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Tajikistan: Civil War Appears To Be Winding Down

By David Nissman

Moscow, 12 March 1997 (RFE/RL) -- A four-year civil war betwen Tajikistan's Moscow-backed government and Tajiki Islamic rebels appears to be shutting down as a result of agreements reached in Moscow last week.

History, in a way, repeated itself. The antagonists reached a similar agreement at the end of 1992. There are, however, new grounds for optimism. The country is so ravaged and the people so exhausted by war they may recognize at last that a settlement is the only way to avoid annihilation.

The international community has been mostly ineffectual in promoting peace. Anti-Islamic bias may have blocked a solution to the Tajik civil war as early as 1992. One analyst contended in a recent article that when a member of the Islamic Revival Party became a member of Tajikistan's government of national reconciliation, the United States, Russia, and such august international organizations as the United Nations expressed displeasure at even that modest indication of Islamist tendencies.

In the case of Russia and Uzbekistan, it seemed inevitable at the time of the outbreak of the civil war that Tajikistan's government would call on Moscow for military support. The Tajiks approached Uzbekistan as well. That country, fearing contagian from the Islamist threat, responded immediately.

Ethnic Uzbeks comprise 23 percent of Tajikistan's population and about half of these are in Khojand Province. When civil war broke out in 1992, the mostly Uzbek Khojandis appealed not only to Russia but also to Uzbeki President Islom Karimov for support. Uzbekistan hasn't concealed its hostility toward Tajikistan's opposition.

By 1995, however, Uzbekistan began to play a less aggressive role and more of a conciliatory one. Farhod-i Mumin, a commentator at the Voice of Free Tajikistan, has suggested that Russia gradually eliminated Uzbekistan's role because they are potential rivals in the region.

Russian intervention in Tajikistan exemplifies Russian paranoia about Islam. Russian military forces, active in Tajikistan since the beginnings of the civil conflict, have often played an ambiguous role. Initially, Russia's military mission seemed to be clear.The Russians were in Tajikistan to prevent the spread of Islamic fundamentalism and, at the same time, to guard the Tajik-Afghan border. This clarity soon muddied. Some units of the Russian military soon found themselves defending the government's legitimacy against the opposition.

The only international organizations engaged in attempts to resolve the conflict were the UN and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. But their efforts seemed fruitless.

Then, last week Tajik government and opposition negotiators signed an agreement in Moscow on integrating their armed forces. Our correspondents reported that the agreement was based on what originated as a UN plan. The Tajik government and Islamic opposition agreed to merge their forces into a new national army.

Tajik Foreign Minister Talbek Nazarov and Akbar Turajonzadeh, the number two in the Islamic opposition leadership, signed the accord. Rebel forces are to disarm over the next six months. The joint armed forces are to have a single command. Tajik President Emomali Rakhmonov is to be recognized as cmmander-in-chief.

The military agreement follows political agreements signed last month in the northern Iranian city of Mashhad between Tajik President Emomali Rakhmonov and opposition leader Abdulloh Nuri.

News reports say the next major step in the Tajik peace process will be a meeting of a National Reconciliation Commission in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe on creating a coalition government and organizing new parliamentary elections. That meeting is to come within two months.