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Are Economics Again At The Root Of Tajikistan's Current Armed Conflict?

The incident involving Abduhalim Nazarzoda came as authorities prepared to act on an order from the Justice Ministry to close down the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, and Nazarzoda's previous ties to the IRPT featured prominently in Tajik state media reports.
The incident involving Abduhalim Nazarzoda came as authorities prepared to act on an order from the Justice Ministry to close down the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, and Nazarzoda's previous ties to the IRPT featured prominently in Tajik state media reports.

Another figure from the days of Tajikistan's 1992-97 civil war is on the run in the latest reminder of how fragile the country's 18-year-old peace agreement remains.

Former Deputy Defense Minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda and possibly as many as 100 armed supporters have fled to the rugged Romit Gorge area east of the capital, Dushanbe.

Dozens of people have been killed and dozens more wounded since the fighting started on September 4.

The cause of this latest violence is unclear, although Tajik authorities say Nazarzoda and his supporters intended to launch attacks aimed at overthrowing the government. One thing that does seem clear is that this conflict has little, if anything, to do with Islam or international terrorism, as the Tajik government's most senior figures are claiming.

Nazarzoda was a field commander for the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), the backbone of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) that fought against the government during the civil war two decades ago. However, reports suggest Nazarzoda was not in Tajikistan much during that five-year conflict.

But Nazarzoda was said to have been incorporated into Tajikistan's armed forces as part of the 1997 peace accord that gave the UTO 30 percent of the posts in government and military. Nazarzoda officially relinquished his membership in the IRPT in connection with joining the armed forces.

The Tajik peace accord ended up being more a compromise than an actual final agreement. There were individuals on both sides who opposed the deal before it was signed, and others appeared to have gone along with the arrangement simply because they gained personally from it.

There were some -- like onetime Interior Minister Yakub Salimov and the former deputy commander of the Presidential Guard, Mahmud Khudaiberdiev -- who launched attacks on the government just days after the peace agreement was signed. During his tenure as minister, Salimov had overseen the increase of the Interior Ministry's forces to the point where they outnumbered the armed forces. After he was removed from that post, in 1995, he was named ambassador to Turkey and marked Tajikistan's Independence Day celebrations in Ankara by bringing two airplanes full of guests from Tajikistan at a time when state coffers back home were nearly bare -- spawning speculation as to how he could have amassed such resources.

For his part, Khudaiberdiev essentially laid claim to the Tursunzade area in western Tajikistan, where the country's aluminum plant, one of its biggest sources of income, was located.

Ghaffor Mirzoev was another government ally who was commander of the Presidential Guard from 1995 until January 2004, when he was removed from that position and named head of Tajikistan's counternarcotics agency. By August 2004, he was arrested and accused of accumulating a large amount of weapons with the purpose of staging a coup d'etat. But other reports suggested he had been involved in narcotics trafficking and had even been using government helicopters to move the illicit cargo. He was convicted in August 2006 of plotting to overthrow the government and sentenced to life imprisonment.

From the UTO, there were people like field commander Mullah Abdullo and members of an Uzbek group that sided with the UTO and also rejected the peace agreement. The latter group went on to become the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) -- which has been designated by the United States, Russia, and others as a terrorist organization -- and was connected during and after the Tajik civil war to involvement in drug trafficking out of Afghanistan.

In the years since 1997, there have also been individuals from the UTO who used the peace process for personal gain. One such person is Mirzokhoja Ahmadov, another former IRPT commander who was given the post of head of the local police in charge of fighting organized crime in the Garm district, east of Dushanbe.

Authorities suspected Ahmadov used his position to engage in illegal activities, including illegal narcotics trafficking. A force sent in 2008 to detain Ahmadov was met with gunfire and the commander of the force was killed. Ahmadov was not arrested but was forced to retire, although he would not remain out of the news for very long.

Mullah Abdullo returned to Tajikistan in 2009 and found safe haven in his native region in the Rasht Valley. Ahmadov was alleged to have helped shelter Abdullo.

Another former UTO field commander, Mirzo Ziyoyev, was sent to persuade Abdullo to give himself up to authorities. Ziyoyev had been named minister of emergency situations as part of the peace agreement until the ministry was dissolved in November 2006. Ziyoyev was killed in the crossfire between government forces and Abdullo supporters in July 2009. Both parties accused the other of Ziyoyev's killing.

When a convoy of government troops was ambushed in the Rasht Valley and nearly 30 soldiers were killed in September 2010, the government blamed Abdullo, Ahmadov, and another former UTO field commander, Alovuddin Davlatov, of being behind the attack.

Abdullo and Davlatov were eventually hunted down and killed by government forces with help from Ahmadov, who is still alive.

Aside from representing some pages from Tajikistan's post-civil war history, these tales are a reminder that alliances have been constantly shifting since the peace deal. Many of those involved in the civil war have been accused of misdeeds either during or after the conflict. Rahmon and his government have been accused of arbitrarily selecting the moments to finally act on such transgressions.

Some suggest when the business interests of these individuals were left without an owner, members of the government, or friends or relatives of the president, moved in to take over.

This incident involving Nazarzoda and his supporters came as authorities prepared to act on an order from the Justice Ministry to close down the IRPT by September 7, and Nazarzoda's previous ties to the IRPT featured prominently in Tajik state media reports.

Nazarzoda, besides being an officer in the military, was also a small businessman. He owned a bakery but also owned other businesses involved in importing textiles and other basic, legal goods.

Tohir Safarov of RFE/RL's Tajik Service contributed to this report

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