By Kirgizbek Kanunov (08/05/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On June 27, 2014, the Tajik authorities marked the 17th anniversary of the peace agreement they signed with the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) and dubbed it the Day of National Unity.
A number of circumstances indicate growing animosity and contradictions between the parties that signed peace accords in Tajikistan 17 years ago. Pundits from the former Soviet space and beyond present Tajikistan as a successful example of peacemaking, while some Tajik officials have long been making the case for President Rahmon to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
But is the peace in Tajikistan sustainable and can it be an example for others to follow? Ending the civil war and achieving peace is a centerpiece of Dushanbe’s official ideology. The image of Rahmon as the Peacemaker-in-Chief has been heavily promoted in the state-owned media and is a favorite tagline of the official propaganda. It is telling that the participants of flash mobs that have lately been orchestrated against the opposition and international organizations in Tajikistan have repeatedly chanted their opposition to war that the West and the domestic opposition allegedly attempt to unleash.
By aggrandizing Rahmon as the chief peacemaker, the official media fails to mention Said Abdullo Nuri, the Tajik Government’s negotiating partner and the former leader of the opposition Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan (IRPT). In contrast, Tajikistan’s independent media have lately been covering stories about the growing antagonism between the government and the IRPT – the main signatories to the peace accords in 1997.
According to the chief editor of Ozodagon, Aziz Nakibzoda, the war in Tajikistan ended in 1997, but has continued in a different form. Nakibzoda believes that today in Tajikistan there is a war to grab land, property, lucrative government posts, and spheres of influence. The title of his newspaper article reads “From one day of Unity to the other, ‘the battles’ turn more violent,” underlining the growing contradictions in issues of preceding agreements between the government and opposition.
Observers note that the peace accords were a product of pressure from influential global players on the warring parties in the conflict. For example, according to Anatoly Adamishin, Russia’s former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and ex-Minister for CIS Affairs, Rahmon was reluctant to negotiate with the opposition in the mid-90s. Adamishin maintains that the parties agreed to negotiate under pressure. Namely, Moscow brought pressure to bear on the government, while Iran pressured the opposition.
According to observers, during the signing of the peace accords, the government was not upfront about its intentions, and only considered the signing as a tactical pause.
Rahmon used the period after hostilities had ceased to consolidate his power. Several of Rahmon’s influential opponents from the opposition as well as former associates have been eliminated. Some of them died or were convicted, and some others have left the country.
After numerous clashes in the country, a relative calm settled between 2002 and 2008, a period characterized by the growing role and influence of Rahmon’s cronies and his family over key public policy decisions, including hiring and staffing in the state sector. As a consequence of these changes, the country’s regions have seen a new redistribution of property and influence.
The fate of Nizomhon Juraev, a businessman from Isfara in Tajikistan’s Sughd Province, who was Rahmon’s election campaign manager in Sughd in 2006, is indicative of countrywide property redistribution. In 2008, having fallen from grace, Juraev lost his property, fled the country and was put on the wanted list. By 2008, uncommitted country resources had been all but depleted, which led to tensions within the ruling clan.
Persecution against the famous Tajik businessman and former Minister of Industry, Zaid Saidov may also be considered as a continuation of the struggle for resources. It is particularly remarkable that Saidov came to the Tajik Government from the opposition as part of the power-sharing arrangement.
On the eve of the day of Unity, the authorities stepped up the pressure on the opposition movement yet again. Despite ongoing negotiations and agreements between the city authorities and the current leader of the IRPT, Muhiddin Kabiri, the authorities decided to blatantly demolish the party branch office in Khujand. Concomitantly, another IRPT branch office was destroyed in Panjikent.
Simultaneously, following an IRPT-related incident in Kulob, the Ministry of Interior issued a decision to initiate administrative proceedings against the party, since the Kulob party branch leader held a meeting in his private home, which contradicts the National Law on gatherings, meetings and conferences.
Moreover, the arrest of Alexander Sodiqov shows that the authorities are continuing pressure on another active opposition force in Gorno-Badakhshan, namely the Social Democratic Party of Tajikistan (SDPT) by implicating its leader Alim Sherzamonov in an espionage story.
Meanwhile, on the eve of the Day of Unity, Rahmon sent a warning signal to NGOs, political parties and the media. More specifically, he said, “political parties, public associations and the media should be careful and shrewd when evaluating and reflecting on socio-political issues to ensure state independence, national interests, security, peace and political stability and strengthening national unity.”
This suggests that Tajikistan’s government conducts a deliberate policy of tightening control aligned with the country’s leadership, which effectively derails the achievements of previous agreements with the opposition forces.
One of the key points of the power-sharing arrangement between the government and the UTO was to ensure the unencumbered functioning of the IRPT, but large-scale restrictions on its operations in the regions makes their existence a mere formality.
According to some political analysts in Dushanbe, it is more important for the government to retain power. They claim that the rhetoric of peace and preservation of constructive relations with the opposition is no longer a priority.