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Tajikistan: Failure To Implement The Peace Accord Leads To Instability

Prague, 10 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Delays in implementing the terms of the Tajik National Peace Accord are trying the patience of all those attempting to restore stability to that Central Asian nation.

Officials from the United Nations, as well as from Russia and Iran -- the two countries that brokered the accord -- have been complaining lately about a lack of progress. Many suggest that the delays are leading to more violence. Despite the shakiness of the peace, however, Dushanbe is still planning to conduct elections later this year.

The Tajik Peace Accord was signed in June 1997 in Moscow. It was intended to put an end to a five-year civil war fought over political and religious differences but often characterized for its "Mahallaism," or regionalism. Clans in the south fought amongst themselves, as well as against clans from the north and east. People from the mountains fought against those from the plains.

Those unfortunate enough to have been resettled from one area of Tajikistan into another during Soviet times soon swelled the ranks of the half-million people who became refugees or the 50,000 to 60,000 people who died in the war. Those who survived found themselves distrusting their fellow citizens from different regions in a country already facing a shattered infrastructure and economy.

Tajikistan began an unprecedented experiment when Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov -- representing a government of mainly former Communists -- signed the peace accord with Said Abdullo Nuri, who represented the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) of mostly Islamic groups. Though there were, and are, many groups in Tajikistan not associated with either of the factions, it was only these two sides who would share power in government and merge their armed forces.

A National Reconciliation Commission was formed and charged with preparing amendments for a referendum on constitutional changes, paving the way for elections to parliament 12 to 18 months after the commission first met. Those elections would be followed soon after by presidential elections.

Initially, there were problems bringing all UTO leaders in exile back to Tajikistan. Arrest warrants remained in force many months after the accord was signed. When an amnesty was declared and the deputy UTO leader returned in February 1998 -- taking up the post of deputy prime minister -- the process of sharing power began in earnest.

Although the UTO now has almost all the 30 percent of seats in ministries allocated to it by the accord, the reconciliation process is far from complete at the oblast/region and district levels.

Merging the armed forces has proven more difficult. This is the U.N.'s major complaint. Fighters from the UTO were to be disarmed, given a permanent base area, and then were to join the ranks of the regular army after having sworn an oath of allegiance. Obtaining oaths and assigning base areas has mainly been achieved. The process of disarming these troops and merging them into the army, however, is far from complete.

Most UTO units remain in the areas they occupied prior to the signing of the accord. Moreover, they have retained their weapons and have not been incorporated into the regular army. Some have resorted to marauding for food, liberating jailed comrades by force or using arms to resolve quarrels among themselves. The U.N. believes that if these troops are placed under regular army supervision, all of this will stop. On March 2, President Rakhmonov ordered remaining obstacles to achieving this removed within 10 days.

Another problem is the failure of the government to adopt legislation to prepare for elections. The National Reconciliation Commission -- with equal representation from the government and the UTO -- first met in September 1997. As of mid-February 1999, however, the body had not forwarded any proposed amendments to the constitution, though a referendum on changes to the constitution must be held before elections. The one proposal that finally came was changing the parliament from unicameral to bicameral.

In fairness, the attention of the commission has often been diverted by the need to help in negotiations when UTO units and police or government troops have clashed, or to help investigations when politicians or foreign workers are taken hostage or killed.

Also, not all opposition parties banned during the war have been re-registered. The UTO has demanded that the original court decisions banning parties be overturned. The government agreed to this condition but has tied it to the full implementation of the military protocol already mentioned. This makes some UTO members suspicious, particularly those in armed units far from the capital. Talk about elections causes some UTO members to worry that the delay is intentional, aimed at giving opposition groups little or no time to mount an effective political campaign.

Such problems have kept officials in the new government from concentrating on rebuilding the country. The one notable success is that most refugees have returned. There are signs of economic recovery, but these likely reflect the absence of open warfare more than any efforts initiated by the government. Foreign loans and investment trickle in, but most potential donors remain reluctant to provide funds to a country with an uncertain future.

It would be a visible sign of progress if elections are held, but they must be seen as legitimate. In a country where so many people have weapons, elections perceived as unfair could produce grave consequences.

In what promises to be a hard-fought political campaign between former military rivals, waiting may be more appropriate.