Prague, 20 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - With little more than one week remaining until Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and United Tajik Opposition (UTO) leader Said Abdullo Nuri are to sign an accord formally ending more than five years of civil conflict, the process has been endangered by the re-emergence of Mahmud Khudaberdiyev as a political force that none of the sides is able to contain or control.
The Peace and National Reconciliation Accord is to be signed on June 27 in Moscow in the presence of representatives from Iran, Pakistan, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, the United Nations and the Organization of the Islamic Conference; they all have been directly or indirectly involved in the Tajik conflict. The signing is to be witnessed by Russian President Boris Yeltsin as well.
The accord will make it possible formally to register in Tajikistan the Democratic Party of Tajikistan, Rastokhiz, and the Islamic Renaissance Party. All three make up the UTO. The accord also sets up a reconciliation council featuring representatives from both the government and the UTO. They are to recommend amendments to the constitution paving the way for new elections to parliament.
These prospects have been clouded, however, by recent moves by Mahmud Khudaberdiyev, renowned military commander and head of Tajikistan's presidential guard.
Mahmud Khudaberdiyev is a decorated veteran of the Russian-Afghani war. He fought in the ranks of the Soviet army against the Afghans. When the war broke out in Tajikistan in 1992, Khudaberdiyev fought on the government side in the largely paramilitary formations of the People's Front forces, which supported the ex-communists.
In late 1992, following the installation of the current government in Dushanbe, Khudaberdiyev began to consolidate his hold over the Kurgan-Teppe region in which his unit's base is located. Earlier this year his unit is reported to have cleared rival mafia groups from the neighboring town of Tursunzade, gaining control of the aluminum factory which is the biggest money-maker in Tajikistan. He is also rumored to control the cotton and oil industry in the area. His officers are reportedly well paid (more than 800 dollars a month in a country where the average wage is less than $10).
Khudaberdiyev's troops are said to be best trained and best equipped force in Tajikistan, beside the Russian peacekeeping forces. And he is powerful. His unit marched toward Dushanbe in late January 1996 to enforce demands to remove high level officials from the government. This was achieved, demonstrating his influence.
Last week reports began to come from the Yavon area 40 kilometers from Kurgan-Teppe and 60 kilometers south of Dushanbe, that Khudaberdiyev's troops moved into the city and surrounding area. They followed the news that last month Khudaberdiyev forced the head of the Kumsangir region from office and installed his own man. Dushanbe's protests were disregarded. And now Khudaberdiyev appears to make new demands.
Khudaberdiyev apparently wants Khatlon Oblast, which encompasses all of southwestern Tajikistan, divided into a Kurgan-Teppe and Kulyab Oblast as it was prior to 1993. It was in this region that the civil war started in 1992. Many say that those from Kulyab, which is where President Rakhmonov's home town is located, have received most of the positions in government and this perception has sparked many demonstrations and protests in the last few years.
Moreover, Khudaberdiyev wants guarantees that after the signing of the accord, the returning fighters from the UTO will not be allowed to bring their weapons with them when they come back. But the Tajik government has already said that some 500 armed fighters will be allowed to come to Dushanbe as a guarantee of protection for the UTO leadership. Also, according to recent agreements, the troops of the UTO are to be integrated into the Tajik army, meaning they will be at best only temporarily disarmed.
The Tajik government has kept silent about these incidents. But the key question remains how Khudaberdiyev will react to the return of friends and former enemies after June 27. His moves will provide the best indication whether true reconciliation between warring sides can be achieved in Tajikistan.