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Tajikistan: Stability Threatened Despite Peace Accord

  • Salimjon Aioubov

Prague, 18 July 1997 (RFE/RL) - The Tajik political scene is set to change significantly following the signing of the peace accord which formally ended long years of fighting in the country.

The accord, signed in Moscow on June 27 by Tajik President Imomali Rahmonov and the leader of the united opposition, Sayid Abdullo Nuri, creates a power sharing arrangement and legalizes some of the previously-banned opposition parties and movements.

These are the Islamic Renaissance Party, the Democratic Party, the Rastokhez People's Movement, and the Laali Badakhshan, all of which were banned by the Tajik High Court in 1993. The leaders of these parties had earlier fled the country, but at the time of the court ruling, they said they would ignore it, and that their parties would continue to operate in one way or another. All the parties amalgamated into the Islamic Revival Movement while in exile in Afghanistan in 1993, and last year they renamed themselves the United Tajik Opposition (UTO).

Opposition leaders say they want to keep the UTO alive as an umbrella organization until the elections planned by the end of 1998. But, in something of a contradiction, they are also seeking major changes in the Tajik electoral laws which would allow each of the opposition parties to compete in the election under their own colors - something which is not provided for in the present electoral law. The new National Reconciliation Commission, which was established earlier this month, is now laying the groundwork for parliamentary elections, and will be considering the question of election laws.

The whole aim of the peace negotiations under United Nations auspices was to transfer the disagreements among Tajiks from the battlefield to the political stage. The first result of that might be to align Tajik society along two major axes - namely the currently ruling party and the Islamic opposition.

That's because on the opposition side, the Islamic Renaissance Party is the dominating presence. On the pro-president, pro-government side, the National Unity Movement was created last month to present a monolithic front to the opposition. Headed by the former chief of the presidential Administration, Sulton Mirzoshoev, it contains the People's Party and the Political and Economic Renewal Party, both of which were formed by pro-government supporters after 1993.

The coming election fight between the two main sides is expected to be very vigorous. All the leaders say they look forward to an election without intimidation, in view of the fact that in previous elections heavily armed men were often present at polling booths in an obvious attempt to influence the vote. This time, Rahmonov says citizens will be able to vote for whom they like without the presence of weapons. Opposition leader Nuri has also pledged that his side will not try to impose its will on the people.

Both sides face the new political era with their own disadvantages. Rahmonov can still count on a solid ruling elite, but he has bled away a lot of its strength through his continuous process of purging the ranks, something which still continues today. And the country's ruinous economic and social situation have deeply scarred the ruling circles' image.

For their part, the opposition parties and leaders do not really have a cohesive social base in the country. The government has tried to smear the opposition parties by a campaign of scare-mongering about the threats of fundamentalism, tactics which have had some success in the past. But now the opposition leaders say ideology is not the important factor, but that rather they must demonstrate their own professional capacities, and their loyalty to the concept of real independence and reform for Tajikistan.

Both sides have a credibility problem in that the battle-worn, exhausted and anxiety-ridden population of Tajikistan are highly skeptical about all the politicians.

Looking outward, both the opposition and the government sides court the favors of Russia and neighboring Uzbekistan, both of which have considerable influence on Tajik affairs. Russia still supports Rahmonov, and Uzbekistan has improve its ties with the opposition. And another, "third" factor is the National Revival Bloc of former Tajik Prime Minister Abdumalik Abdullajonov, which is not formally tied to either opposition or government, but has some influence in the northern region. The opposition has managed to strengthen its links with that bloc, but the government has been unable to overcome the antipathy of Abdullajonov's main commander Colonel Mahmud Khudoiberdiev.

In all, it can be said that despite the peace agreement between the two opposing sides, there are still severe threats to the peace process, in the form of looming power struggles, the possible fragmentation of political forces and the underlying differences between Russia and Uzbekistan.