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Tajikistan: Ambassador Recalls 1997 Peace Talks

Anatoly Adamishin in 1997 (ITAR-TASS) June 28, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Anatoly Adamishin is a former Russian ambassador to the United Kingdom and Italy, and a former minister for cooperation with CIS countries. During Tajikistan's civil war he was first deputy foreign minister and, as such, was intimately involved in the inter-Tajik dialogue that led to the peace agreement signed in Moscow on June 26, 1997. He was reportedly one of the few Russian government officials who pushed for talks with the Tajik Islamic opposition.

Adamishin, who is retired and currently works as a senior fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, talked to RFE/RL's Tajik Service correspondent Salimjon Aioubov on June 27, the ninth anniversary of the Moscow peace agreement that ended the 1992-97 Tajik civil war.

RFE/RL: Anatoly Leonidovich, you made a crucial contribution to the Tajik peace settlement. Could you please tell us how the negotiation process started?

"The only choice they had was either seek a [peace] agreement or continue fighting. Fighting would have meant more years of bloodshed, cruelty, and no solution in sight."

Adamishin: I must confess that the search for a peaceful resolution in Tajikistan was one of the most difficult tasks I encountered in my 40 years of diplomatic service. Those were times of trouble in Russia and no one cared about having the right diplomacy. There were various interests at stake.

I would start with the spring of 1994, when the situation in Tajikistan was catastrophic. After several years of a bloody war, the country was effectively disintegrating into different autonomous regions. Those of us at the [Russian] Foreign Ministry who were dealing with Tajikistan believed it was necessary to make peace with the Islamic opposition -- even though it was dubbed "intransigent" -- or face another round of military operations, a new spark to this cruel and bloody civil war.

Naturally, we started talking to [Tajik] President Imomali Rakhmonov. We had good contacts with him. Yet, we soon encountered problems. Dushanbe was in favor of direct talks with the opposition, but the opposition didn't want to enter into direct talks with [the Tajik government]. They preferred to talk to Moscow. I then convinced Rakhmonov that he should agree to my going to Tehran as a first step. He reluctantly gave his consent.

However when I told him it would make things easier if he cancelled the decree making the opposition leaders outlaws and state criminals -- the Prosecutor-General's Office in Tajikistan had issued warrant arrests against them -- he refused. So I said to myself, "OK, let's not argue about that and let's get to work immediately."

The next problem for us was to have the Uzbeks consent to our trip. You know that traditionally they have had a strong influence in Tajikistan. We eventually managed to get everyone's consent and in March 1994 I left for Tehran, where Hoja Akbar Torajonzoda and Mohammad Sharif Khitmatzoda -- the most prominent leaders of the [Tajik] armed opposition -- were living. My task was to take them with me and convince them to have direct talks with the Tajik government, if necessary through the mediation of the United Nations and other countries.

For two days I had very difficult talks in Tehran. On top of that it was Ramadan and we could work only at night. Still, I managed to get their consent. In addition, the Iranians -- who were actively involved in Tajik affairs -- decided to help us this time. They understood that, firstly, it would be otherwise difficult for them to do anything in Tajikistan and, secondly, I must say that we started having a good working relationship on a regional level. We also had to convince Pakistan that they shouldn't interfere. We had to talk to the Turks so that they would not put up any obstacles. I also went there [to Turkey] and talked to them.

As to the question of where the government and the opposition should meet, I strongly believed it should be in Moscow. The UN representative, [Ramiro] Piriz-Ballon, told me the opposition would not agree. All the more so that Dushanbe, as he put it, thought the most important thing was to hold peace talks and that negotiations could take place anywhere -- in Moscow, Tehran, Islamabad, or Geneva.

For us, of course, the most important thing was that those talks take place in Moscow. This is why, before my departure, I came up with a diplomatic initiative. I told the UN representatives to let the opposition leaders know that I would meet their demand and come to see them in Tehran. But in return, they should come in Moscow to enter into contact with the [Tajik] government. The opposition's answer was "come to Tehran and we'll see." We had confidence in our strength and decided to go to Tehran. We had all the more reason to do so [because the Iranians] had told us that they would support Moscow's position. To sum it up, the opposition agreed to have talks with the [Tajik] government in Moscow. This was a very difficult mission -- I remember one newspaper at the time wrote that "Adamishin obtained in Tehran what was practically impossible to obtain."

As it turned out, however, that was not the most difficult thing. The main problem was now to not let anyone walk away from the [preliminary] agreement. As far as our [Russian] side was concerned, there were different people with different approaches. Some people were beginning to say that we did not really need to engage in a political dialogue with the opposition. People in Dushanbe even started backpedaling.

This is where we had to show resolution and decisiveness. [Abdujalil] Samadov was then prime minister in Tajikistan. At some point I told him: "You're asking Russia for money. We will give you that money but keep in mind that we cannot afford to be in a situation in which we would -- on the one hand -- give money and, on the other hand, get slapped in the face. We must first agree that talks will take place, then do whatever you want." This helped. I must confess I had no mandate to put things this way. [Viktor] Chernomyrdin, our prime minister, had already given instructions so that funds be made available to Tajikistan. Sergei Dubinin was then the head of the [Russian] central bank. I told him, "Sergei, let's hold it a little bit, let the two of us contribute to a peaceful settlement [of the conflict]." He agreed.

In one word, we managed to begin this dialogue. I have to say that President Rakhmonov adopted the right approach. We used to talk regularly. One day he even told me "You're the most respected person in Tajikistan and the one I cherish the most. It is because I respect you that I'm sending you [to Tehran]." The opposition also understood the role of Russia. Turajonzoda once said that no state could replace Russia in Tajikistan. The [inter-Tajik] talks started on April 5, 1994. As you know, it was very difficult. But finally -- on June 27, 1997 -- a peace deal was signed. This agreement has few equivalents in the history of peace treaties. We must do justice to the [Tajik] government and say that they agreed to share power with the opposition. This doesn't often happen. Although all the difficulties were still to come, nevertheless the peace process was launched.

RFE/RL: Later you decided to walk away yourself?

Adamishin: No, I was appointed ambassador to London and in September 1994 I left for London. My role had consisted of starting the peace negotiations. After that I was no longer in a position to influence the course of events. I observed everything [from a distance]. I saw how the opposition started walking away from the preliminary agreements that had been reached and tried to organize armed [unrest]. I could see how things were difficult along the Afghan-Tajik border, how our 12th border post there came under fire. But the most important thing was to have the process move ahead so that it could continue on its own.

RFE/RL: What prompted the sides to agree to enter into talks?

Adamishin: I think many factors forced them to sit at the negotiation table. To put it simply, both sides had come to the conclusion that the situation was hopeless. The only choice they had was either seek a [peace] agreement or continue fighting. Fighting would have meant more years of bloodshed, cruelty, and no solution in sight. On the one hand, their was a general understanding that the military operations were at a dead end and that it was necessary to work on an exit strategy. On the other hand, I still believe Russia played a very important role alongside the United Nations and other countries. Russia, in a way, forced the Tajik government and the Tajik opposition to take a seat at the negotiation table.

RFE/RL: Russia's role was indeed very important. Yet, Russian media at the time noted that Moscow had no clear-cut policy in Tajikistan, that its diplomats were doing one thing and its military another. What was your working relationship with the Defense Ministry?

Adamishin: I think this is a fair question. As I already said, Russia was then in a period of trouble. There was not at the time a clear-cut policy that all institutions and organizations would follow. Decisions were being made, then those decisions were violated by [entities] that were not interested in a peaceful resolution [of the Tajik conflict]. There was the difficult issue of narcotics. Unfortunately, some of our people were implicated in drug trafficking. Yet, we managed to come to an agreement.

Andrei Nikolayev was, at the time, in charge of the [Russian] border-guard administration. We had very good contacts. But those contacts did not exist on an institutionalized level; that is, between the Foreign Ministry and the Defense Ministry. Both Nikolayev and myself were personally involved. Of course we could say Russia lacked a clear-cut policy, that was a fashionable theme [in the media] at the time. Still, Russia somehow had a policy. If Russia had not had a policy at the time most likely there would not have been a peaceful solution in Tajikistan.

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