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Tajikistan Civil War

Tajikistan, a newly independent country situated between China and Afghanistan, underwent profound political and economic changes since the break-up of the Soviet Union. After the civil war in 1992, sporadic fighting continued in remote areas. The road to peace in Tajikistan has been long and tedious. The process of national reconciliation in this impoverished Central Asian country was set in motion by a June 1997 UN-mediated settlement between Tajikistan's Moscow-backed government and the Islamic-led United Tajik Opposition - or UTO. But the country missed almost every deadline set in the power-sharing agreement that ended the bloody five-year civil war, and some armed clashes involving renegade forces still take place.

In the late 1980s, problems in the Soviet system had already provoked open public dissatisfaction with the status quo in Tajikistan. In February 1990, demonstrations against government housing policy precipitated a violent clash in Dushanbe. Soviet army units sent to quell the riots inflicted casualties on demonstrators and bystanders alike. Using the riots as a pretext to repress political dissent, the regime imposed a state of emergency that lasted long after the riots had ended. In this period, criticism of the regime by opposition political leaders was censored from state radio and television broadcasts. The state brought criminal charges against the leaders of the popular front organization Rastokhez (Rebirth) for inciting the riots, although the Supreme Soviet later ruled that Rastokhez was not implicated. Students were expelled from institutions of higher education merely for attending nonviolent political meetings. The events of 1990 made the opposition even more critical of the communist old guard than it had been previously.

In the highly charged political atmosphere after the failure of the August 1991 coup attempt in Moscow, Tajikistan's Supreme Soviet voted for independence for the republic in September 1991. That vote was not intended to signal a break with the Soviet Union, however. It was rather a response to increasingly vociferous opposition demands and to similar declarations by Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, a development in which Tajikistan played no role, the republic joined the CIS when that loose federation of former Soviet republics was established in December 1991.

The political opposition within Tajikistan was composed of a diverse group of individuals and organizations. The three major opposition parties were granted legal standing at various times in 1991. The highest-ranking Islamic figure in the republic, the chief qadi , Hajji Akbar Turajonzoda, sided openly with the opposition coalition beginning in late 1991. The opposition's ability to govern and the extent of its public support never were tested because it gained only brief, token representation in a 1992 coalition government that did not exercise effective authority over the entire country.

In the early independence period, the old guard sought to depict itself as the duly elected government of Tajikistan now facing a power grab by Islamic radicals who would bring to Tajikistan fundamentalist repression similar to that occurring in Iran and Afghanistan. Yet both claims were misleading. The elections for the republic's Supreme Soviet and president had been neither free nor truly representative of public opinion. The legislative election was held in February 1990 under the tight constraints of the state of emergency. In the presidential election of 1991, Nabiyev had faced only one opponent, filmmaker and former communist Davlat Khudonazarov, whose message had been stifled by communist control of the news media and the workplace. Despite Nabiyev's advantageous position, Khudonazarov received more than 30 percent of the vote.

In the first half of 1992, the opposition responded to increased repression by organizing ever larger proreform demonstrations. When Nabiyev assembled a national guard force, coalition supporters, who were concentrated in the southern Qurghonteppa Province and the eastern Pamir region, acquired arms and prepared for battle. Meanwhile, opponents of reform brought their own supporters to Dushanbe from nearby Kulob Province to stage counterdemonstrations in April of that year. Tensions mounted, and small-scale clashes occurred.

In May 1992, after Nabiyev had broken off negotiations with the oppositionist demonstrators and had gone into hiding, the confrontation came to a head when opposition demonstrators were fired upon and eight were killed. At that point, the commander of the Russian garrison in Dushanbe brokered a compromise. The main result of the agreement was the formation of a coalition government in which one-third of the cabinet posts would go to members of the opposition.

In May 1992, the Tajik opposition seized power from the Tajik Supreme Soviet, precipitating civil war. The opposition was defeated in December 1992 and the current Tajik government assumed control. The defeated opposition comprised a coalition of self-declared democratic and Islamic groups and Islamic fundamentalists, a plurality of whom originate from the Garm-Kartogin region of the country, and Pamiris, who were traditionally underrepresented in the ruling coalitions during Soviet and pre-Soviet rule. Since early 1993, the ongoing armed insurgency of the opposition forces, in particular from across the Tajik-Afghan border, continued to destabilize the country.

For most of the rest of 1992, opponents of reform worked hard to overturn the coalition and block implementation of measures such as formation of a new legislature in which the opposition would have a voice. In the summer and fall of 1992, vicious battles resulted in many casualties among civilians and combatants. Qurghonteppa bore the brunt of attacks by antireformist irregular forces during that period. In August 1992, demonstrators in Dushanbe seized Nabiyev and forced him at gunpoint to resign. The speaker of the Supreme Soviet, Akbarsho Iskandarov--a Pamiri closely associated with Nabiyev--became acting president. Iskandarov advocated a negotiated resolution of the conflict, but he had little influence over either side.

The political and military battles for control continued through the fall of 1992. In November 1992 the Iskandarov coalition government resigned in the hope of reconciling the contending factions. Later that month, the Supreme Soviet, still dominated by hard-liners, met in emergency session in Khujand, an antireform stronghold, to select a new government favorable to their views. When the office of president was abolished, the speaker of parliament, Imomali Rahmonov, became de facto head of government. A thirty-eight-year-old former collective farm director, Rahmonov had little experience in government. The office of prime minister went to Abdumalik Abdullojanov, a veteran hard-line politician.

Once in possession of Dushanbe, the neo-Soviets stepped up repression. Three leading opposition figures, including Turajonzoda and the deputy prime minister in the coalition government, were charged with treason and forced into exile, and two other prominent opposition supporters were assassinated in December. There were mass arrests on nebulous charges and summary executions of individuals captured without formal arrest. Fighting on a smaller scale between the forces of the old guard and the opposition continued elsewhere in Tajikistan and across the border with Afghanistan into the mid-1990s.

The conflict in Tajikistan often was portrayed in Western news reports as occurring primarily among clans or regional cliques. Many different lines of affiliation shaped the configuration of forces in the conflict, however, and both sides were divided over substantive political issues. The old guard had never reconciled itself to the reforms of the Gorbachev era (1985-91) or to the subsequent demise of the Soviet regime. Above all, the factions in this camp wanted to ensure for themselves a monopoly of the kinds of benefits enjoyed by the ruling elite under the Soviet system. The opposition coalition factions were divided over what form the new regime in Tajikistan ought to take: secular parliamentary democracy, nationalist reformism, or Islamicization. Proponents of the last option were themselves divided over the form and pace of change.

The new Government gradually extended its control over all major towns and most roads throughout the country except in the Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) where, by agreement with the regional authorities, its security forces did not enter. In return, the regional authorities pledged to control their own territory and to preclude operations by opposition forces. Although the Government by and large respected the agreement, the GBAO officials were unable to prevent armed opposition elements and their foreign allies (Afghan mujahedin) from using their territory for antigovernment attacks.

Opposition forces, based in Afghanistan and supported by mostly fundamentalist Afghan forces, posed a serious military challenge to the Government and to CIS (principally Russian) units by staging frequent raids across the border in southern Khatlon province and western GBAO. Although these raids and incursions did not threaten central government control outside the border areas, they caused casualties, blocked roads, and interfered with the movement of relief supplies and refugees.

The Government worked to reconstitute the principal elements of the former security forces: the Ministry of Interior, the National Security Committee, and the new Ministry of Defense. It sought to incorporate elements of the progovernment People's Front militia into these security organs, with limited success. Many People's Front units remained outside of central government control. These units, as well as the Ministry of Interior forces, committed numerous human rights abuses. The National Security Committee's forces and those of the Ministry of Defense were also responsible for abuses, though less frequently.

On 29 October 1992, at the invitation of the Acting President of the Republic of Tajikistan, the Secretary-General sent a good offices mission to Tajikistan. This was followed by the dispatch of a small United Nations unit of political, military and humanitarian officers on 21 January 1993, to monitor the situation on the ground. The Secretary-General appointed a Special Envoy on 26 April 1993. Between April and October 1994, the Special Envoy chaired three rounds of Inter-Tajik talks on national reconciliation, which resulted in the signing of an agreement on a temporary cease-fire and the establishment of a Joint Commission for oversight of its implementation. On 16 December 1994, by resolution 968(1994), the Security Council established the United Nations Mission of Observers to Tajikistan - UNMOT.

Fraud and intimidation marred the presidential election on 06 November 1994; the Government declared Rahmonov the winner with 58 percent of the vote. Also on 06 November 1994, a new Constitution, a significant improvement over the Soviet-era document, was overwhelmingly approved in a popular referendum. The opposition coalition of nationalists and Islamic groups defeated in the 1992 civil war boycotted the election and continued to wage a bloody insurgency along the Tajikistan- Afghanistan border and in the southeastern district of Tavildara.

Under United Nations auspices, the Government and the opposition engaged in several rounds of talks which led to a prisoner exchange, a provisional cease-fire, and establishment of joint commissions to monitor refugee issues and the cease-fire and a United Nations Mission of Observers to Tajikistan (UNMOT). The cease-fire began on 20 October 1994 and remained in effect through the end of the year, although several alleged violations were reported by both sides.

In the meantime, efforts to find a peaceful and lasting solution to the conflict continued. In May 1996, the Secretary-General appointed a resident Special Representative and Head of Mission of UNMOT. On 27 June 1997, President Emomali Rakhmonov, Sayed Abdullo Nuri, leader of the United Tajik Opposition [UTO], and Mr. Gerd Merrem, then Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General, signed in Moscow the General Agreement on the Establishment of Peace and National Accord in Tajikistan and the Moscow Protocol. The signing of the Agreement and the subsequent convening of the Commission on National Reconciliation launched the period of transition. During this period, refugees were to return; UTO fighters were to be demobilized or reintegrated into the governmental structures; the armed forces, police and security apparatus were to be reformed; and the democratic processes in the country were to be improved, leading to elections and the formation of a new Government. The parties requested United Nations assistance in the implementation of the Agreement.

Due in part to the actions of those opposed to the implementation of the June 1997 peace accords, the situation in the capital and its environs remained insecure. Reporting to the Security Council on 4 September 1997, the Secretary-General indicated that to carry out its new tasks UNMOT should be strengthened significantly. The Mission's civil affairs component would need to be increased and additional expertise added in the areas of public law (including human rights), police, electoral affairs and coordination of international assistance. The military component would also be increased to 120 military observers from its previous authorized strength of 45.

In November 1997, the Secretary-General reported that substantive progress towards addressing the security concerns had been made, leading him to recommend that the Security Council expand UNMOT's mandate as proposed in his September report. The Council, by its resolution 1138 (1997) of 14 November, expanded the mandate of UNMOT and increased the size of the Mission in accordance with the Secretary-General's recommendations.

In November 1997 two French citizens were taken hostage by a semi-independent armed group operating to the east of Dushanbe. One was released after two weeks, but the other was killed during a rescue attempt. The group that took these hostages has reportedly been eliminated, but the general security situation is not stable. Also in the fall of 1997, there were a number of explosions, some on public transport, in which some local persons were killed or injured. In August 1997 there was an outbreak of fighting between government factions within Dushanbe and to the south and west. Smaller clashes between paramilitary gangs took place in Dushanbe in September 1997 and May 1998 as well. In July 1998, four United Nations personnel were murdered in the Karotegin Valley.

The peace process was disrupted by violence and made only slow progress. In May 1998, the Secretary-General reported that the process would take longer than allowed for in the timetable of the peace agreement As a result, it seemed unlikely that elections could be held in 1998.

On 3 November 1998, a force led by Mahmud Khudoiberdiev and former premier Abdumalik Abdullojonov launched an offensive in Leninabad Province, the largest and most prosperous region of the country. Khudoiberdiev is a former army colonel who has been mentioned in connection with anti-Government activities in the Khatlon Province, from which he was ousted in August 1997. His force took control of Khujand, the main city and provincial capital, including the airport, and the mountain pass in the south linking the province with the rest of the country. A number of demands were made, including a share in the Government. On 6 November 1998, the Government began a counter-offensive, in which UTO joined. By 10 November, the Government had retaken control of the Province after intense fighting. Khudoiberdiev's whereabouts were unknown; it was believed that he had left the country. According to the Government, casualties amounted to 110 killed, almost half of them civilians, and 600 wounded.

On 25 December 1998 UTO leader Abdullo Nuri formally declared the return of all UTO fighters to Tajikistan and the closing of all its bases outside the country. He further pledged, on 28 December, that the UTO would disband its military forces in early 1999, in accordance with the General Agreement, to pave the way for the lifting of the ban on UTO political parties. According to the military protocol, armed units that do not cooperate with its provisions will be considered illegal and subject to forcible disarmament.

On 5 January 1999, CNR issued a formal resolution which recognized that UTO had not fully complied with the provisions of the military protocol. That resolution was preceded by a serious incident, on 30 December 1998, in which two opposition groups engaged in a firefight outside the CNR building in Dushanbe, killing five persons and injuring six.

Both the Government and the UTO expressed concern that the situation might deteriorate and have asked for international assistance to support the fighters. Temporary assistance for UTO personnel was originally envisaged in the context of strict implementation of the Protocol on military issues (notably the quartering of the fighters, registration and control of their arms, adherence to the six-month timetable), and UNMOT did provide food and other necessities until its limited means, which were meant to bridge only the first two months, were exhausted. In the present circumstances, the United Nations has explained to the Tajik parties that the international community could not be expected to subsidize armed forces for an indeterminate period.

The lack of support for their fighters and the absence of any further appointments of UTO personalities in accordance with the power-sharing agreement has deepened suspicion of the Government among UTO field commanders and diminished their support for the peace process generally. This is particularly pronounced in the Darband and Tavildara areas. The latter area is controlled by the UTO's chief of staff, who had been proposed for the defence portfolio under an understanding between the parties that a UTO member would be appointed to head a power ministry. President Rakhmonov has rejected this nomination.

Underlying much of the debate on constitutional reform is a latent dispute between the Government and UTO over the order in which elections are to take place. The Government side wishes the election of the President - his term expires in November - to come first, to ensure that a constitutionally elected executive is in place, bearing in mind that the UTO has so far retained its military capacity. For its part, the UTO wishes the parliamentary election to precede that of the President out of concern that the President, if re-elected, might be emboldened to consider the power-sharing agreement to have been superseded.

Opposition groups not aligned with the UTO, citing continuous disagreement over implementation of the peace accord in 1999, questioned the effectiveness of the ongoing peace process. During 1999, the UTO twice pulled out of the Commission on National Reconciliation that oversees the peace process under 1997 accords. The UTO complained that the government had failed to live up to its commitment to power sharing, legalizing the banned political parties and releasing jailed opposition fighters. In late April 1999, an opposition field commander (Mansur Muakalov) abducted six policemen to put pressure on the government to release his comrades from jail.

In June 1999 President Imamali Rahmanov approved amendments to the Tajik constitution demanded by the United Tajik Opposition. The changes, adopted in a national referendum in September, allow the formation of religious-based political parties. They also stipulate the creation of a professional bicameral parliament and extend the president's term in office from five to seven years. The landmark shift - making Tajikistan the only former Soviet Central Asian republic that tolerates registered Islamic parties - followed two other major achievements.

On 03 August 1999 UTO leader Sayed Abdullah Nuri reported that the process of integrating opposition fighters into the Tajik armed forces had been completed. The move, which practically transformed the opposition from a military faction into a political force, led to a decision by the Tajik Supreme Court to lift its 1993 ban on four opposition parties (the Democratic party, the Islamic Revival Party, the Rastakhez and Lali Badakhshan movements). These developments reduced the risk of renewed armed conflict in Tajikistan.

There can be no illusions about the threat to peace by third parties and renegade armed groups that roam the mountainous regions of eastern Tajikistan. Acts of violence, ascribed to armed bands not controlled by either the government or the UTO, continue to occur in otherwise peaceful neighborhoods. In August 1999 an appeal by the CNR to renegade armed bands to submit weapons was ignored.

More than one thousand Uzbek Islamists - including a number of renegade militants who fled persecution in Uzbekistan - settled in the eastern Qarategin valley causing a security problem. The militants were involved last summer in guerrilla attacks in Kyrgyzstan. The government and the UTO representatives agreed already in June that the Uzbek fighters on the Tajik territory have to leave. There are signs the Uzbek fighters in Qarategin valley have left Tajikistan. Tajikistan's minister of emergency situation and former UTO Military commander, Mirzo Ziyoyev, told the media in November 1999 that Uzbek militant Islamist leader Jumma Namangani and hundreds of his gunmen were deported to Afghanistan. However, there are no guarantees that they will not return.

The latest threat to peace came in the weeks before the 06 November 1999 presidential election in which the incumbent president, Imamali Rahmanov, ran unopposed. The UTO boycotted the vote and stormed out of the peace talks to protest the exclusion of opposition candidates. The government said the opposition candidates had failed to meet the registration deadline and were therefore not allowed on the ballot.

The UN Observer Mission in Tajikistan mediation led to a breakthrough between the opposition and the government. On 05 November 1999 President Rahmanov and Chairman Nuri signed a protocol guaranteeing for preparation and holding of parliamentary elections. The protocol is a basic document which guarantees that parliamentary elections will be held in a free and fair atmosphere.

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Page last modified: 30-06-2021 11:38:58 ZULU