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Tajikistan: Official Discusses Power-Sharing, Constitution

Ibrohim Usmonov is a deputy in the Tajik parliament and was the negotiator for the Tajik government during the civil war years. Since the signing of the peace accord in June 1997, he has been one of the government's representatives on the country's National Reconciliation Commission, which is guiding the peace process from within the country. In a visit to RFE/RL yesterday, Usmonov reviewed progress in the peace process in Tajikistan and answered questions on a range of issues affecting the Central Asian nation.

Prague, 28 July 1999 (RFE/RL) -- A civil war was fought in Tajikistan from 1992 to 1997. It ended in June 1997 when the Tajik government and the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) signed the national peace accord. The two sides agreed to share power in a unified government, merge their armed forces and make preparations to hold presidential and parliamentary elections. There were a number of conditions both sides committed to fulfill before these elections.

One was disarming military formations that were not part of the regular army. This process has proceeded slowly, but there has been progress. The major obstacle was integrating some 5,000 fighters from the UTO into the national army.

In his remarks at RFE/RL, Usmonov said that within the next two weeks he expects the UTO leadership will announce that the process is complete and that all UTO fighters have taken the oath of allegiance.

Usmonov also said the terms of the agreement on sharing power with the UTO are close to being fulfilled. The terms of the accord stated that the UTO should receive 30 percent of the positions in government at all levels. Usmonov noted that UTO representatives now have ministerial and deputy ministerial posts and that a similar process is due to start at regional and local levels in the coming weeks.

Such steps have helped in returning nearly all of the estimated 600,000 to 700,000 refugees who fled the country during the civil war.

Usmonov also spoke about removing restrictions placed on opposition parties and the media during the civil war. He said amendments to remove these restrictions were slowed by six months in 1998 when a debate erupted on the use of the word "secular" in the constitution.

Islamic parties make up the backbone of the UTO, and the presence of the word raised concerns that they would not be able to participate openly in the country's political process.

Usmonov said a referendum will be held in Tajikistan on September 26 and proposed amendments to the constitution will remove existing barriers to the participation of banned political parties, including those which are considered Islamic.

In contrast to statements made by leaders in other CIS Central Asian states that their countries are moving toward democracy along a path uniquely suited to their peoples, Usmonov said there is only one form of democracy and that his country is following that.

He said that like Tajikistan's 1994 constitution, new amendments to the country's constitution will use the legislation of countries such as the United States, France, Germany and Great Britain as models. Usmonov added that restrictions on opposition media are also being lifted and that the lack of such media is more the result of limited finances than limited political opportunity.

Commenting on the situation in Afghanistan, Usmonov said the country's Taliban movement has no influence -- either politically or spiritually -- on Tajikistan:

"We try in Tajikistan to understand Islam as our ancestors understood it over the course of a millennium. Our Sunni-Hannafite course has been around for 1,400 years and remains with us. We have no influence from the Taliban, and I think there cannot be (any influence) because we have enough mullahs to teach us."

He also commented on the drug trade in Tajikistan, calling it a huge problem and one that affects many countries far from Tajikistan:

"We have a sparsely populated country -- 6 million people -- but we have long borders and if someone helps us (to interdict narcotics), they are not only helping Tajikistan but everyone. It is no exaggeration to say 'humanity' because what crosses our borders does not stay in Kazakhstan or Russia. It goes to Europe and further. If we stop this, it will be for the benefit of everyone."

Combating the problem of drug trafficking, Usmonov argues, justifies the continued presence of Russian and Kazakh troops on the Tajik-Afghan border. The troops began patrolling the border during the civil war but now stay on to intercept narcotics.

Usmonov said he does not see his country participating in any military alliances. He said he personally favors an arrangement such as that which exists in Turkmenistan, which is officially recognized by the U.N. as a neutral state:

"In December 1995, Turkmenistan declared itself a neutral state. For me, I was in Turkmenistan, it was good news that there was a country which looked neutrally upon life and would not have any military ties with another (country). How much Turkmenistan will be able to hold to this is a different matter. But I would like that Tajikistan was such a country. Rather than joining any military bloc, it would be better for us not to be in any military alliance -- better to be a non-military state."

Usmonov's views largely, and not surprisingly, mirror those of the government. While some of his comments were optimistic, the majority were realistic. For Usmonov, his visit with journalists at RFE/RL was a rare opportunity to address foreign media and discuss the situation in his country.