The rebel attack on the presidential guard’s barracks in Dushanbe on October 16 served notice that peace is not round the corner in Tajikistan. At least 14 soldiers and four rebels were killed in what was a major embarrassment for the regime of president Imomali Rakhmanov. The bodies of four more soldiers were discovered in two separate locations outside the capital the following day.
The attacks highlighted the regime’s tenuous hold on power. While it has signed a deal with the Islamic opposition alliance led by Seyyed Abdullo Nuri, it is the renegade warlords from Rakhmanov’s army who are wreaking havoc. The killing of the presidential guards was the most daring but by no means the only act of terror perpetrated in Dushanbe.
On October 6, a bomb had exploded less than 100 metres from the presidential palace injuring four people, the twelfth in seven weeks. Such explosions are so common that people hardly take notice of them anymore.
The spate of killings are almost certainly perpetrated by rebels loyal to Makhmud Khudoyberdyev. An Uzbek warlord, he was tank commander in Rakhmanov’s army until defeated last August as he tried to control the aluminium smeltering plant at Turzonzade, some 40 miles west of Dushanbe. From there, he planned to march on the capital in a clear bid to grab power.
This was too much even for some of Rakhmanov’s commanders, not famous for discipline, to stomach. They took on Khudoyberdyev and smashed his tank regiment. Some of his supporters were killed but clearly a significant number fled to be able to mount attacks like the one on October 16.
Khudoyberdyev as well as the Sadirov brothers - Bakhrom and Rizvon - are opposed to the June 27 peace accord signed in Moscow. Brokered by the United Nations with help from Iran and Russia, it was signed by Rakhmanov and Nuri. The latter ended five years in exile after receiving assurances about his safety and flew into Dushanbe from Tehran on September 11.
Under the terms of the agreement, 500 supporters of Nuri are to be inducted into the Tajik armed forces. The first batch of 205 Tajik fighters had arrived on September 5. Others will follow to complete the process by January. Prisoners are also to be released. The Islamic group released 80 government soldiers on October 18. They were taken prisoner during last year’s fighting in Tavil Dara. In a return gesture, the government said it would release 50 Islamic fighters.
Nuri also heads a conciliation commission of 26 members - 13 from each side. Meeting for the first time on September 15, some five weeks behind schedule, it is tasked with preparing for parliamentary elections next year. Under the agreement, Nuri’s supporters will also get one-third of the posts in government.
Alongwith Khudoyberdyev, the Sadirov brothers have also wreaked havoc. Ironically, both the UN and Moscow routinely blamed the Sadirovs’ crimes on the Islamic opposition. The warlords were given responsibility by Rakhmanov to keep Garm region from falling to the Tajik mujahideen. The Sadirovs failed.
Then last February, living upto his image as a thug, Bakhrom struck, taking 18 people hostage, including several UN officials, Red Cross workers and journalists. Through protracted negotiations, the hostages were released and Bakhrom was later captured. He is currently serving time on banditry and kidnapping charges.
In order to secure his brother’s release, Rizvon turned to the one occupation he knows best: kidnapping. Two sons of the mufti of Tajikistan, Amonullo Negmatzoda were taken hostage on the night of July 31-August 1. The mufti was not at home when 25 kidnappers stormed his house. Three weeks later, the mufti was lured into a trap on the ruse of negotiations for the release of his sons, aged 15 and 25. When he met the kidnappers, he was also detained.
The regime was able to secure the mufti’s release on September 2 but his sons remained in captivity, as did 16 others. The regime’s inability to deal with the spate of kidnappings, most of them carried out by its former allies, indicates its weakness.
Rather than a change of heart, it is the vulnerability of the regime at the hands of its own former commanders - bandits and thugs is a better description - that has forced it into a compromise with the Islamic movement. Five years ago, the Islamic-led coalition government was overthrown in a coup carried out with the help of Russian troops. After 100,000 deaths, even the Russians have realised that it would be better for Rakhmanov to strike a deal with the Islamic opposition or lose everything trying to hold on to power alone.
Tajikistan is divided along clan lines. The northern Khojend clan accuses the southern Kulyabis of monopolising power. Rakhmanov is from Kulyab. The minority northerners were in control during the Soviet era and in the immediate aftermath of its disintegration. Then there are the Pamiris in the southeast, close to the border with Afghanistan. They have also been battling the regime.
Russia has deployed 25,000 troops in Tajikistan, viewed by most as a virtual army of occupation. Its purpose is to ensure that anti-Moscow elements do not get into power in Dushanbe. Given their past experience of playing one side against the other, the clan divisions lend themselves to manipulation by Moscow. Had Russia not played its dirty game and the west, including the UN, not gone along with this diabolical plan, 100,000 innocent people would not have died in Tajikistan.
Muslimedia: November 1-15, 1997