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Tajikistan: Instability Constitutes A Threat Within Central Asia

  • Stuart Parrott

London, 27 January 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A Central Asia analyst says the four-year civil war in Tajikistan is a potent reminder of the internal problems faced by all the Central Asian countries and of their potential to rip these newly-independent states apart.

Dov Lynch, of the Euro-Asian Studies Center at Reading University, said: "Tajikistan is Central Asia's geo-strategic 'black hole', collapsing internally while radiating instability externally."

Lynch said the security interests of the Central Asian countries -- Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan -- are closely linked in the wake of the break-up of the Soviet Union.

He said the security threat to the region no longer comes from external powers, as in the "Great Game" of the 19th Century (a reference to historic British-Russian rivalry in Central Asia), but from within these countries and their immediate neighbors.

He said the civil war in Tajikistan illustrates the danger of various forms of "conflict spillover" involving ethnic and regional tensions, and the spread of crime, including narcotics smuggling.

Lynch, who spoke last week (Jan. 23) at a one-day conference about the future of the Central Asian region, said: "The strains that underlay the Tajik civil war exist in various forms in all the Central Asian states."

The Tajik government and Islamist-led United Tajik Opposition signed power-sharing accords last June, declaring an end to the civil war, but the peace process has been plagued by problems.

Lynch said the Tajik war demonstrates the "weakness of post-Soviet statehood" and illustrates the often "conflictual" relationship between the center and the regions in the new independent states. The war represents the "collapse of a state along regional lines" more than some "ideological contest between so-called conservative communists and Islamo-democrats, as it's sometimes portrayed."

Lynch said the break-up of the Soviet Union led to a resurgence of regional rivalries, with clan systems vying for control or regional independence, a process compounded by economic dislocation creating pressures for devolved economic and political power.

The Tajik war is also a reminder of potential problems arising from the re-emergence of Islam in the region. He said the war does not represent a battle between secular and religious models of development, but its religious element must be understood.

He said: "Political Islam has served as a channel for the expression of political and economic discontent, and has thus increased its appeal, particularly to the regions in Tajikistan."

Lynch said the breakdown of law and order in Tajikistan could also threaten the security of the rest of the region,.

He said an explosion in crime reflects the collapse of central power; the rise of regionalism; economic dislocation; proliferation of conventional weaponry; and also of informal armed militias.

He said narcotics smuggling makes the Tajikistan conflict hard to resolve, and is a direct threat to the other Central Asians.

He said: "As in the Afghan war, there are too many groups that have a stake in the disorder and no desire for the restoration of centralized power." In addition, neither the government nor the Tajik opposition have full control over their field commanders.

He said: "The Tajik civil war is more than an enduring hot spot on Central Asia's periphery. It's a powerful reminder to every Central Asian state of the dilemmas they face in the consolidation of their independence, in terms of defining their statehood."