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Tajikistan: Anniversary Serves As Reminder Of Fragile Peace

  • Bruce Pannier

Tajikistan celebrated National Unity Day over the weekend, marking the signing of the National Peace Accord two years ago. The accords brought an official end to five years of civil war. But while most people in Tajikistan continue to express relief that hostilities have ended, RFE/RL correspondent Bruce Pannier reports that some are not sure that much has improved in the last two years.

Prague, 28 June 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Even as the country celebrated on Sunday, a dispute between President Imomali Rakhmonov and United Tajik Opposition (UTO) leader Said Abdullo Nuri provided a reminder that peace is still fragile in Tajikistan.

The second anniversary of the signing of the peace accord was marred by the latest dispute between the leaders of the two principle factions which fought during the country's civil war. The Tajik government and UTO were at war for five years.

The struggle began about six months after the country became independent and cost as many as 100,000 lives and at times one in ten of the country's approximately six million people were homeless and wandering. The two countries most interested in Tajikistan during the war -- Russia and Iran -- eventually guided President Rakhmonov and UTO leader Nuri to sign the peace accord in Moscow in late June 1997.

Though the paper Rakhmonov and Nuri signed called for cooperation between the two sides in restoring peace and stability to Tajikistan, cooperation has not come easily. Rakhmonov and Nuri have again been in disputes recently over terms of the accord.

Nuri, in late May, withdrew UTO participation in the joint government-UTO commission which debates amendments to the country's constitution. Nuri later renewed UTO participation in the commission but on Friday, dissatisfied with President Rakhmonov's refusal to appoint a UTO member to a post in the government, Nuri threatened to resign as the commission's chairman. Despite this development, Nuri told a crowd in Dushanbe on Sunday that there will be no return to the past.

"We will support this peace, we won't again repeat the tragic battle which went on for five years. This war was a great misfortune, we will not return to it. Our society is democratic and based on rights. In a democratic society political parties exist and work, sometimes traveling different roads. But do not worry about these new political confrontations. They will not lead to war. These arguments happen as we find the correct path. We will never allow the start of any military activities, not from within and not from any external forces."

President Rakhmonov also addressed the country on Sunday, and called the signing of the peace accord "the end to the most tragic page in the history of the country and a long-awaited day of hope." Rakhmonov also called on members of the UTO to join in the celebration because "the national idea should rally all sections of the public in the name of the country's and the nation's revival."

However, Rakhmonov made his comments in a televised speech rather than in any joint appearance with Nuri. The peace process is still polarized by a disagreement over the appointment of a UTO representative to the post of defense minister.

RFE/RL's Tajik Service spoke with other leading political figures in the country in recent days to ask get views on the peace process.

Rustam Faziev is the deputy leader of the Democratic Party in the northern Tajik city of Khujand. Faziev speculated that the problems between the government and the UTO may necessitate a new political force as the public may not wait much longer for a better life.

"If this political stalemate continues, a new force could arrive on the scene and grasp the political initiative. It will come as a social and civic necessity. The situation is that people are tired of suffering from poverty, unemployment, a shortage of money, poor living conditions, the criminalization and degradation of society. The people may [eventually] support another political force who will promise them a better future, even if the promises are as unbelievable as mountains of gold and rivers of milk with fruit jelly banks."

Asliddin Sohibnazarov is the deputy chief of Tajikistan's Tax Committee and a former member of the Tajik parliament. He is not aligned to either the government or the UTO, but Sohibnazarov seems to echo Nuri's comments of Sunday when saying problems exist but so do compromises.

"It is very nice we do not shoot at each other any more. We are happy, but we should not think there are no more difficulties and dangers. Now the interests of the two sides are very close to one another and he who was an enemy yesterday is a friend today. What is regrettable, because it took so long to make peace, is that there are new sides preparing for conflict. Peace does not only mean power sharing. They should find solutions for the problems which caused the civil war in Tajikistan. It means creating a new and good parliament, making constitutional reforms and doing all things to bring the rule of law."

The chairman of Tajikistan's National Revival Movement, Hokimsho Muhabbat, expressed optimism over the peace process. He noted that while progress has been slow, it has been discernable.

"All the international organizations and guarantor countries say it is the best example of peace when the two former combatants come to the negotiation table and even with delays continue to implement their duties. Everybody knows that soon we will have presidential and parliamentary elections. And the latest events bring optimism to us because the government and the opposition are able find a compromise."

Tajikistan begins its third year of official peace with great expectations. Before the next anniversary, a national referendum on amendments to the country's constitution is due, as are presidential and parliamentary elections. Both sides knew from the beginning that the process of reconciliation would be difficult. Rakhmonov's decision not to appear with Nuri on Sunday is a sign that obstacles remain. But few in Tajikitan have forgotten that for the five years before 1997, there was no reason for any national celebration.

(Abbas Djavadi, Soljida Dzhakhfarova, and Salimjon Aioubov of RFE/RL's Tajik Service contributed to this feature.)