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Tajikistan: Many Obstacles Still Obstruct Peace

Prague, 6 November 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The question troubling many people in Tajikistan, both at high level and among the ordinary citizens, is whether the five-year-long civil war is really over.

It's true that a final peace accord was signed by the Tajik government and the United Tajik Opposition last June in Moscow. That accord, which formally ended the fighting, was greeted with great enthusiasm by Tajiks. There was also relief when Sayid Abdullo Nuri, the head of National Reconciliation Commission, returned to the capital Dushanbe in September. The Commission is the key political instrument for building lasting peace in the country. In addition to all that, the ceasefire between government and opposition forces is holding on the ground. So what's wrong?

In fact, although the peace may appear to be won, there are still many obstacles to be surmounted. A critical factor in the equation is the continuing presence of independent armed groups. Clashes between former field commanders of the National Front, which brought to power the current elite in 1992, occurred during August in Dushanbe and in the southern Kurgonteppa. Hostage-taking by the Rezvon Sodirov group has continued in Dushanbe. Many of the endless series of explosions in the capital have political motivations. And there's been recent faction fighting near the frontier with Uzbekistan, resulting in chilly diplomatic exchanges between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. All these events illustrate the extent of the destabilizing factors in the Tajik situation.

At the same time neither the government, nor the opposition has been able to put aside their mutual mistrust and take a united stand against the armed groups. In addition, the government has tried to postpone resolution of the main remaining question between two sides -- the timing of the return of charismatic opposition leader Hoji Akbar Turajonzoda.

The absence of Turajonzoda from Sayid Abdullo Nuri's team has the potential to cause a major split inside the opposition's armed forces. Eight opposition field commanders protested on Nuri's return in September. Then at the end of last month, a group of opposition commanders from the Kofarnihon region appealed to the National Reconciliation Commission, saying they would not integrate into the government forces until Turajonzoda returned and joined in the power sharing.

A high-ranking representative of the United Tajik Opposition asserted in remarks to an RFE/RL correspondent that Tajik President Imomali Rahmonov and his supporters are strongly against the opposition proposal about the appointment of Turajonzoda as Foreign Minister, with the authority of a vice Prime Minister. The disagreement over Turajonzoda is a key obstacle to real agreement on power sharing between two sides.

However the head of United Nation mission in Dushanbe, Gerdt Dietrich Merrem, says the opposition should examine its own motives in the Turajonzoda case. Merrem met (Nov. 4) with Rahmonov, and afterwards told reporters that both he and the president had agreed that the National Reconciliation Commission's plan for implementing the peace accords is ambitious but realistic.

Turajonzoda has confirmed that his return depends mostly on a decision by opposition leaders. He said they are cautious because of strong Russian pressure in support of Rahmnonov an in favour of minimizing nationalistic elements in the National Reconciliation Commission.

Nuri and the Secretary of the National Security Council, Amirkul Azimov, recently (Oct. 1) traveled to Garm region, ostensibly to estimate war damage in the area. But they had talks with main opposition field commanders to prevent a possible wavering of their loyalty under the impact of the Kofarnihon commanders' stand. The deadline set under the peace accord for estimating the strength of armed opposition groups is looming (Nov. 16). After that, the integration process between government and opposition armed forces is supposed to start around the country. But some opposition members fear that they are about to lose the cohesion which sustained them in five years of fighting against the government. And they also fear that, following the integration, the government will act to limit opposition political activity before new general elections.

As to the trouble near the border with Uzbekistan, it has involved clashes between government forces and supporters of the mutinous Colonel Mahmud Khudoiberdiev. There were subsequent accusations from Dushanbe that Uzbekistan was promoting Khudoiberdiev's group, and this illustrates the growing strain between two countries.

For its part, Uzbekistan is not too happy about a closer relationship between Tajikistan and Russia. Uzbek President Islam Karimov in his latest press conference urged the Tajik authorities to remember whose tanks they rode upon when they entered Dushanbe to take power in the winter of 1992. This assertion has a multiple meaning. Karimov says he was referring to the Russian tanks, but it is also a reminder of the help Rahmonov received from Uzbekistan.

With all these negative factors swirling around the peace process, it's difficult to pass a final judgment about whether the Tajik civil war is really ended. Much depends on how fast the government and opposition can build a combined strength to resist those factors leading towards disintegration.