Qa’ida. And the above referenced incident was, according to the Tajik government, not the first recent hostile Ansorullah incursion from Afghanistan, as there have been reports of a similar incident in April 2023.

Place of the reported Ansorullah incursion in April 2023 as seen from the Afghan side looking towards the Yazgulem valley (centre) in Tajikistan (Franz J. Marty; mid May 2023)

The Afghan Taliban officially deny the presence of Ansorullah Tajikistan members and other foreign jihadists on Afghan soil. However, there is irrefutable evidence of Ansorullah Tajikistan members residing in northern Afghanistan, which is, in private conversations, also acknowledged by Taliban. Reasonable estimates put the number of armed Ansorullah Tajikistan members in Afghanistan at at least several dozens to a few hundred, with some sources even claiming figures in the very low thousands.

A graffiti on a boulder on the Afghan side of the Afghan-Tajik border in Nusai, Badakhshan, referencing the nom de guerre of the Ansorullah Tajikistan member Mehdi Arsalon. Various sources, including Taliban, confirmed the presence of Mehdi Arsalon as well as other Ansorullah members inside Afghanistan. (Franz J. Marty, 11th of May 2023)

In view of these incidents, during the meeting in November 2023, Tajik officials initially requested from the Taliban to extradite Ansorullah Tajikistan members – who are practically all Tajik citizens – to Tajikistan, the Talib familiar with the matter told SIGA’s source. At some point, the Tajik government reportedly even provided the Taliban with a list of Ansorullah members and their exact places of residence in Afghanistan. This request for extradition was, however, rejected by the Taliban as being unfeasible and not conducive to solve the problem posed by Ansorullah Tajikistan. Instead, the Taliban offered to facilitate peace negotiations between the Tajik government and Ansorullah, the source explained.


That there was indeed a meeting between Taliban and Tajik officials in Tajikistan in November 2023 was confirmed to SIGA by another well-informed source that requested complete anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter. While this source did not comment on the exact details of the meeting, the man added that the Taliban had already in the past offered the Tajik government to facilitate negotiations with Ansorullah Tajikistan.

In any event, after some days, the motorcade sped back across the border bridge and towards Kabul, where Taliban leaders waited for a definitive reply from Tajikistan.

Difficult Attempts to Facilitate Talks

In early December 2023, the Tajik government sent a written reply to the Taliban. According to an Afghan source who has seen a photo of the letter, the Tajik government in principle agreed to form a delegation and sit down for talks with Ansorullah Tajikistan. The above mentioned second source confirmed in general that there had been official correspondence between Tajikistan and the Taliban regarding the facilitation of peace talks with Ansorullah without elaborating further.


Convincing Ansorullah Tajikistan to negotiate with the Tajik government would then prove more difficult for the Taliban though. According to the cited Afghan source, the Taliban twice convened with Ansorullah members inside Afghanistan, once in December 2023 and once in January 2024. In these meetings, Ansorullah members at first outright rejected the notion to reconcile with the Tajik government which they see as their infidel nemesis that has to be vanquished.


However, hours long attempts of the Taliban led (or forced) Ansorullah members to eventually and at least somewhat soften their stance, the source explained. They declared that they would negotiate with the Tajik government – but only after the latter fulfils several preconditions. In the second meeting, Ansorullah members provided the Taliban with a written list of their demands. Amongst the bold preconditions were that the Tajik government would have:

  • to declare an Islamic government;
  • to arrange that all Russian military personnel leave Tajik soil[1];
  • to release Ansorullah Tajikistan prisoners; and
  • to establish madrassas (religious schools) in Tajikistan.

Given that such tall demands are anything but realistic, all the more as they were meant as preconditions for any talks and not as goals for a final agreement, the Taliban further deliberated with Ansorullah Tajikistan.


After continued intense exchanges, Ansorullah Tajikistan finally agreed to only demand one precondition for talks: that all Russian military personnel have to leave Tajik soil.


A diplomat from a regional country corroborated the existence of ongoing Taliban efforts to facilitate negotiations between the Tajik government and Ansorullah Tajikistan to SIGA, explicitly mentioning that Ansorullah indeed indicated the withdrawal of all Russian soldiers from Tajikistan as a precondition. He added that the latter demand was “impossible to fulfil” though and that Ansorullah and the Taliban would have to offer something else.


Similarly, a source with access to Ansorullah members also confirmed that there have been talks about peace negotiations between Ansorullah and the Tajik government.


Given these confirmations from various sides, there is virtually no doubt that such efforts for negotiations are underway but have so far not resulted in any significant breakthrough.


And the chances that this will change do not look good.

More Than Uncertain Prospects

While the Taliban in non-public conversations display efforts for negotiations as the only solution to the problem of Ansorullah in particular and foreign jihadists in Afghanistan in general, further scrutinising the details and circumstances of such efforts raises questions about the seriousness and feasibility of such an approach.


For one, the source with access to Ansorullah Tajikistan members stated that the latter have repeatedly and consistently rejected any notion of reconciling with the Tajik government and continue to do so. At one point, one Ansorullah leadership member reportedly explicitly described talks about the start of negotiations with the Tajik government as mere “political games”.

Still of a propaganda video depicting Russian president Vladimir Putin and Tajik president Emomali Rahmon that was shared on an Ansorullah Tajikistan linked messaging app channel on 30th of December 2023. The caption reads «How to Free Tajikistan from Occupation and Corruption?». The video vilifies the Tajik government explicitly indicating an alleged «golden opportunity» to overthrow the Tajik republic and replace it with an Islamic government.

At the very least some Afghan Taliban are also well aware of this. For example, one Talib familiar with the above reported events stated in a private conversation that attempts at reconciliation are not serious and that Ansorullah is still preparing for war. He explicitly likened the above to similar Afghan Taliban attempts to reconcile the Pakistani jihadist group Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) with the Pakistani government – which soon fell apart and were followed by increased TTP attacks in Pakistan (see e.g. here, here, and here). At one point, the mentioned Talib even described the outreach with offers to negotiate while simultaneously preparing for war to forcefully achieve stated goals as a proven “technique”. This apparently referred to the Afghan Taliban’s own approach during their negotiations with the United States of America and the then Afghan Republic and their subsequent increase in operations and their eventual military takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021.


The mentioned Talib as well as other sources also independently of each other stated that Afghan Taliban not only continue to let Ansorullah members move and train freely inside Afghanistan, but even support them with funds and equipment.


To be fair, doubts about the chances for success of the aimed for peace talks are not only caused by the jihadist side. While the Tajik government’s exact position in this matter could not be ascertained, available information suggests that the Tajik government is unwilling to make significant concessions to jihadist demands and would likely not accept anything less than a surrender of Ansorullah Tajikistan.


Given this lack of seriousness of all involved sides, chances that peace negotiations will kick off, not to speak of being successful, appear more than slim.


As such, the most likely scenario is that Ansorullah Tajikistan will remain in Afghanistan and continue to try to pursue their stated goal of jihad against the Tajik government. Due to an array of reasons, including the fact that Ansorullah has at most little support inside Tajikistan and that the river Panj constitutes a natural barrier that can be better guarded than, for example, the rugged disputed land border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is unlikely though that Ansorullah will be able to emulate the TTP and launch numerous attacks against Tajikistan. However, it has to be expected that Ansorullah will — despite Afghan Taliban demands to the group to keep a low profile — continue to try to lash out against Tajikistan. And that they might, at one point, be more successful than in their above mentioned failed two attempts in 2023.


As Ansorullah Tajikistan is not the only foreign jihadist group in Afghanistan and the situation surrounding other such groups, including al-Qa’ida, is similar (see e.g. here), jihadism will — in spite of the transition away from the war on terror to great power competition — remain geopolitically relevant.

Franz J. Marty

Note: the description of sources and certain details was deliberately left vague to protect sources.

[1] Tajikistan hosts the 201st Military Base of Russian Ground Forces, which is — with the exception of Russian military bases in Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine — the largest non-naval base of the Russian military outside Russia. For more details on the Russian 201st Military Base see https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/russia/ogrv-tajikistan.htm and https://fmso.tradoc.army.mil/2023/russia-strengthens-its-military-presence-in-central-asia/.

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