By Abbas Djavadi – Tajikistan’s government and its Islamic Tajik opposition have embarked on an unprecedented experiment. Two previously hostile groups are joining to form a government and a unified army. One group, the Moscow-backed national administration, consists of former communists and apparatchiks. The other group is driven by an Islamic ideology.
A startling symbolic event took place today. About two-hundred armed fighters of the Islamic Tajik opposition entered the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, and were welcomed by the Moscow-backed government of President Imomali Rakhmonov. Soon, more than 200 additional troops will arrive from Afghanistan, where they have been based since 1992.
These formerly rebel fighters will take responsibility for the security of the joint government-opposition Reconciliation Commission, set to arrive in Dushanbe on September 8.
A day later, Tajikistan will celebrate the sixth anniversary of its independence from the Soviet Union. The commission is to form a coalition government and prepare new parliamentary elections for next year.
In tired and troubled Tajikistan, peace may have overcome war at last.
The government and the Islamic opposition signed a UN-brokered National Accord in Moscow on June 27, interrupting or ending five years of civil war. The war claimed perhaps 100,000 lives, and turned ten times that number into refugees.
Some Western analysts maintain that the peace accord did not result primarily from the will of the warring sides. Instead, its proximate cause was improved Russia-Iran cooperation aimed at halting pressure from the purist Afghan Islamic Taliban. Authorities in both Moscow and Tehran suspect the Taliban of serving Pakistani and U.S. interests. A united Afghanistan, ruled by the Taliban, would weaken Russian and Iranian influence in oil-and-gas-rich Central Asia.
Russia now has strengthened its position in Tajikistan. It may have emerged as Moscow’s main stronghold in Central Asia. Other countries of the region resist dancing to the Kremlin’s tune.
Moscow sees in President Rakhmonov’s government an instrument to pursue its policies in the region. Russian troops comprise the backbone of a 25,000-member force of border guards and CIS peacekeepers along the 2,000-kilometer Tajik border with Afghanistan. Moscow is also Tajikistan’s main creditor.
A remarkable Tajik army success last month strengthened the central government and the prospects for implementing the National Accord. One of the strongest supporters of the government, Colonel Mahmud Khudaberdiyev, commander of the First Brigade of the Tajik army, stationed in the southern city of Kurgonteppa, took control of the southern province’s entire economy and challenged the peace agreement. The army reacted with unaccustomed determination, suppressed the revolt, and re-established central control over this part of the country.
Still, the rebellion also demonstrated how fragile the peace accord is. Other armed hostilities still may occur between groups within the government who have conflicting interests. The Tajik opposition, now preparing to share power with the government, has a similar situation within its own ranks. Violence may erupt there also.
Whether the National Accord will succeed in leading the country into peace and democracy will depend in part on foreign players, primarily Russia and Iran. Also the United States, which the people of Tajikistan tend to admire, but which in actuality has been mostly aloof from events there.
All the elements for peace and war, stability and fragmentation, self-determination and subjugation remain volatile in Tajikistan. A positive outcome would open up vast opportunities for those involved. (First published on RFE/RL website Sep 5, 1997)