The Swiss Institute for Global Affairs (SIGA) says “the Afghan Taliban have, in separate secret meetings with Tajik officials and the jihadist group Ansarullah 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.

On November 8, 2023, 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 Defense and Interior Affairs, reportedly entered Tajikistan through the Sherkhan Bandar – Panji Poyon border crossing point (BCP).  SIGA notes that according to a source, it was the Tajik side that had requested this meeting to discuss the issue of Ansarullah Tajikistan.

Over the next days, these Taliban reportedly met with Tajik officials in an undisclosed location in Tajikistan.   

According to SIGA, during the meeting in November 2023, Tajik officials initially requested from the Taliban to extradite Ansarullah Tajikistan members – who are practically all Tajik citizens – to Tajikistan.  At some point, the Tajik government reportedly even provided the Taliban with a list of Ansarullah 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 Ansarullah Tajikistan. Instead, the Taliban reportedly offered to facilitate peace negotiations between the Tajik government and Ansarullah.

After some days, the Taliban officials returned to Kabul, where Taliban leaders waited for a definitive reply from Tajikistan.

In early December 2023, the Tajik government reportedly sent a written reply to the Taliban.  SIGA says that 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 Ansarullah Tajikistan.   

The Taliban reportedly twice convened with Ansarullah members inside Afghanistan, once in December 2023 and once in January 2024. In these meetings, Ansarullah 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 reportedly led (or forced) Ansarullah 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, Ansarullah 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; to release Ansarullah Tajikistan prisoners; and to establish madrassas (religious schools) in Tajikistan.

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

Recall, reports of a “new” Taliban-affiliated group, called Tehrik-e-Taliban Tajikistan (TTT), emerged in July 2022.  TTT’s roots are traced back to the al-Qaida-affiliated Jamaat Ansarullah (JA), which was established by Tajik nationals a decade ago with the goal of overthrowing the secular government in Dushanbe.  Some experts note that the TTT comprises many second-generation militants of Jamaat Ansarullah.

Tajik officials said in 2022 that Muhammad Sharifov (aka Mahdi Arsalon), who is wanted in Dushanbe on terrorism charges, and more than 200 Tajik citizens are in the ranks of the Taliban, forming a group known as the "Tajik Taliban."

The Taliban rulers appointed Sharifov, 30, to oversee districts along the Afghan-Tajik border.  Militants of the Ansarullah group were placed under his command.  Tajikistan then expressed concerns over the presence of Ansarullah, which consists mostly of Tajiks who are not loyal to the Tajik government, close to the mutual border.  The Taliban later moved Ansarullah militants to other sites, apparently to ease tensions with Dushanbe.

Radio Liberty’s Tajik Service reported on January 9 that Arsalon disappeared in Afghanistan months ago.

Arsalon, who was born in Nourobod district, Rasht Valley in eastern Tajikistan, is reportedly the son and brother of JA veterans.  According to some sources, he joined Jamaat Ansarullah in 2014.  Described as “dangerous and ruthless,” Arsalon reportedly followed the jihadist footsteps of his father and elder brother, both of whom were killed by Tajik security forces.

Jamaat Ansarullah, also known as the Society of Allah’s Soldiers, was founded in 2010 by Amriddin Tabarov, who had been a field commander for anti-government Islamist forces during Tajikistan's 1992-97 civil war.  Tabarov, also known as Mullah Amriddin, was killed by Afghan government forces in 2015.

Initially, Ansarullah’s members were former Tajik opposition fighters who refused to accept a 1997 peace agreement between the government in Dushanbe and the Islamist-led opposition.

The so-called new generation -- children and relatives of the initial members and supporters -- have since joined the group.

Since its creation, Ansarullah has had links with other militant groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Al-Qaeda, and the Taliban.

Tajikistan’s Supreme Court officially banned Jamaat Ansarullah as extremist in May 2012 on the basis of a suit filed by the Prosecutor-General’s Office.