TAJIKISTAN BECOMES INDEPENDENT

TAJIKISTAN BECOMES INDEPENDENT

Tajikistan became independent when the Soviet Union disbanded on December 26, 1991. None of the nations of Central Asia had ever existed as a true nation-state before 1991. Tajikistan’s own president, Emomalii Rahmon, called Tajikistan “the most backward of all the former Soviet republics by any measurement.”

In the late 1980s, the openness of the Soviet regime of Mikhail S. Gorbachev (in office 1985–91) stimulated a nationalist movement in Tajikistan. The Supreme Soviet of Tajikistan adopted the ‘Declaration on State Sovereignty’ on 24 August 1990. This document stated, in particular, that the Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic is a sovereign multinational state. The state sovereignty manifests itself in the unity and supremacy of the state power on all territory of the Tajik SSR and independence in external relations … The Tajik SSR decides independently all questions related to political, economic, socio-cultural construction on its territory, except those which will be voluntarily delegated by it to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Tajik leaders reluctantly declared sovereignty in 1991, when the dissolution of the Soviet Union became inevitable. The last of the communist party leaders, Rakhmon Nabiyev, was elected the first president of independent Tajikistan in 1991. After the coup attempt to oust Gorbachev in August, 1991 failed and the other Central Asian nation declared independence, Tajikistan declared independence on September 9th, 1991. Elections were held in November with the conservative Communist Nabyev elected president. Nabyev had been removed from the Communist party six years earlier for corruption.

In 1992, a conflict between the government and reform groups led to the collapse of the Nabiyev government and then to a civil war that lasted five years and cost between 50,000 and 100,000 lives. Imomali Rakhmonov, who had taken power after the collapse of the coalition government that followed Nabiyev’s fall, was elected president in 1994 without the participation of opposition parties.

Transition to Post-Soviet Government in Tajikistan

In the late 1980s, problems in the Soviet system had already provoked open public dissatisfaction with the status quo in Tajikistan. In February 1990, demonstrations against government housing policy precipitated a violent clash in Dushanbe. Soviet army units sent to quell the riots inflicted casualties on demonstrators and bystanders alike. Using the riots as a pretext to repress political dissent, the regime imposed a state of emergency that lasted long after the riots had ended. In this period, criticism of the regime by opposition political leaders was censored from state radio and television broadcasts. The state brought criminal charges against the leaders of the popular front organization Rastokhez (Rebirth) for inciting the riots, although the Supreme Soviet later ruled that Rastokhez was not implicated. Students were expelled from institutions of higher education merely for attending nonviolent political meetings. The events of 1990 made the opposition even more critical of the communist old guard than it had been previously. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

In the highly charged political atmosphere after the failure of the August 1991 coup attempt in Moscow, Tajikistan's Supreme Soviet voted for independence for the republic in September 1991. That vote was not intended to signal a break with the Soviet Union, however. It was rather a response to increasingly vociferous opposition demands and to similar declarations by Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, a development in which Tajikistan played no role, the republic joined the CIS when that loose federation of former Soviet republics was established in December 1991. *

The political opposition within Tajikistan was composed of a diverse group of individuals and organizations. The three major opposition parties were granted legal standing at various times in 1991. The highest-ranking Islamic figure in the republic, the chief qadi , Hajji Akbar Turajonzoda, sided openly with the opposition coalition beginning in late 1991. The opposition's ability to govern and the extent of its public support never were tested because it gained only brief, token representation in a 1992 coalition government that did not exercise effective authority over the entire country. *

Events Before Tajikistan Independence

In early 1990, riots broke out rumors began circulating that displaced Armenians were going to be moved to Dushanbe, which had severe housing shortages. Twenty-two people were killed and injured and a state of emergency was declared. There were also tensions between Tajiks and Uzbeks in the Fergana Valley and elsewhere in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

The forces of fragmentation in the Soviet Union eventually affected Tajikistan, whose government strongly supported continued unity. Bowing to Tajik nationalism, Tajikistan's Supreme Soviet adopted a declaration of sovereignty in August 1990, but in March 1991, the people of Tajikistan voted overwhelmingly for preservation of the union in a national referendum. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

The August 1991 Moscow coup against the Gorbachev government brought mass demonstrations by opposition groups in Dushanbe, forcing the resignation of President Kahar Mahkamov. Nabiyev assumed the position of acting president. The following month, the Supreme Soviet proclaimed Tajikistan an independent state, following the examples of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. In November, Nabiyev was elected president of the new republic, and in December, representatives of Tajikistan signed the agreement forming the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) to succeed the Soviet Union.

Protests and Instability at the Time of Tajikistan Independence

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “In the late 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, the political and social atmosphere became less restrictive. Civil society groups and political parties began to form and agitate for further changes. After some time the political foes settled into two opposing coalitions: the incumbent leadership dominated by elites from Leninobod along with their primary junior partners from Kulob and Hisor, and the opposition coalition that included new political parties such as the mostly urban Democratic Party of Tajikistan, the Gharmi Tajik-dominated Islamic Revival Party, and the Pamiri party La’li Badakhshon. The first post-independence presidential election of November 1991, after some difficulty and the replacement of the top government candidate, was won by the incumbent forces’ candidate, Rahmon Nabiyev, at the expense of the opposition coalition and their cinematographer-turned-politician candidate, Davlat Khudonazarov—a man supported by anti-conservative politicians, journalists and cultural elites at the Union/Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) level. This was followed by a period of government crackdowns and harassment of the opposition, resulting in large anti-government street demonstrations in the capital starting in early spring 1992. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ><]

“The largest contribution to the opposition’s demonstrations was by the Islamic Revival Party (IRP). Meanwhile, the incumbents, geographically isolated in the capital from their home base in northern Tajikistan and unable to easily summon their supporters to the streets, relied instead on their junior Kulobi partners whose province was adjacent to the capital. The IRP’s mobilisation effort also had a regional aspect. The leadership of the IRP, despite their pretentions to being a party for all (Sunni) Muslims, was heavily staffed by Tajiks with roots in one particular region. The IRP was more accurately a party for Muslims that was overwhelmingly dominated by Gharmi Tajiks. ><

“As the demonstrations intensified and eventually turned to violence, political and social authorities who could not quickly mobilise manpower for violent conflict became powerless. The skilled technocrats increasingly lost power to savvy rural strongmen and religious leaders (for example, mullahs) who could call on the support of men willing to fight. The urban intellectuals and reformists of groups such as the Democratic Party were helpless in the face of military mobilisation. Soon it was clear that the real players in the conflict were the Kulobi Tajik militias allied to local Uzbeks and militias from Hisor on one side against the IRP’s mullahs and their Gharmi Tajik followers allied to Gharmi-dominated Dushanbe street gangs and Pamiri police officers and militias on the other.” ><

Disintegration of the Soviet Political System

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: Prior to 1985, regional elites in Tajikistan were united in a single political organisation, publicly professed the same ideology, and conducted elementary consensual activity inside the CPT Central Committee. With the commencement of perestroika, elite factions gained an opportunity to take opposition stances in public, and in February 1990 eventually took the risk of pushing them to violent confrontation. But even then an elite settlement could be achieved within existing institutional structures. With the rapid decay of the mono-organisational system, especially following the twenty-eighth CPSU congress in July 1990, the national elite in Tajikistan quickly reached a ‘disunified’ state, characterised by ‘ruthless, often violent, inter-elite conflicts. Elite factions deeply distrust each other, interpersonal relations do not extend across factional lines, and factions do not cooperate to contain societal divisions or to avoid political crises.’ [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ><]

“In the second half of 1990 and in 1991, the CPT continued to contract and implode, following the All-Union pattern. Internal haemorrhaging of the CPSU and the CPT proceeded along different lines, however, the former was splitting on ideological grounds, and the latter disintegrating according to the territorial criterion. This was especially evident during the seventh plenum of the CPT CC, held in February 1991. While the mandatory report of Qahhor Mahkamov was, as always, filled with empty phrases and commitments ‘to defend staunchly positive democratic gains of perestroika’, his colleagues from regions and districts were surprisingly frank and businesslike. Representatives of Leninobod and Kulob, interested in maintaining the status quo, deplored the party’s loss of its governing functions; they argued that perestroika was ‘a succession of precocious, inconsequent, incompetent decisions and mistakes in the national economy’ and that ‘as a result of the Party’s withdrawal from administration economic decay has become visible, negative processes in social and moral spheres have been unfolding and the Soviet people have been suffering hardships’. The first secretary of the Khorog gorkom, Qozidavlat Qoimdodov, spoke in favour of reforms that were defined somewhat narrowly but brazenly as an increased share for Pamiris in the leadership. ><

“A group of raikom functionaries, without going much into high politics, insisted on delegating the right to use party property from the CPT CC to district committees. The demolition of central control in the CPT was in the making. In 1990 its membership contracted by 2070—a 1.6 per cent decrease—whereas the CPSU shrank by 1.3 per cent. It is illuminating that the greatest numbers of defectors were registered in Dushanbe (one-third of the total) and in the Gharm group of districts, while the Leninobod oblast organisation actually grew by 804 people. The party was exhibiting a tendency towards becoming a political organisation of northerners par excellence.

Efforts by the Communist Party of Tajikistan to Hold On to Power

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “Despite its emaciation and fragmentation, and despite its inability to cope with the mounting problems in Tajikistan, the CPT was still viewed by many as the only institution guaranteeing a semblance of stability and national unity. A political observer of the opposition newspaper Charoghi ruz wrote in June 1991: ‘Contrary to the triumphant shouts of the opposition that “Communists have lost dignity and prestige” … the Communist party remains a formidable political force in Tajikistan … the insignificant level of public protest against measures of the Communist government signifies that the CPT enjoys sufficient political respect here.’ Opinion polls corroborated this conclusion. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ><]

“The results of the referendum on the preservation of the USSR held on 17 March 1991 also indicated strong public support for the continuous Soviet corporatist compromise in Tajikistan. The CPT called on the population to vote for retaining the Soviet Union as a rejuvenated federation of sovereign republics with equal rights, while the DPT and Rastokhez urged it to boycott the poll. At the end of the day, the overwhelming majority of the people of Tajikistan participated in the referendum and said ‘yes’ to the union by 96.2 per cent to 3.1 per cent. ><

“The CPT still formed the centrepiece of the republic’s political system; it had lost its control and implementation functions, but its role in strategic decision-making remained substantial, and all positions of authority in state structures were still staffed with communists. There were forces within the party, grouped around the deputy chairman of the Council of Ministers, Abdujalil Samadov, who favoured dialogue with opposition groups and offered balanced solutions to the socioeconomic problems that Tajikistan faced. In November 1990, they published a document entitled ‘The Program of Concrete Measures of Economic Stabilisation and Transition to a Market in the Tajik SSR’, which envisaged: 1) continuing economic cooperation within the USSR; 2) partial price liberalisation; 3) gradual privatisation of state property; 4) encouragement of small businesses and private entrepreneurship; 5) creation of a market infrastructure; 6) land reform; 7) rationalisation of the government apparatus; 8) adoption of laws conducive to the emergence of a market economy.

Failure of the Communist Party of Tajikistan to Reform

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “Qahhor Mahkamov failed to rally the reformist elements in the CPT to secure the regime’s gradual adaptation to changing conditions. He followed Gorbachev’s path, neither breaking completely with the party nor using its potential. In November 1990, the Supreme Soviet elected Mahkamov president of the Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic. He faced strong opposition in the person of Rahmon Nabiyev, but persuaded the deputies to vote for him by making all manner of promises and resorting to political jockeying. President Mahkamov received vast executive powers—most importantly, to rule by edict, and appoint and dismiss senior public servants at his will. He used these powers not to initiate and oversee reformist policies, but to secure his position and the wellbeing of his immediate supporters. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ><]

“Mahkamov’s regime had to achieve accommodation at three levels: a) within the upper state leadership itself, b) with organised opposition, and c) with political actors in the regions and districts. While handling top bureaucrats, Mahkamov employed the tactics of political musical chairs, arbitrary political appointments and frequent changes to the institutional and legal frameworks of administration. As one Tajik MP lamented in July 1991: ‘Is it normal that every session of the Supreme Soviet has to approve a new government structure? Top echelon cadres … are replaced every 3–4 months. As a result, for example, the republic’s agriculture does not have a unified structure and lacks coordination.’ Still the CPT CC first secretary, Mahkamov, in February 1991, sanctioned transferral of the party’s assets to an obscure holding company, EKOMPT. This firm took over the CPT’s polygraphic facilities, transport pool and construction organisations, and used them in tourism, entertainment and export–import businesses, refraining, however, from channelling profits to ‘material-financial support of the CPT activities’. The CPT apparatchiks, even in the Leninobod oblast, began talking about the ‘betrayal on the part of the leaders which has pushed the Communist Party from the political arena’. ><

“Mahkamov acted as if opposition parties and organisations did not exist. Martial law, introduced in February 1990 in Dushanbe, precluded them from holding mass rallies in the capital, and infrequent meetings of the DPT and Rastokhez supporters in Leninobod and Kulob were regularly disrupted by members of local action groups with tacit police approval. The IRP kept a low profile, and the handful of vociferous opposition parliamentarians could be safely ignored. In fact, the Supreme Soviet of Tajikistan in 1990 and 1991 was an amorphous collection of communist and ex-communist officials with little or no experience of the legislative process, factionalised according to regional affiliation and rather easy to manipulate. It also resembled a glorified gashtak: women were all but expunged from its ranks, the judgment of the bobo—that is, the president—was seldom questioned, and its entire modus operandi bore an imprint of patrimonialism: When a parliamentary commission head or a member of the government is to be appointed, they take into consideration how many seats representatives from this or that locality already have … Sometimes an appointment can be blocked if there is an evident surplus of a particular clan’s representatives amongst office-holders. Some instances of blackballing are truly laughable, when members of the parliament, forgetting their democratic image, begin to discuss openly the place of birth and clan affiliation of a vacancy-seeker. Hundreds of thousands of Tajikistan’s residents witnessed such debates in the parliament on TV not long ago. ><

“In March 1991, another blow was dealt to the old system of checks and balances inside the power structure. A new law on local government suggested merging the positions of chairman of the soviet and chairman of the executive committee of the soviet. Henceforth, at the district-town level, legislative and executive powers became vested in one person, who was elected by the corresponding soviet, but who could be dismissed directly by the president. Mahkamov hoped that this move would help him in combating the oblast leaders, but very soon local bosses developed political resources that made their positions virtually unassailable either by the head of state or by regional authorities. Of 60 newly elected chairmen of executive committees only 10 were communist functionaries; others were local strongmen of various description, ranging from sovkhoz and factory directors to shadowy traders. ><

“Qahhor Mahkamov tried to create a number of executive bodies, not necessarily mentioned in the Constitution, to advise him in setting policies and to control their implementation. The most important of them was the 15-strong Presidential Council, established in February 1991. This organ had considerable potential to evolve as a forum for negotiations amongst elite factions, but the president appeared to have selected its members on the basis of personal loyalty rather than political influence and ability. With the exception of the vice-president, Izatullo Khayoev, and the minister of the interior, Mamadayoz Navjuvonov, the council consisted of rather nondescript characters—the Kulob region, for example, was represented by a sixty-eight-year-old pensioner, Nizoramo Zaripova, who may have commanded respect due to the fact that she was well advanced in years, but who had no influence in the decision-making process. The council sank into oblivion without leaving a trace in Tajikistan’s political history. ><

“In the meantime, the economic situation in the republic was nearing a critical point. In 1990, Tajikistan’s GDP contracted by 2.2 per cent, but the national income used actually grew by 6.4 per cent due to transfers from the centre. By the second half of 1991, the following grim picture had emerged: 1) production of 56 of 77 major commodity groups lagged far behind targets; 2) civil construction stood at 50 per cent of the 1990 figure; 3) scarcity of food in cities was a pressing problem; 4) the budget deficit exceeded 1.7 billion roubles, and there were absolutely no internal resources to cover it.” ><

End of the Communist Party of Tajikistan to Hold On to Power

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “Mahkamov’s regime did nothing to reform the economy. As always, he pinned all his hopes on Moscow. The communiqué of the leaders of Central Asian republics published on 14 August 1991 stated that they wholeheartedly supported the new union treaty prepared by Gorbachev whereby this region would continue to receive ‘financial resources for socio-economic development and for covering compensation pay-outs to the population’. The signing of the treaty was pre-empted by the abortive coup in Moscow on 19–21 August 1991, in the wake of which any continuation of the Soviet Union, even as a loose confederation of states, was impossible. Following other Central Asian republics, Tajikistan proclaimed its independence on 9 September 1991; to borrow Martha Brill Olcott’s expression, it was ‘a freedom more forced on them than acquired or won’. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ><]

“President Mahkamov’s mishandling in Tajikistan of the August 1991 attempted coup against Gorbachev led to protests that ended in his resignation. Mahkamov did not support the putsch, contrary to popular myth. Mahkamov’s actions around the time of the coup were neither in support nor in rejection, but rather cautious non-involvement and then denial once it was clear that the coup had failed. He was disoriented and confused, and did not come up with any political statements concerning the political struggle in Moscow—years of subservience to the Kremlin had obviously taken their toll. The opposition used this as an opportunity to accuse the government of supporting the coup. In response, the opposition held a large rally in Dushanbe’s Shahidon Square and demanded Mahkamov’s resignation. ><

“On 27 August 1991, Mahkamov signed a decree disbanding the CPT structures in government agencies and sequestrating its property. On 28 August, he and the chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, Qadriddin Aslonov, formally quit the party. The next day, under pressure from inside and outside the republic, Mahkamov resigned as president of Tajikistan. On 9 September 1991, the Government of Tajikistan declared independence. The communist era in the history of Tajikistan came to an end.” ><

Instillation and Ouster of Nabiyev

Nabiyev was the Communist Party leader of the Tajik Soviet Republic until he was ousted in 1985 as Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev (in office 1985-91) swept out the republic's old-guard party leaders. Nabiyev's 1991 installation as president of independent Tajikistan, by means of an old-guard coup and a rigged election, exacerbated the political tensions in the republic and was an important step toward the civil war that broke out in 1992. * [Source: Library of Congress, January 2007**]

The opposition charged Nabyev with rigging the presidential election. They were also angered that he formed an alliance with the Khujand-based northern clans, ignoring all the other clans. Demonstrations expanded into violent confrontations. Antigovernment demonstrations began in Dushanbe in March 1992. In April 1992, tensions mounted as progovernment groups opposing reform staged counterdemonstrations. By May, small armed clashes had occurred, causing Nabiyev to break off negotiations with the reformist demonstrators and go into hiding. After eight antigovernment demonstrators were killed in Dushanbe, the commander of the Russian garrison brokered a compromise agreement creating a coalition government in which one-third of the cabinet positions would go to members of the opposition. The collapse of that government heralded the outbreak of a civil war.

In August 1992 anti-government demonstrators led by a coalition of Islamic, nationalist and Western-oriented parties raided the presidential palace. Nabyev escaped but was cornered at the airport trying to flee to Khujand. Nabyev was forced to resign and was replaced by Akbarshah Iskandarov, who led a coalition that included members of the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) and secular democratic parties. The power sharing arrangement didn’t work. Divisions arose along clan lines and civil war ensued.

Tajikistan After Independence

Of the five Central Asian states that declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Tajikistan is the smallest in area and the third largest in population. Landlocked and mountainous, the republic has some valuable natural resources, such as waterpower and minerals, but arable land is scarce, the industrial base is narrow, and the communications and transportation infrastructures are poorly developed. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

The Soviet Union brought Tajikistan significant advancement in education, industry, and infrastructure compared with the primitive conditions of 1917. In the mid-1990s, however, the country remained the most backward of the Central Asian republics, partly because of specifically focused Soviet development policies and partly because of topographical factors that enormously complicate exploitation of existing resources. *

Located on the western slopes of the Pamir Mountains, Tajikistan occupies one of the most rugged and topographically divided regions in the world. Possessing extremely convoluted frontiers, it borders Uzbekistan to the west, China to the east, Afghanistan to the south, and Kyrgyzstan to the north. Unlike the ethnically dominant groups of the other four republics, the Tajiks have a culture and a language based on Iranian rather than Turkic roots. Despite their differing cultural backgrounds, the Tajiks and the Uzbeks did not consider themselves separate until the Soviet Union's artificial demarcation of the republics in the 1920s. (Until 1929 the Autonomous Republic of Tajikistan was part of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Uzbekistan.) *

The first few years after independence that were a time of great hardship. Some of the new republic's problems--including the breakdown of the old system of interdependent economic relationships upon which the Soviet republics had relied, and the stress of movement toward participation in the world market--were common among the Soviet successor states. The pain of economic decline was compounded in Tajikistan by a bloody and protracted civil conflict over whether the country would perpetuate a system of monopoly rule by a narrow elite like the one that ruled in the Soviet era, or establish a reformist, more democratic regime. The struggle peaked as an outright war in the second half of 1992, and smaller-scale conflict continued into the mid-1990s. The victors preserved a repressive system of rule, and the lingering effects of the conflict contributed to the further worsening of living conditions. *

Government in Newly Independent Tajikistan

In the early independence period, the old guard sought to depict itself as the duly elected government of Tajikistan now facing a power grab by Islamic radicals who would bring to Tajikistan fundamentalist repression similar to that occurring in Iran and Afghanistan. Yet both claims were misleading. The elections for the republic's Supreme Soviet and president had been neither free nor truly representative of public opinion. The legislative election was held in February 1990 under the tight constraints of the state of emergency. In the presidential election of 1991, Nabiyev had faced only one opponent, filmmaker and former communist Davlat Khudonazarov, whose message had been stifled by communist control of the news media and the workplace. Despite Nabiyev's advantageous position, Khudonazarov received more than 30 percent of the vote.[Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

In the first half of 1992, the opposition responded to increased repression by organizing ever larger proreform demonstrations. When Nabiyev assembled a national guard force, coalition supporters, who were concentrated in the southern Qurghonteppa Province and the eastern Pamir region, acquired arms and prepared for battle. Meanwhile, opponents of reform brought their own supporters to Dushanbe from nearby Kulob Province to stage counterdemonstrations in April of that year. Tensions mounted, and small-scale clashes occurred. In May 1992, after Nabiyev had broken off negotiations with the oppositionist demonstrators and had gone into hiding, the confrontation came to a head when opposition demonstrators were fired upon and eight were killed. At that point, the commander of the Russian garrison in Dushanbe brokered a compromise. The main result of the agreement was the formation of a coalition government in which one-third of the cabinet posts would go to members of the opposition. *

For most of the rest of 1992, opponents of reform worked hard to overturn the coalition and block implementation of measures such as formation of a new legislature in which the opposition would have a voice. In the summer and fall of 1992, vicious battles resulted in many casualties among civilians and combatants. Qurghonteppa bore the brunt of attacks by antireformist irregular forces during that period. In August 1992, demonstrators in Dushanbe seized Nabiyev and forced him at gunpoint to resign. The speaker of the Supreme Soviet, Akbarsho Iskandarov--a Pamiri closely associated with Nabiyev--became acting president. Iskandarov advocated a negotiated resolution of the conflict, but he had little influence over either side. *

The political and military battles for control continued through the fall of 1992. In November the Iskandarov coalition government resigned in the hope of reconciling the contending factions. Later that month, the Supreme Soviet, still dominated by hard-liners, met in emergency session in Khujand, an antireform stronghold, to select a new government favorable to their views. When the office of president was abolished, the speaker of parliament, Imomali Rahmonov, became de facto head of government. A thirty-eight-year-old former collective farm director, Rahmonov had little experience in government. The office of prime minister went to Abdumalik Abdullojanov, a veteran hard-line politician. *

Once in possession of Dushanbe, the neo-Soviets stepped up repression. Three leading opposition figures, including Turajonzoda and the deputy prime minister in the coalition government, were charged with treason and forced into exile, and two other prominent opposition supporters were assassinated in December. There were mass arrests on nebulous charges and summary executions of individuals captured without formal arrest. Fighting on a smaller scale between the forces of the old guard and the opposition continued elsewhere in Tajikistan and across the border with Afghanistan into the mid-1990s. *

Political Situation and Civil War in Tajikistan After Independence

Especially in comparison with the stable regimes that have dominated the other republics since 1991, the political scene in Tajikistan has been unsettled from the day of independence onward. Throughout the 1990s, an old guard with roots in the Soviet era parried the efforts of various opposition groups to share or monopolize power. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

In 1992 a short-lived coalition government broke down, sending the country into a civil war that was won nominally when the old guard forces captured Dushanbe and named Imomali Rahmonov chief executive. But conflict persisted, based partly on the geographical and clan divisions of the country and partly on the political question of reform versus reaction. Between 1993 and 1996, fighting flared, mostly in limited engagements, in several regions of Tajikistan and across the border in Afghanistan. In 1993 a multinational CIS force, dominated by Russian units, entered the country with the primary mission of enforcing the southern border, across which opposition forces had received substantial support. In early 1994, the UN arranged a first round of peace talks, and five more rounds followed over the next two years. None of the talks led to an agreement on peace terms, however. See Separate Article on the Tajikistan Civil War.

In 1996 Tajikistan's political situation remained as unstable as it had been for the previous three years. The Rahmonov regime was unable to defeat rebel forces or to compromise enough to reach a satisfactory agreement with them. As it had in the previous three years, Russia failed to bring the government and the opposition to the peace table. Meanwhile, continued instability provided Russia the pretext for maintaining substantial "peacekeeping" forces in a key region of the former Soviet Union. The situation has led some outsiders to doubt the sincerity of Russia's efforts to bring peace to the area.

Tajikistan Economy After Independence

In the Soviet system, the Tajikistani economy was designed to produce cotton, aluminum, and a few other mineral products, including uranium and gold. Waged across a large portion of the republic, the civil war has caused great and lasting damage to the national economy. In 1994 damage to industry was estimated at about US$12 billion. Production levels in all industries had dropped an estimated 60 percent in 1994 compared with 1990. Many Germans and Russians, a high percentage of the country's key technical personnel, fled the civil war. The rate of inflation was steep in 1992-93. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

In 1996 Tajikistan's economy still was in desperate condition. It remains the least attractive of the former Soviet republics for foreign investment. Only the export of cotton and aluminum has brought significant profits. A joint cotton venture with the United Arab Emirates was scheduled to begin in mid-1996. In 1995 the Regar (Tursunzoda) aluminum plant produced 230,000 tons of primary aluminum, about half its capacity but enough to make aluminum the second-largest export product. As it was earlier in the 1990s, aluminum production has been limited by continued reliance on imported raw materials and energy. Tajikistani industry remains handicapped in general by the country's inability to pay foreign energy suppliers. *

Some movement toward economic reform was seen in 1996, although the unreliability of performance statistics makes evaluation difficult. Prime minister Yahyo Azimov, who took office in February 1996, has stressed the need for quick privatization and assistance from the IMF and the World Bank. In early 1996, controls were lifted on bread prices, a move that led to riots in some cities but that was considered a sign of commitment to market reform. The Azimov government set a 1996 budget deficit cap of 6 percent of GDP. In mid-1996 the World Bank was considering a loan of US$50 million, but the IMF withheld aid pending improvement of foreign exchange and other conditions. The privatization target for the end of 1996 was 50 percent of total enterprises, after only 8 percent of the country's enterprises were privatized in the first four years of independence. The Economist Intelligence Unit forecast additional GDP reductions of 12.4 percent in 1996 and 10 percent in 1997. *

Some improvements were made in 1995-96 in Tajikistan's woefully shabby infrastructure. The Daewoo firm of South Korea modernized the telephone system, and United States, German, and Turkish firms were scheduled to add new features. The Dushanbe Airport still needs modernization, although in the mid-1990s regular flights were established to Moscow, India, and some other points. *

Russians and Tajikistan Foreign Policy After Independence

Tajikistan's foreign policy increasingly has sought the economic and military security of close relations with Russia. In Tajikistan, the Russian minority enjoys a more liberal set of privileges than it finds in any other Central Asian republic. For example, Russians are allowed dual citizenship and Russian remains an official language. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

In April 1996, Rahmonov appointed the Russian mayor of Dushanbe, Yuriy Ponosov, as first deputy prime minister, continuing the policy of granting high government positions to ethnic Russians. Despite favorable treatment of the Russian minority, Russians have fled Tajikistan steadily since 1992. In early 1996, only about 80,000 of the 500,000 Russians identified in the 1989 Soviet census remained. Most have complained that Russian government authorities did not afford them adequate aid or security in Tajikistan, leaving them no choice but to leave. *

In 1996 and 1997, Tajikistan attempted to join regional organizations that would improve its economic position. The customs union of Belarus, Kazakstan, Kyrgzstan, and Russia considered Tajikistan for membership, but the Central Asian Economic Union of Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan refused Tajikistan's overtures. *

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2016

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