Prague, 15 August 1997 (RFE/RL) -- When Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri signed a Tajik Peace Accord 27 June in Moscow, they took what still may turn out to be a useful first step toward Tajik stability. But almost two months later, the accord seems to have sown as many thorns of dissension as it has hopes for peace.
Despite the treaty, Tajikistan is experiencing another violent period in its short history as an independent country. Violence began in northern districts of the capital, Dushanbe last Saturday, and has spread west and south.
The peace agreement was to be a first step in bringing home members of Nuri's United Tajik Opposition (UTO), which had fought against government forces since mid-1992. The UTO leadership and fighters had dispersed to Afghanistan, Iran and UTO-controlled parts of Tajikistan.
But Tajikistan is still a dangerous country. This summer, the sons of the country's leading Islamic cleric were kidnapped. That followed a pre-treaty pattern of hostage-taking of United Nations military observers and Russian journalists. There was even a bungled attempt in the nominally-safe northern city of Khujand to assassinate the president.
So naturally, the leading representatives of the UTO coming back to Tajikistan wanted their own reliable body guards. Provision was made to allow 500 UTO fighters to return, armed, for this purpose. That has been unacceptable to some in Tajikistan.
President Rakhmonov has openly stated to two sessions of parliament that he is aware the legislature has members connected with organized crime. He has said that drug-running legislators are funding, by mysterious means, their own paramilitary bodyguards. He warned, without naming anyone, that change was coming and that the criminals had better get out of whatever shady business they might be involved in.
The first representatives of the UTO, and their bodyguards, were due to start arriving in Dushanbe Monday. But they never came. They now are expected this weekend.
Before the UTO's first arrivals showed up, fighting broke out between elements considered allies of the government. Around last weekend, special forces of the Interior Ministry sought to confiscate concealed weapons from the northern Dushanbe home of the chairman of the country's custom's committee, Yakub Salimov. Salimov, himself, was Tajikistan's Interior Minster until two years ago. He was sacked in August 1995 after Russian General Pavel Grachev, on an inspection of Russian troops guarding the Tajik-Afghan border against UTO fighters, discovered that Salimov's Interior Ministry had a larger force than the Tajik regular army.
Salimov continued to maintain influence among these forces. Last Sunday, fighters loyal to Salimov counter-attacked the special force teams of the Tajik Interior Ministry, who by then were destroying houses where concealed weapons had been found. Fighting lasted for several hours. Salimov's forces retreated westward out of the city towards the Uzbek border, hiding themselves in hard-to-access gorges.
The way to the border runs through the city of Tursunzade, location of the biggest aluminum plant in Central Asia. The plant is Tajikistan's biggest export money maker. Tursunzade has been under the control of various warlords almost since the civil war started in 1992. For most of this year, it was under the control of Tajikistan's most famous military man, Colonel Mahmud Khudaberdiyev, commander of the Tajik Army's First Brigade. This brigade comprises the rapid reaction force of the presidential guard.
But Khudaberdiyev has shown himself to be an ally of convenience. He has fought for the government and also sent his forces toward the capital while making demands on the government, demands that were usually met. In the course of all this he has carved out his own area of influence centered on the city of Kurgan-Teppe. Khudaberdiyev now says that troops from the presidential guard attacked his checkpoints at the Fakhrabad Pass about 25 km south of Dushanbe sometime after the battle began raging in northern Dushanbe. Whoever started it, an artillery battle ensued and Khudaberdiyev's forces found thmselves fighting against those of the man technically his superior officer, General Gafar Mirzoyev.
Both sides have been swearing loyalty to the president and calling for peaceful resolution to the problem while attacking each other. Khudaberdiyev and Rakhmonov had agreed to meet on Wednesday for negotiations. The Russian Army's 191st regiment, based not far from Kurgan-Teppe, was to host the meeting. Instead, the two reportedly talked by telephone. Reports of that conversation were sketchy and some proved to be inaccurate. ITAR-TASS reports that the president since has ordered Khudaberdiyev replaced as commander of the rapid reaction force.
News reports often refer to Khudaberdiyev as a warlord. But the days of the war against the UTO are over and the government's use for dubious allies should be also. The government blames Salimov and Khudaberdiyev for the fighting that erupted. But it is also true that for the government housecleaning is overdue. The whole process of trying to bring peace and stability to Tajikistan is complicated by a situation where corruption and pockets of individual armed might have become entrenched as the customary order of things.
As always the civilian population bears the brunt. Reuters this week quotes an old Tajik who was asked what he was doing in a battle zone. As a shell exploded in the field behind him, he responded: "We're bringing in the harvest as normal."