Recent armed clashes in Tajikistan have raised new questions about Central Asia’s stability, just as China is deepening its role in the region and tying it to signature trade and investment plans. Chinese leaders have touted the region as an essential part of Beijing’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative, a land- and sea-based infrastructure network to connect eastern China with Western Europe through what it calls the Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road.
But China is not alone in Central Asia. Overlapping interests with Russia, the long-time kingmaker in a region that was part of the Soviet empire until 1991, have prompted Chinese officials to react cautiously to frequent outbursts of violence in the region’s post-Soviet states. The latest unrest in Tajikistan in early September is an example of the kind of Central Asian security crisis China is reluctant to get tangled in, even as Beijing continues to pursue its big Silk Road plans.
On Sept. 4, Tajik security personnel and armed groups reportedly led by a disaffected deputy defense minister, Gen. Abduhalim Nazarzoda, engaged in pitched gun battles on the streets of Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe. Twenty-six policy officers and suspected extremists died in the fighting, according to official reports. The Tajik government first blamed the unrest on Nazarzoda, who was reportedly killed on Sept. 16 by local government forces in a mountainous area near Dushanbe.