An article by Michael Scollon posted on Radio Liberty’s website says visit of Iranian top military commander Mohammad  Hossein Bagheri, to Tajikistan heralded the beginning of a new era of defense cooperation between the two countries as they seek to tackle fresh challenges in the region.

“Iran Drone Deal Aims for Afghan Security, Complicates Tajik-Kyrgyz Arms Race”, in particular, notes that these challenges include the Afghan Taliban's return to power in August and the transnational terrorist threat posed by Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) militants in Afghanistan.

As it had been reported earlier, Iran’s Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, Major-General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri and Tajik Defense Minister Sherali Mirzo on Nay 17 launched the first production line for Iranian unmanned military aerial vehicle Ababil-2.  

Highlighting Iran’s progress in drone technologies in recent years, Major-General Bagheri said in the event, “Today, we have reached a position that apart from fulfilling the domestic needs, we can export military equipment to the allies and friendly countries in order to strengthen security and sustainable peace.”

The article cited Jeremy Binney, Middle East defense specialist at the global intelligence company Janes, as telling Radio Liberty in written comments that "there certainly seems to be a sudden push to strength Iranian-Tajikistan relations and the Taliban takeover is clearly a factor in that."

Tajikistan is the lone Central Asia’s nation to publicly oppose the Taliban's return to power in Kabul, saying it is a threat to regional stability and has sidelined Afghanistan’s large ethnic-Tajik population.

The Taliban, meanwhile, has rejected claims by Tajik President Emomali Rahmon that Afghanistan is home to terrorist camps and thousands of militants, and is seen to be wary of reports that Dushanbe has had contact with the anti-Taliban National Resistance Front, which Tajikistan denies.

Tajikistan has also been involved in border clashes with Kyrgyzstan, which purchased advanced Bayraktar drones from Turkey as well as UAVs from Russia last year. 

According to the article, Iran, meanwhile, has played a balancing act.  Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has described foreign terrorist groups as the root cause of instability in Afghanistan and has called on the Taliban to do more to counter the threat.

The inauguration of the drone-manufacturing facility in Dushanbe reportedly appears to have key benefits for Iran, which has long sought to establish factories abroad to buttress its "resistance economy" designed to counter severe economic sanctions relating to its controversial nuclear program.

The United States issued new sanctions in October intended to punish Tehran for its exports of UAVs, which Washington said the IRGC was supplying to Iran-backed groups in Lebanon and Ethiopia and threatened "international peace and stability."

Iran has also been accused of unofficially helping Huthi rebels manufacture a variant of the Ababil-2 drone for use in Yemen.

But with the decade-long UN arms embargo against Iran having expired in 2020, the production of drones in Tajikistan potentially gives Iran an avenue to both legitimize its drone exports and show it is a player to be reckoned with in the market, observers were cited as saying by the article.