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Will Tajikistan's Restive East Explode Again?

September 18, 2012

The rugged eastern region of Gorno-Badakhshan in Tajikistan has been the scene of violence in recent months, with about 70 people having been killed in a government operation lasting to late August.

As President Emomali Rahmon arrives for a working visit, many questions remain as to how the violence started, and more importantly, who was behind it.

The violence began after an opposition leader from the 1990s Tajik Civil War who had become a top regional security official, Abdullo Nazarov, was stabbed to death on July 21. After protests erupted the next day, 3,000 government troops were deployed to the region on July 24.

After a week of fighting, those resisting the government forces agreed to lay down their arms on July 28 following negotiations that included representatives of the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the Ismaili sect of Islam. A majority of the region's population of 250,000 belong to the Shi'ite Muslim sect, while the rest of the country is mostly Sunni.

The situation appeared calm until late on August 22, when Imomnazar Imomnazarov, another former opposition civil war commander, was killed in an early-morning attack at his home in Khorug, the Badakhshan region's administrative capital. Imomnazarov had been wanted in connection with Nazarov's killing. He reportedly had diabetes and was confined to a wheelchair.

Protesters gathered at the regional administrative building in Khorug to demand officials fulfill promises to restore order, pelting the building with rocks and even attempting to storm the building.

On August 24, again after negotiations involving representatives of the Aga Khan, government forces announced they would withdraw from the Gorno-Badakhshan region completely.

With the practically autonomous region and it's largely open borders one of the main routes for trafficking in Afghan heroin to Russia and Europe, it's been suggested that the violence was a turf war between drug dealers, even between government-backed ones and rivals. With government troops having been withdrawn and Russian troops no longer patrolling the border, this seems unlikely to change.

Discussing the operation, one analyst tells Kanal PIK:

It has destroyed the fragile truces between the informal leaders in Gorno-Badakhshan and the central government. This couldn't have been a worse thing to do for "Tajik national unity." The Pamiris will NOT forget that one of their heroes was assassinated when he was most vulnerable and many of their local young men, their protection from outsiders, from terrorists, etc were senselessly killed. The worst case is: Who will they cooperate with to avoid this happening again? -- particularly from the Afghan side.

Despite Tajikistan's massive potential mineral wealth and hydroelectric energy-generation possibilities, the country remains impoverished and enmeshed in systemic corruption and organized crime. Can Rahmon and the Tajik government offer the people of Badakhshan anything better?


Copyright (c) 2012. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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