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Accord holds out as both sides attempt to make peace work in Tajikistan

Waseem Shehzad

After four years of civil war which has left more than 100,000 dead, and the economy in shambles, the people of Tajikistan have had enough. Not that they wanted any of the mayhem that has engulfed their impoverished country in the first place.

They had little choice. The country is divided along clan and tribal lines. Competing political interests compounded by clan rivalries kept the civil war simmering. The interference of foreign powers, not least Russia and neighbours Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, have also been stirring trouble. Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

Much hope has been placed in the June 27 accord signed in Moscow by president Imomali Rakhmanov and opposition leader Sayyid Abdullo Nuri but a number of factors may yet derail the deal. Rakhmanov and his Russian backers were forced into it because they had already lost 50 percent of the country to the Islamic-led opposition. The government’s own forces, most led by local thugs prone to shifting allegiances, control only 20 percent of the territory.

In recent weeks, a number of kidnappings, including those of United Nations observers stationed in the Republic, were carried out by pro-government militias. The regime is in no position to rein in its own thugs much less confront the increasingly confident mujahideen. It, therefore, decided, under pressure from Moscow, to cut its losses and strike a deal.

On April 30, Rakhmanov survived an assassination attempt in Khojend, capital of the northern region which is at loggerheads with the southern Kulyab clan. The northerners accuse Kulyab, to which Rakhmanov also belongs, of monopolising power and resources. A 21-year-old student, Firdaus Dustboboyev, who claimed he had organized an anti-government protest in the town in May last year, was arrested almost immediately afterward.

Even the loyalty of the regime’s own troops is not assured. One top commander, colonel Makhmud Khudoyberdyev of the elite armoured brigade, is not in favour of the deal. He moves his tanks around at will. Rakhmanov had to plead with him to return to barracks after one such jaunt last January. The threat of mutiny by the country’s armed forces hangs like a sword of Democles over his head.

The June 27 accord was signed in Moscow in the presence of Russian president Boris Yeltsin, and UN and Iranian officials. ‘It brings to an end one of the longest and bitterest conflicts and peace is descending on the long-suffering land of Tajikistan,’ the Kremlin press service quoted Yeltsin as saying. What it left out was equally significant. The conflict was spurred in no small measure by Moscow which maintains 25,000 troops along the Tajik-Afghan border.

A ceasefire agreed in Tehran last December has largely held out but the accord has taken months of tough negotiations to finalise. A number of points have been agreed.

  1. The creation of a 26-member National Commission for Reconciliation, to be chaired by Nuri, with places to be divided equally between each side (The agreement called for the commission to start work on July 7).
  2. Rakhmanov will remain president but 30 percent of government posts must be given over to the opposition.
  3. Elections for a new parliament must take place before the end of 1998. Opposition guerrillas must integrate with government forces or lay down their weapons.
  4. Tajik refugees in Afghanistan are to be given safe passage of return through designated points (there are some 20,000 refugees in northern Afghanistan, especially at Bagh-e Sharikat).
  5. About 500 opposition guerrillas will be allowed with their weapons, into Dushanbe, the capital.
  6. A prisoner exchange will take place with both sides facilitating their release.

Despite last December’s ceasefire, the deal was delayed over wranglings about who should move first: the government granting amnesty to opposition groups or the opposition laying down their arms. Subsequent meetings in Tehran in April and another in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, in May ironed out the remaining differences.

Tajik refugees and unarmed opposition fighters were allowed to return within days of signing the accord. Lieutenent-general Pavel Tarasenko, commander of Russian border guards in Tajikistan, held a meeting with Tajik officials on July 7 to discuss the possibility of reducing Russian troops now that the accord is in place.

Hope is a rare commodity in this part of the world; peace is even rarer. Only time will tell whether the optimism generated by the accord is justified.

Muslimedia - August 1-15, 1997

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 26, No. 11

Rabi' al-Awwal 27, 14181997-08-01

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