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Tajikistan looks to China, Russia for internet services and security

The telecoms regular admitted in November that a staggering 95 percent of the country’s territory is covered by only outdated 2G mobile connections.

Following up on a recent pledge to drastically improve internet services, Tajikistan’s communications regulator has begun working with several international companies to overhaul core infrastructure.

The most notable conversation is happening with China’s Huawei. In the first half of December, the Tajik government and the Chinese company’s local representative office, Huawei Technologies Tajikistan, signed a memorandum of cooperation that will see the latter take the lead in a project to upgrade or install 7,600 base stations envisioned as the backbone of a future 5G network.

The agreement also provides for the training of Tajik technicians.

This initiative — part of the State Communications Service’s work implementing the government’s renewal and development of mobile communications 2024-2028 agenda — comes not a moment too soon.

The telecoms regular, which is run by a relative by marriage of President Emomali Rahmon, admitted in November that a staggering 95 percent of the country’s territory is covered by only outdated 2G mobile connections, which is all but useless for most modern online needs.

Tajikistan’s imminent full-blown reliance on Huawei may cause unease in some Western capitals, however. The United States has been especially hostile toward the Chinese tech giant, which it has accused of enabling the surveillance agenda of the Chinese security apparatus.

Former President Donald Trump’s administration in 2019 imposed sanctions that complicated the company’s access Western chip-making technology. Trump’s successor, Joe Biden, has pursued similar policies.

Lower-level cooperation agreements have also been inked between Tajikistan and Russian telecommunications companies. The two companies in question, Cifra and Piter IX, will provide training and consultancy services on how to manage the still-to-be-created 4G and 5G networks.

As the result of yet another in the flurry of memorandum of cooperation agreements signed in December, Kazakh company National Information Technologies is poised to team up with Tajikistan to put together its electronic government systems. Kazakhstan is arguably a standout in Central Asia for its success in rolling out e-government services — and it is this that Tajikistan may be seeking to emulate.

The urge among Tajikistan’s population to fully enter the digital urge has been impeded to a considerable degree by the paranoia of the censorship-happy security services. So even as new technology is adopted, the National Committee for State Security, or GKNB, has reached out to its Russian peers to help counter “the improper use of the internet and information and communication technologies.”

The governments of Russia and Tajikistan signed an agreement in June on cooperating to ensure “international information security.” The agreement was ratified by the Tajik parliament in December.

Commenting on this development earlier this month, Mahmad Melikzoda, deputy head of the GKNB, said the agreement with Russia would serve to “coordinate countermeasures against threats to international information security, prevent ICT-related crimes, and develop joint strategies to bolster information security.”

Officials like Melikzoda typically cite terrorism and religious extremism as leading concerns, but both censorship and surveillance are deployed by his agency to harass a far broader category of individuals, including government critics and journalists.

Source: Eurasianet