Blake gives an interview to the BBC in March 2012 during a trip to Dushanbe. Photo by US Embassy Dushanbe.
So here we have it now (distributed today), so we don't just have to listen to Russian analyst speculation or my newsletter, we can hear it from the Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia himself, in answer to some journalists in Dushanbe:
No, the US will not use Tajikistan as its backyard or a doormat on its way out of Afghanistan.
But really, the next questions for the journalists to have asked, if they had had an opportunity before the Assistant Secretary was whisked away on the tarmac, would be something like these:
o But is the US training special ops teams or intelligence-related personnel or troops so that we have a close working relationship with the oppressive government of Tajikistan regarding post-withdrawal Afghanistan?
o But just how many US troops and advisers will remain in Tajikistan, and will this number grow, and will there be any kind of informal cooperation with the abusive government of Tajikistan around something like Ayni or any other location?
o But does the US feel that it is constrained by the presence of Russian troops and Russian plans/intentions regarding Tajikistan?
o Say, why *won't* the operation take place through Tajikistan, but takes place through Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and of course Russia (60% of the NDN chokehold is in Russia)? Is life about choices among Eurasian tyrants or are there logistical issues with road or rail conditions or something?
o Could you be more specific then, if you aren't literally going to run the US troops backward out of Tajikistan, and you aren't going to literally help Tajikistan through the base in Ayni, what *will* you will be doing militarily in terms of helping the authoritarian government of Tajikistan to have stability?
o What do you define as "stability"?
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Assistant Secretary Blake: Well good evening everyone. I’ve just concluded a very productive meeting with his Excellency President Rahmon. I had the opportunity to thank President Rahmon for his very strong support of stabilization efforts in Afghanistan and for his strong support of the U.S. and international coalition efforts in Afghanistan. We discussed how we can continue to strengthen our cooperation in the areas of border security, counterterrorism, and counternarcotics. I congratulated President Rahmon on the progress that Tajikistan has made in its efforts to join the World Trade Organization that will occur very soon and I remarked that this will be an important step in facilitating trade and regional integration in this region. We also discussed the importance of free, transparent and fair elections in the elections that will take place in November; as well as the importance of allowing space for nongovernmental organizations, for journalists, and for other members of civil society. I will be giving a press conference tomorrow but I’ll be glad to take one or two questions now.
Question: Did you have a chance to discuss with the President, issues related to military cooperation, in particular, using the territory of Tajikistan for transportation of some cargo for Afghanistan, for some joint cooperation there? Did you discuss issues of the use of one of our airports in the remote region of Ayni for the use of military operations and for the purposes of military cooperation with Afghanistan?
Assistant Secretary Blake: No, we didn’t discuss any use of any Tajik airport either now or in the future but we did discuss, in general, our cooperation on Afghanistan and again particularly the importance of continuing to strengthen our cooperation in the areas of border security and counternarcotics and counterterrorism particularly now that this very important transition in Afghanistan is beginning. I’ll take one more question.
Question [BBC/Tajikistan]: Does the U.S. government have an intention to withdraw its troops very soon through the territory of Tajikistan and if yes, how will Tajikistan benefit from it?
Assistant Secretary Blake: No, as you all know, the President of the United States announced during his State of the Union speech that the United States would be halving the number of troops in Afghanistan by February of next year, but I don’t expect that that operation will take place through Tajikistan. But nonetheless I do want to express our support for Tajikistan’s efforts to help the stabilization for Afghanistan and we very much count on those efforts continuing. And again, I’ll be glad to take your questions tomorrow. Thank you very much.