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Tajikistan: Peace Agreement To Heighten Conflict?

By Umed Babakhanov and Bruce Pannier

Prague, 26 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - Leaders of Tajikistan's government and the United Tajik Opposition are to sign tomorrow in the Kremlin a long-awaited peace agreement. The signing, to be witnessed by ranking officials from the United Nations, 10 different countries and Russia's President Boris Yeltsin, could bring an end to five years of internal conflict. But it could also merely open a new and different, stage in that conflict.

Several factors have made the signing possible. Among the most important is the general weariness of the war, shared by both the public and the warring sides themselves. Moreover, both Russia and Iran, two countries dragged into the conflict, appear determined to stabilize Tajikistan in the face of an impending threat from the fundamentalist Taliban in Afghanistan.

But, while the agreement could bring long-awaited peace, it could hardly guarantee the end of the conflict itself. It is likely, indeed, that following the signing the conflict will merely move to a new stage. This stage is likely to focus on political intrigues, and the new battlefields are likely to lobbies of Tajikistan's government buildings.

Even so, this new stage is certain to be difficult. It is only now that both sides are approaching the main question of dividing power..

This will be quite complicated for the Tajik president Imomali Rakhmonov. He has to select 30 percent of important positions in government and hand them over to his enemies of yesterday. Clearly, this is likely to be painful and is certain to incite tension in the presidential camp. And the question remains whether Rakhmonov will be able to accomplish that in the situation where even minor Dushanbe officials have their own "protection" in the form of own military formations with which the official government institutions neither want nor can compete.

And how about the post-war redistribution of property. During the last few years, and under the pressure of international financial organizations, the Tajik government has forced the privatization of property in the country. But as a result, numerous members of the opposition and thousands of Tajik refugees, who all these years have been living outside Tajikistan , failed to participate in the privatization process. One could suppose that now the leaders of the opposition, their supporters and many average citizens will want a piece of the pie. The government needs to resolve this problem.

There also remains the very likelihood that isolated events could spark local armed confrontations. The existence of a stable and strong central government is needed to prevent this and pacify the confrontations. But could such a government emerge in the situation in which the peace agreement prescribes that institutions of government be based on forces loyal both to Rakhmonov and the opposition?

And finally, how to assure a peaceful public participation and involvement in a spectrum of various national interests: political, regional, financial and others. Recent Tajik history suggests that ignoring these interests create problems for the government and foster tension, facilitating separatist moods and ultimately provoking armed conflicts. Ignoring this could eventually turn Tajikistan into another Afghanistan. All sides to the agreement must keep those possibilities in mind if peace is to return to this conflict-prone country.