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Tajikistan: Analysis--Time For Peace In Tajikistan, Or Else

  • Abbas Djavadi

(RFE/RL Tajik Service Director Abbas Djavadi recently completed a visit to Tajikistan. His analysis of the situation there follows.) Dushanbe, 18 November 1996 (RFE/RL) -- The UN special representative to Tajikistan, Gerd Merrem, warns that the UN will cease seeking to mediate peace there and withdraw its observer mission if the government and the opposition continue fighting and do not agree on a political solution.

Merrem is not alone in hinting that international and domestic patience is running out.

President Emomali Rakhmanov and the leader of the Tajik Islamic Movement, Abdullo Nuri, are expected to meet in the next few weeks in Moscow. The government appears to be pressing for the meeting. The opposition, though said to have promised to attend, appears to be maneuvering for advantage.

Previous rounds of high-level talks in Tehran and Kabul and peace talks in Ashgabat and Tehran have produced only gestures of peace diplomacy.

But Merrem and Western diplomats in Dushanbe say there is not much time left for the two parties to put aside extreme demands and bitter memories of the 1992 civil war, and agree on a practical, pragmatic peace plan. Until now, the government has been insisting on giving the opposition only an advisory role together with a few posts in the government. The opposition is demanding 40 percent of the government and the creation of a new legislature to prepare new elections.

Failure in the talks has fueled a guerrilla war between the Tajikistan Islamic Movement and troops of the Moscow-backed government in the eastern regions of the country and along the Tajik-Afghan border. The conflict is entering its fifth winter. Local commanders of the Islamic opposition control parts of this area --including Garm, Tavildere, Komsomolobod, and Jirgatolb -- and have moved as close as 15 kilometers from the capital.

Public support for the government of President Rahmonov is decreasing and the situation is getting out of its control.

But the Islamic opposition is not the only force challenging the government. Using the chaos, separate armed groups and gangs have seized control of some villages and cities. The city of Tursunzode, west of Dushanbe, together with its money-making aluminum factory, has fallen to an armed group led by a local warlord. Last February, armed groups of this city and a rebelling division of the Tajik army based in the southern city of Kurgonteppa advanced to the capital, threatening to oust the government, and withdrew only after Moscow's mediation and after the government replaced some key officials disliked by the rebels.

The capital is controlled by government forces. But armed groups including independently acting supporters of the "Popular Front" which brought the government to power in 1992, the opposition, and criminals engage in attacks, robberies and assassinations for money, revenge, or political advantage. The government is unable to control crime and terror. Even militiamen avoid the dangerous streets after sunset.

People across the country blame both government and the Islamic opposition for the continuing war. They perceive the war as the main reason for the current economic crisis and instability.

The average wage in state enterprises is equivalent to about nine U.S. dollars a month, and the government fails to pay regularly even that amount. Employees habitually report to work, then disappear to look after other businesses to pay for their living costs. Authorities in Dushanbe say that they will provide natural gas for heating only after five consecutive days with a temperature below minus-eight degrees Celsius.

Some Tajik government officials admit that they must stop the war and negotiate a reasonable peace agreement with the Islamic opposition. An official of the Tajik Interior Ministry who declines to be identified, put it as follows: "People like (the mayor of Dushanbe, Mahmadsaid) Ubaidulloev don't want to realize that we are all sitting in the same sinking ship."

But hardliners within the government and especially in power ministries still believe that the government can survive only by militarily crashing the opposition.

Similar divisions are being reported in the Islamic opposition. The opposition's fighters increasingly realize that they cannot win a war which costs them public support and the country its stability and economic wellbeing. Reliable reports quote some opposition commanders blaming the continuing war on their hardline leaders living outside the country.

A local commander reportedly put it this way: "They don't care about peace because they live their comfortable lives in Talegan and Tehran and receive money from Iran and Saudi Arabia. They would think twice on the continuation of the war if their own sons would be fighting here."

Public support for both sides is eroding. For many people in the Tajik capital, the expected meeting between President Rahmonov and the Islamic opposition leader Nuri is the last chance to save Tajikistan from the kind of chaos and disintegration seen in neighboring Afghanistan.

(Abbas Djavadi has been director of the Tajik Broadcast Service since May 1995. He joined RFE/RL in March 1985. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Cologne,. He has been a freelance analyst, contributor, and adviser to many German and other European state and private institutions and publications and is the author of two books on Persian and Azerbaijani affairs.)