Precarious Peace in Tajikistan
A recent battle between Islamic opposition factions in Tajikistan exemplifies the precarious nature of peace in the Central Asian republic that has endured since a five-year civil war between pro-Russian secular forces and Islamic groups ended in 1997. The fighting, reported Wednesday by several major news services, began on May 16 in the Garm region, 140 miles east of the Tajiki capital of Dushanbe. According to Agence France Presse (AFP) 18 people were killed in the most recent violence over the role of the Islamic opposition in the newly independent republic. The fighting threatens to undermine a peace plan agreed upon in June 1997 between the government and a unified Islamic resistance.
Civil war began in the former Soviet republic in 1992 following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The pro-Russian government held elections in 1994, which brought Imomali Rakhmonov into the presidency for a 5-year term along with a group of pro-Russian deputies for the same 5-year term. The warring factions signed a United Nations-mediated peace accord in 1997, calling for, among other things, a constitutional referendum, new elections and a lifting of the ban on Islamic opposition parties.
But the current secular government has dragged its feet on the implementation of the peace accords. In a May 27, 1998 press statement by U.S. Department of State spokesman James Rubin, the Tajiki government was accused of a delay in the peace process that "violate(s) both the spirit and the letter of the UN-mediated peace accords." The specific delays noted by Rubin included the failure to create a coalition government and the implementation of a law that bans religiously orientated political parties. On May 15 of this year, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution calling for increased efforts by the Tajiki government to implement the peace accords.
Although the Tajiki government has recently agreed to new elections set to be held on November 6 and granted amnesty to 5,500 opposition fighters, its hesitation has caused divisions within the previously united opposition. Following the 1997 peace accord, many of the opposition fighters were integrated into the Tajiki military. But some factions have resisted the peace efforts in response to the government's lagging in the peace process.
The former leader of the united opposition, Sayed Abdullo Nuri-who now heads the National Reconciliation Council (NRC), established to bring together factions in the opposition movement-has expressed frustration at the slow pace of the peace process. In an open letter to U.N. special envoy Jan Kubis, broadcast on Iranian radio in Mashhad on May 5, and quoted by the BBC, Nuri gave the government 20 days to reinvigorate the peace process by addressing such issues as the formation of coalition government, granting of amnesty for opposition fighters and creation of a constitutional provision for Islamic Shari'a law. Otherwise, he said that he would "not take responsibility for the undesirable outcome." Without the government's speedy cooperation, he said, he had no right to "stand against this flood."
The government's continued ambivalence with regard to opposition demands for a share in the government parallels the convoluted political situation created in Algeria by its military's cancellation of 1992 elections which Islamist forces were expected to win.
Tajikistan, a country that is 85 percent Muslim, must quickly realize the effect of continued government obstinacy concerning legitimate popular Islamic movements. The Algerian example proves that government deafness only succeeds in the splintering of the opposition and the inevitable radicalization of some factions. While the government rarely loses its power in such scenarios, it is usually innocent civilians that bear the brunt of the government's stubbornness. If Tajikistan's government is to legitimize itself in service to its people, it must quickly come to terms with the fragmented opposition by implementing the peace accords.
Topics: Conflicts And War, Tajikistan