TAJIKISTAN UNDER EMOMALII RAHMON

EMOMALII RAHMON

Emomalii Rahmon (Imam Ali Rakhmanov) has been president of Tajikistan since 1992, one year after Tajikistan became independent. A veteran of the old Soviet system, he was the undistinguished former chairman of a Soviet collective farm when Tajikistan became independent and rose to power when powerful warlords picked him as their front man. He took office in 1992 when the Tajikistan civil war began and has held on to power by having good relations with warlords and militias.

Rahmon was initially regarded as a hardline Communist. He was chosen to replace the hapless president Iskandarov and came to power with the help of regional warlords, particularly the convicted killer Sangak Safarov, around the time that civil war broke out in 1992. Safarov, who had spent 23 years in jail on various charges, including homicide, was very influential in Kulob oblast. In the Tajik civil war he launched an ethnic cleansing campaign directed at anyone from the Garm or Kurgan Tyube valleys. Rahmon emerged as an independent force when Safarov, was murdered.

Rahmon has been the leader of Tajikistan for more than 20 years. He represents the Kulyabs from the southern Kulyab province. Abdulladjanov, a former ally and member of the ruling elite in Khujandi (Khodzheni), from a powerful northern region, represents the northerners. Rahmon has proved his skill at staying in power over the past two decades as he slowly marginalised or eliminated his former allies while also dealing with the opposition.

Emomali Rahmon’s Life

Rahmon was born as Emomali Sharipovich Rahmonov to a peasant family on October 5, 1952 (age 63) in Danghara, Kulob Oblast (present-day Khatlon province) in the Tajik SSR, Soviet Union. The Russian ending "-ov" was added to the first name of the father of Central Asian men in the 19th century to create surnames reflecting the influence of the Russian Empire. He is married to Azizmo Asadullayeva. They have seven daughters and two sons. In 2010, Rustam Emomali, Rahmon's 23-year-old son, made his first foray into politics by standing for a seat in the Dushanbe city council. Frequently spotted at state events, Rustam is viewed by some as a potential presidential successor. [Source: Wikipedia +, Associated Press]

As an apparatchik rising through the nomenklatura, his original power base was as chairman of the collective state farm of his native Danghara. From 1971 to 1974 he served in the Soviet Armed Forces. In 1982, he graduated from the Tajik State National University with a bachelor's degree in Economics. From 1976 to 1988, he served as Chairman of the Union Committee of the collective farm in Danghara. +

Rahmon is a Sunni Muslim and performed the hajj in March 1997. In March 2007, Rahmonov changed his forename to Emomali and surname to Rahmon after a decree banned Slavic names endings and other Soviet-era practices. He urged other Tajiks to follow his example and return to their cultural and national roots. +

Emomali Rahmon Becomes Leader During the Tajik Civil War

Rahmon became de facto head of government in 1992 as speaker of parliament at the outset of a bloody civil war when his predecessors had resigned in an attempt to quell the violence and forces allied with him captured Dushanbe from Islamic insurgents. He held on to power as the speaker of the parliament after his party won elections in November 1992 in which the opposition did not participate.

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “On 10 November, acting president Iskandarov, the government and the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet submitted a joint resignation. The next session of the Supreme Soviet was held in the northern city of Khujand, far from the violence and chaos of the south. The sixteenth session, aided by the presence of 24 main field commanders from all sides, worked out a new configuration of elite compromise in the country: 1) the Leninobodis agreed to sacrifice Rahmon Nabiyev, whose resignation was confirmed by the parliament; 2) the institution of the presidency was abolished; 3) Emomali Rahmonov, a forty-year-old people’s deputy from Kulob, was elected as the chairman of the Supreme Soviet; 4) Abdumalik Abdullojonov retained the premiership; 5) in the newly appointed Council of Ministers only one person represented Gharm; others were from Kulob, Leninobod and Hisor; 6) the Kulob and Qurghonteppa oblasts were merged again into the unified Khatlon oblast. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ><]

“Emomali Rahmon (then known as Rahmonov), the leader of Kulob Province, was elected on a vote of 186 to eleven. Rahmon, who had only recently ascended to the top leadership position in Kulob after Sangak Safarov had executed the incumbent, was widely seen as being Safarov’s client and as a weak leader put in place by far more powerful militia commanders in the background. ><

Rahmon as President

Rakhmon has run Tajikistan with a heavy hand since 1992 but is still struggling to provide basic goods and services to its people. His critics claim he heads a one man regime and the power-sharing system he has presided over is just a facade. Behind the scenes representatives are intimidated and the media is afraid to challenge him. During the Tajikistan civil war Rahmon ran a hard-line Communist government propped up by the Russian army.

Rahmon has enjoyed high approval ratings. His supporters have given him credit for holding together the peace, making sure each faction gets a piece of the pie and maintaining order. He has fired officials within his government, accused of corruption, to placate the opposition. Rahmon has called for closer ties with other Muslim nations in the region, notably the Persian-speaking nations of Iran and Afghanistan.

The Tajikistan government was given some credit for allowing Islamists and Communists to occupy seats in the parliament and allowing market economics to take hold. Ahmed Rashid, the author of a book on the Taliban and “Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia,” wrote in the International Herald Tribune: “there is still some restrictions on political freedom in Tajikistan, but compared with its Central Asian neighbors it is providing a model of political maturity.”

While the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) remained in the government there was a degree of stability. There were worries that if they left all hell would break lose again. Efforts to get militiamen to turn in their weapons was slow but local militias were steadily absorbed into the army. The Islamic opposition was still participanting in the government in 2002, five years after the peace accord was signed. It was the only recognized Islamic opposition in Central Asia. Many in Tajikistan believed that the opposition was simply bought off with jobs and didn’t hold any power in the government.

Problems for Rahmon

Foreign aid that was promised after the end of the civil war was slow in arriving or never materialized at all. Although Rahmon has discouraged anything that resembles a personality cult and said he was committed to democratic reforms his picture hangs on the walls of most official offices. The pace of reforms has been slow, the UTO repeatedly threatened to pull out of the coalition.

After an assassination attempt on Rahmon in 1997, state security services allegedly conducted sweeping arrests amid allegations of gross abuses. Despite being Central Asia's poorest country, in a Wikileaks cable, an ambassador said: "Rahmon and his family control the country's major businesses, including the largest bank, and they play hardball to protect their business interests, no matter the cost to the economy writ large." Human rights abuses by the Rahmon government listed in a 2010 report from the U.S. State Department included restricted political freedoms; torture and abuse by security forces; denial of right to fair trial; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, association, and religion; corruption, which hampered democratic and social reform; violence and discrimination against women; arbitrary arrest; and trafficking in persons. [Source: Joshua Norman, CBS News, June 19, 2011 <>]

Islamic militants based in Afghanistan continue to cause trouble. A report from the International Crisis Group, a conflict-monitoring NGO, stated: "Tajikistan is increasingly incapable of providing basic services to its population. Corruption remains at a breathtaking level; and recent unsuccessful military operations in the east of the country against warlords and a small group of young insurgents underline its inability to handle even a modest security threat.” Rahmon “did a deal to bring a temporary peace to the area” but “he may soon face a tougher challenge from the resurgent Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), a group with a vision of an Islamist caliphate that is fighting in Afghanistan alongside the Taliban. Tajikistan must hope it remains preoccupied there". [Source: Joshua Norman, CBS News, June 19, 2011]

Rahmon, the Tajik Civil War, Afghanistan and Russia

In the mid-1990s, rebel forces gained control of large parts of eastern Tajikistan, even though the government had Russian troops at its disposal. After sporadic cease- fires and negotiations, in 1997 the Rahmon government signed a peace accord with the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), a coalition of Islamic leaders and secular politicians. In the years that followed, insurgent groups of the UTO remained active in some parts of the country, and a series of assassinations resulted. In 1999 the UTO responded to the addition of more UTO representatives in government positions by disbanding its armed forces, and the UTO fighting force was integrated into the armed forces of Tajikistan. See Separate Articles on the Tajikistan Civil War.

Life in Tajikistan went on pretty much as usual after the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2002 except there were are lot more foreigners running around in Dushanbe. Lots of journalist covering the early stages of the war were based in Dushanbe. Drivers earned up to $300 a day, a huge sum in Tajikistan, ferrying them to the border. Some bombs were dropped in Afghanistan close to the Tajikistan border. Tajik scientist predicted that if the United States used nuclear weapons in Afghanistan it could have an adverse effect on the climate of Tajikistan.

In June 2004, Tajikistan signed an agreement with Russia calling for a permanent Russian military base in Tajikistan, as well as increased Russian investment in Tajikistan’s economy. In the parliamentary elections of 2005, international monitors again questioned the one-sided victory of the ruling party. The leaders of two opposition parties were arrested prior to those elections. In 2006 Rahmon removed several provincial governors in order to strengthen his base for the presidential election, which he won easily in November. A series of border incidents and mutual accusations kept tensions with neighboring Uzbekistan at a high level in 2006. Tajikistan continued to grow more dependent on Russia economically, as a series of major Russian investments occurred or were planned in 2006. [Source: Library of Congress, January 2007 **]

Islamic Party Becomes Part of Tajikistan Government

The Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) became part of the Tajikistan government as part of the power-sharing deal that was part of the Tajik Peace Accord of June 1997. Radio Free Europe reported: “That Islam will play a role in the politics of Central Asia is undeniable, and the 1997 peace agreement in Tajikistan was an experiment that proved to some extent that Islam could have a political role in a secular state. Under that agreement the United Tajik Opposition, an interesting mixture of the IRPT, and democratic and nationalist groups, received 30 percent of the positions in government at all levels, from local to ministerial. [Source: Radio Free Europe, March 5, 2015 ==]

“The IRPT became and remains the only Islamic party registered in all of Central Asia. The formation of such a government was a complicated and tense process, but it took root; and by the time the Taliban was chased from power in neighboring Afghanistan in late 2001, there were some who suggested the Tajik model of government might well suit Afghanistan. For the Muslims of Tajikistan, and to some extent the rest of Central Asia, who were pious but interested in politics, it was a perceived opportunity for an Islamic point of view to find a legitimate place in governance. The Muslims who fought with weapons in hand during the civil war were able to shift their efforts to battles in local and regional councils and parliament. ==

“People such as Said Abdullo Nuri, the original IRPT leader, his deputy Hoja Akbar Turajonzoda, and the capable wartime field commander Mirzo Ziyoyev all found places in the government. And they were far more "radical" than the current IRPT leadership. The idea never really caught on in neighboring Central Asian states. The current state of Uzbek-Tajik ties really dates back to the Tajik peace deal, since Uzbek President Islam Karimov was absolutely against the Tajik government allowing the IRPT to share power and furious when the peace agreement was signed. But the Tajik government of former military adversaries, Islamic and secular, was able to work together and pull the country out of the catastrophic situation the country was in when the war ended. Tajikistan is not a rich country, it probably never will be, but it is stable and has been for more than a decade and a half. ==

WikiLeaks Cables on Rahmon’s Tajikistan

A series of US diplomatic dispatches released by WikiLeaks in 2010 described Tajikistan — Central Asia's poorest state — as losing the battle against the flow of drugs from neighbouring Afghanistan and being characterised by "cronyism and corruption" emanating from the president downwards.. The cables noted that Tajikistan suffers from "earthquakes, floods, droughts, locusts and extreme weather" and is situated next to "obstructive Uzbekistan" and "unstable Afghanistan" in the the "rough, remote" Pamir mountains next to western China. [Source: Luke Harding, The Guardian, December 12, 2010 +++]

A secret cable dated 16 February 2010, from the US embassy in Dushanbe, describes how Rahmon runs the Tajikistan economy for his own personal profit: "From the president down to the policeman on the street, government is characterized by cronyism and corruption...Rahmon and his family control the country's major businesses, including the largest bank, and they play hardball to protect their business interests, no matter the cost to the economy writ large. As one foreign ambassador summed up, President Rahmon prefers to control 90 percent of a ten-dollar pie, rather than 30 percent of a hundred-dollar pie." +++

Tajikistan's sole industrial exports are aluminium and hydroelectricity. But most of the revenues from the "technically state-owned Tajik Aluminium Company (Talco) end up in a secretive offshore company controlled by the president," the cable states, adding "The state budget sees little of the income." +++

Attempts to stop the traffic of Afghan heroin to Europe and to Russia have yielded few results, the cables say. In 2009, Dushanbe intercepted only 5 percent of the 40 tonnes of "Afghan opiates" smuggled to Russia, the cable says, noting: "Corruption is a major problem." In addition, Tajikistan's "largely conscript" border guards are "poorly trained, poorly paid, under-equipped and often under-fed". +++

Luke Harding wrote in The Guardian, “In an entertaining cable the US ambassador in Tajikistan Richard E Hoagland describes a meeting with President Rahmon soon after he kicked the Russians out. Rahmon explained that Moscow had been using the border guards to orchestrate a coup against him. Chucking away his notes, the president said the Russian special services were bent on "causing trouble in Tajikistan". "It's coming from the Kremlin, and some of it comes from the top. We can never forget that Putin himself is a 'chekist' (career intelligence officer) at heart," the president said. +++

“During the two-and-a-half hour meeting, the president expressed gratitude to the US, arguing that it was important for the "international community to moderate what he described as Russia's 'worst instincts'." The cables also reveal that Tajikistan agreed to host a US military base on its territory – in defiance of the Kremlin, which regards former Soviet central Asia as a zone of "privileged interest" and is determined to keep Washington out.

Elections and Jailed and Dead Ministers Under Rahmon

Rahmon easily won re-election in the presidential election of 1999, and the parliamentary elections of 2000 gave Rahmon’s party a strong majority. In both instances, some opposition candidates were barred. In the wake of this success, Rahmon restructured the government in ways that further strengthened his power. In 2003 a controversial referendum approved constitutional amendments that theoretically would allow Rahmon to remain in power until 2020. [Source: Library of Congress, January 2007 **]

The European Union and the United States have not recognized a single election in Tajikistan as free and fair. In Presidential elections in November 1994, Rahmon won 60 percent of the vote and was elected to a five year term, defeating a single challenger, Abdulmalik Abdulladjanov, in an election with 90 percent voter participation. In the presidential elections in November 1999, Rahmon was the only candidate. He won with 97 percent of the vote. Because of constitutional changes he was elected to a seven year term. In 2006, he won a third term in office in an election that was described as neither free nor fair. Lower and upper house parliamentary elections were held in March 2000. They were reasonably free and fair.

In June 2003, a referendum that allows the president to serve two terms instead one was overwhelmingly approved by a majority of voters (93 percent of voters voted in favor of the referendum and the turn out was 96 percent according to the Tajikistan government). The vote allowed Rahmon to stay in office until 2020 because the new rules had precedence of over the old rules and Rahmon started from zero with the presidential elections in 2006.

In the parliamentary elections in 2005, Rahmon’s National Democratic party won easily with 80 percent of the vote amidst allegation of vote rigging. All four opposition parties and one pro-government party accused authorities of intimidating voters, allowing ballot stuffing and multiple voting and called for the election results to be rescinded and new elections to be held. The election was monitored by 150 observers from the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) who accused authorities of controlling the campaign and interfering with the independent media.

Otokhon Latifi, an opposition figure and key peace opponent, was gunned down in September 1998. Deputy Interior Minister Khabib Sanginov, his driver and two bodyguards were gunned down in a car by unidentified gunmen dressed in track suits in a suburb of Dushanbe. The killing was believed to be crime related rather than politics related. Sanginov had recently been placed in charge of a campaign against organized crime.

Rahmon’s government jailed several former loyalists and opposition leaders. In 2005, a prominent politician was sentenced to more than 20 years in prison. Makhamadruzi Iskandarov, an opposition leader wanted on terrorism charges and for forming an illegal armed groups, disappeared from a Moscow suburb and showed up in Tajikistan, where he was placed on trial. Iskandarov claimed he was kidnaped and was brought from Russia to Tajikistan after an extradition request was denied. Russia claims it has the same right to bring Iskandarov to Tajikistan as the CIA has to bring terrorists suspects to countries in Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, where torture is practiced,

Tajikistan Presidential Elections in 2006

On Tajikistan’s presidential elections in 2006, the BBC reported: “Tajik President Emomali Rahmon has won a third term in office, in an election which international observers say was neither free nor fair. The election commission said Mr Rahmon won more than 76 percent of the vote, with his closest rival winning just 7 percent. The country's three main opposition parties had either boycotted the vote or refused to field candidates. But Mr Rahmon has rebuffed criticism over the poll. He told reporters that his country had a completely different culture to that of the West, and said this difference had to be taken into account. "But we are developing," he said. "We have started this process, and naturally it is not without problems." [Source: BBC, November 7, 2006 <=>]

“Mr Rahmon's win was largely considered a foregone conclusion. No opponents directly criticised the 54-year-old leader during campaigning, fuelling suspicions that at least some of them were chosen by the authorities. Western observers told Reuters news agency that they had noted a number of irregularities in Monday's poll, including ballot stuffing and identical signatures on some ballot papers. Different sources have given Mr Rahmon between 76 percent and 79 percent of the vote - which is down from the previous election in 1999, when he won 96 percent of the vote. "The results were probably falsified to show progress for democracy," a Western diplomat told Reuters. <=>

“But despite this, he undeniably retains a lot of public support. Tajikistan is still very poor, but many people remain thankful they no longer have to face the civil war of the 1990s, which killed more than 50,000 and caused more than 10 percent of the population to flee the country. "Rahmon has done so much to make things better," said 43-year-old fruit seller Sakhobat before the poll. "We had a war here and it ruined everything," she told the Associated Press. "We're still poor, but if you want to work, you can find something to do." <=>

Tajikistan Parliamentary Elections in 2010

Reporting the Tajikistan town of Kurganteppa after the 2010 parliamentary elections took place, Peter Leonard of Associated Press wrote: “Huge posters of Tajikistan's president adorn the facade of the main polling station in this provincial town, as if to remind voters that he will remain in charge regardless of the outcome of parliamentary election. An ascendant Islamic party may grab a handful of extra seats. But the main government-backed party is set to coast to the easiest of victories, and President Emomali Rahmon's grip on power is to remain as strong as ever. Official turnout was healthy across this ruggedly mountainous country, lackluster media coverage ahead of the vote and limited public awareness of the candidates running. The Central Elections Commission said that 85 percent of the country's 3.5 million eligible voters had cast ballots. Warning about the potential for fraud, opposition parties complained that their observers were prevented from fully monitoring the vote. [Source: Peter Leonard, Associated Press, February 28, 2010 /*/]

The governing Rahmon-led People's Democratic Party, which now holds 52 of the 63 seats in parliament, is nonetheless expected to run away with the election. In Kurganteppa, a town of 85,000 people set in the lush Vakhsh valley just north of the border with Afghanistan, the local produce market swarmed with shoppers, and dozens of taxi drivers noisily jostled for customers in the main square. A brief stroll away, people were trickling in and out of the polling station midmorning. This town was one of the worst hit by the civil war, and the Islamic Revival Party is hoping it will be one of the main places it can make inroads.

During the war, Kurganteppa was a key stronghold for the loose coalition of Islamic fighters and nationalists that battled elements of the former Soviet elite, which included Rahmon. Yet even more so than in the capital, Rahmon's portraits are ubiquitous here, which has helped tip the balance toward his party. "It may not be the best party, but in our situation it is the only one that can do the job that needs to be done," said retiree Abdul Wakhidov.

The 11 seats in parliament not held by the governing party include two for the Islamic Revival Party, four for the government-supporting Communist Party and five by independents. The Islamic Revival Party predicts it will win at least 10 seats nationwide, if the voting is fair, although leader Muhiddin Kabiri said that reports are emerging of irregularities. "Our observers say ... they are not being permitted to take photographs or film the voting process," Kabiri said after voting in the capital, Dushanbe. Those grievances were echoed by the leader of the Social Democratic Party, one of the eight parties in the running. "There have been reported cases of vote observers' rights being curtailed," Rakhmatillo Zoyirov said.

The election campaign itself has been overshadowed in state media by a publicity drive encouraging people to buy shares in the ambitious Roghun hydroelectric plant, which the government hopes will allow the country to meet its own electricity needs and to export power to Afghanistan and Pakistan. In one 10-foot-wide (3-meter-wide) placard on the front of the polling station in Kurganteppa, Rahmon is pictured wearing a hardhat against a backdrop of the planned site for the plant and pointing into the distance. This rhetoric has paid dividends for the governing party. The People's Democratic Party "is our well-being, our future," said 59-year-old economist Alidzhon Khakimov as he cast his ballot in Dushanbe. "They are building the Roghun hydroelectric plant for us and will bring us to energy independence."

Even if the Islamic Revival Party gains a firmer foothold on the political scene, it may have to broaden its message if it wants to win wider acceptance among the secular-minded population. "If the party focuses on religion, its appeal will remain limited, but if it works more on its social and political platform, it could grow," said independent political analyst Parviz Mullojanov. In another sign that the current regime is planning for the future, Rahmon's 23-year-old son is making his first foray into politics by standing for a seat in the Dushanbe city council. Rustam Emomali, who has frequently been spotted at state events, is viewed by some as a potential presidential successor.

Tajikistan Presidential Elections in 2013

In November 2013, Rahmon has won another seven-year term in office, with 83.6 percent of the vote in a presidential election in which the voter turnout was nearly 87 percent. This term must be his last, according to the constitution.

The BBC reported: “The president, who has been in power for two decades, faced five challengers but the only genuine opposition candidate was barred from standing. "While quiet and peaceful, this was an election without a real choice," international observers said. In a statement the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said that the campaign lacked the political debate necessary for a competitive campaign environment. [Source: BBC, November 7, 2013 ^^]

“President Rahmon, 61, did not campaign actively. Instead, he relied on extensive media coverage of his visits around the country, which his opponents say was heavily biased in his favour. The opposition accuses Mr Rahmon - whose huge billboards are seen everywhere in the capital Dushanbe and other towns - of developing a personality cult. He denies the claim. The five other presidential candidates have refrained from publicly criticising Mr Rahmon. Human rights activists Oynihol Bobonazarova - widely seen as the only genuine opposition candidate - was banned from the polls. The electoral commission said earlier she had failed to collect the necessary 210,000 signatures of eligible voters to be officially registered. ^^

“OSCE staff who monitored the elections said they were marked by "a lack of genuine choice and meaningful pluralism". "Restrictive requirements, including the unreasonably large number of signatures potential candidates must gather to qualify, present significant obstacles and are at odds with OSCE commitments and other standards for democratic elections", an OSCE statement said. It added that the extensive state media coverage of Emomali Rahmon's activities had "provided him with a significant advantage". ^^

Despite the easy victory, critics say Mr Rahmon will face rising social tension in the country where some 50 percent of the population live in poverty. Almost half of the nation's GDP is earned by more than one million Tajik migrants working abroad, especially in Russia, Analysts say Tajikistan could also face further security challenges from Islamist groups in neighbouring Afghanistan after the planned pullout of the US-led forces.

Al Jazeera reported: The five candidates standing against Rahmon are virtual unknowns even inside the country. The potentially most significant rival candidate, female rights lawyer Oinikhol Bobonazarova of the moderate opposition Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan, was unable to stand after narrowly failing to muster the signatures required to register her candidacy.

Bobonazarova gathered only 202,000 of the 210,000 signatures required, which equates to five percent of the electorate, a shortfall her party blamed on harassment from local authorities on its activists during the signature campaign. Another main opposition party, the Social Democratic Party, said it was boycotting the elections due to "violations of the constitution, organised falsifications and a lack of democracy and transparency." [Source: Al Jazeera, November 6, 2013]

Repression of Islamic Practices Under Rahmon

In March 2015, Catherine Putz wrote in The Diplomat, “President Emomali Rahmon railed against women wearing black clothing–which he said was not traditionally Tajik. Rumors have circulated widely, thanks to state-controlled media–that prostitutes were donning hijabs in order to make more money. And the state announced last week that it would not permit those under the age of 35 to travel to Mecca on hajj this year. Couched in terms of practicality–Saudi Arabia lowered Tajikistan’s hajj quota–and deference for elders, the restriction nonetheless has upset some of Tajikistan’s devout. One man, a 31-year old petty trader from Dushanbe, interviewed by AFP said that “[e]veryday I pray to God that I might visit our sacred holy places. But now state officials have ruined my dreams.” [Source: Catherine Putz, The Diplomat, April 29, 2015 <=>]

“In the political realm, Islam has also suffered. In March flawed parliamentary elections saw the region’s only Islamist political party, the IRPT, swept entirely out of parliament for the first time since the end of the civil war in 1997. The IRPT maintains a secular political platform and in 2013 backed a secular, liberal, woman for president. Oinikhol Bobonazarova never made it to the actual election and recently spoke to IWPR about the arbitrary direction of recent lawmaking in the country. <=>

“Tajikistan, like its neighbors, has increasingly spoken out over the past few months about the looming threat of ISIS in the region. Although not all Central Asia analysts agree that Muslim radicalization is a serious and present danger, the governments of the region seem convinced. Numbers vary but the government of Tajikistan state estimates between 200 and 300 have gone to join ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Many, according to researchers, are recruited in Russia where they work as migrant laborers.” <=>

2015 Parliamentary Elections Spells Doom for Tajikistan’s Islamic Party

In parliamentary elections in Tajikistan in March, 2015, the ruling People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan won another overwhelming victory. Again there were also allegations the election was rigged. The most significant result was that the Islamic Renaissance Party failed to win a seat and took only 1.6 percent of the total vote.

Radio Free Europe reported: “Importantly for the future” the election “was a defeat for the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) and the unofficial end of the power-sharing deal that was part of the Tajik Peace Accord of June 1997. And that raises questions about the future of Islam in politics not only in Tajikistan but in all the former Soviet republics that now make up Central Asia. [Source: Radio Free Europe, March 5, 2015 ==]

“That Islam will play a role in the politics of Central Asia is undeniable, and the 1997 peace agreement in Tajikistan was an experiment that proved to some extent that Islam could have a political role in a secular state. Under that agreement the United Tajik Opposition, an interesting mixture of the IRPT, and democratic and nationalist groups, received 30 percent of the positions in government at all levels, from local to ministerial. ==

“The IRPT became and remains the only Islamic party registered in all of Central Asia. The IRPT had two of the 63 seats in parliament prior to the March 1 elections, nowhere near enough to influence the country's politics, but at least the party was represented in parliament. And having two seats preserved the IRPT's hope that it could win more seats in future elections despite the many obstacles the party has faced and seem to suddenly face every time there are elections. Current IRPT leader Muhiddin Kabiri told me one week ago that he thought his party could win five seats in these latest elections.

“The IRPT is the second-largest party in Tajikistan, so Kabiri's prediction was plausible even knowing the deck might be stacked against him, so to speak. Now the IRPT has no place in government; and for the roughly 44,000 registered members of the party and the many thousands more who support the IRPT, many under 30 years old, this is going to be a problem. Analysts have warned for years that by driving the opposition, both secular and religious, underground, Central Asian governments were creating radicalized groups. The lack of any voice whatsoever for the IRPT in government, after 18 years, is likely to come back to haunt the Tajik government one day.” ==

Security Agencies Hunt Former Islamic Opposition Fighters in Eastern Tajikistan

In the late 1990s, the extremist Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) was building bases in the mountains of Tajikistan and establishing a large-scale trade in narcotics from Afghanistan. In the early 2000s, the narcotics trade was an increasingly serious problem, even after the defeat of the IMU in Afghanistan in early 2002. [Source: Library of Congress, January 2007 **]

Islamic militants remain active in Tajikistan: In 2010, Alexander Sodiqov of the Jamestown Foundation wrote: On September 19, 2010, :23 soldiers were killed and 15 wounded as a convoy of military vehicles passing through the increasingly volatile Rasht valley in eastern Tajikistan was ambushed by “heavily armed gunmen.” Another eight soldiers died later of the wounds they sustained in the assault. The ambush became the deadliest in a series of recent security incidents in the country. It also highlighted the Rasht valley, an Islamic opposition stronghold during the Tajik civil war in 1992-1997, which has recently reemerged as a major security issue facing President Emomali Rahmon’s administration. [Source: Alexander Sodiqov, Jamestown Foundation, Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 175, September 29, 2010 ~~]

The Tajik defense ministry has blamed the assault on “Islamic militants” led by former United Tajik Opposition (UTO) rebels. UTO was a coalition of Islamic and democratic forces that fought against the government of President Rahmon in the civil war in Tajikistan. The next day after the brazen assault, in a televised appearance on Tajikistan’s major national television channel, an activist from the country’s Islamic Revival Party (IRPT), Husniddin Davlatov, asserted that his brother, Alovuddin, a former UTO field commander, carried out the attack on government forces. According to Husniddin, Alovuddin (also known as Ali Bedak) led a band of more than 100 militants, including Afghan, Pakistani, and Chechen mercenaries. In addition, he ran a “terrorist camp” in the area where “children and young people” learned the basics of “terrorist and subversive operations”. ~~

“On September 22, Tajik army units and law-enforcement agencies launched a large-scale security sweep targeting former UTO commanders in Rasht valley. Under what is widely seen as pressure from security agencies, mobile and landline telephone operators suspended their services in the area and a curfew was introduced in Rasht for the first time since the civil war.The next day (September 23), Tajikistan’s State Committee for National Security (GKNB) released a statement blaming the September 19 assault on three former UTO commanders: Mirzokhuja Ahmadov (aka Belgi), Abdullo Rahimov (aka Mullo Abdullo), and Alovuddin Davlatov. According to the statement, Ahmadov was at the head of the “terrorist group” that included the other two rebels. For a long time, he harbored Mullo Abdullo whom Tajik security services have hunted over the last two years in Rasht. GKNB claims that a large arsenal consisting of small arms and explosives was found in Ahmadov’s house as he escaped. In addition, national television channels showed a young person who had reportedly been trained in the “terrorist camp” organized by Ahmadov. ~~

“Mirzokhuja Ahmadov was probably the most prominent among the surviving Islamic opposition field commanders in Rasht valley. As part of the 1997 power sharing agreement, he was appointed head of the police organized-crime division in Rasht. In February 2008, Ahmadov was accused of killing special police unit (OMON) commander, Colonel Oleg Zaharchenko, who arrived in the area to arrest some police officers. Afterwards, Ahmadov met with President Rahmon, agreeing to resign from his post and opt for a peaceful life in exchange for the suspension of murder investigation. ~~

“When government dispatched additional army units to the valley this summer, reportedly in an attempt to capture Mullo Abdullo and his militants, Ahmadov warned security agencies against using that as a pretext for eliminating former opposition fighters. In July Ahmadov suggested that he and his supporters might opt for returning to violent resistance if they felt threatened by the government. He issued a similar warning as Tajik law-enforcement agencies began a major security sweep in the area following the escape of 25 militants from a prison in Dushanbe on August 22. President Rahmon then sent his defense and interior ministers and a deputy head of GKNB to meet Ahmadov and other key ex-opposition commanders in Rasht to assure them of their safety. ~~

“Although some reports have suggested that Ahmadov has been killed by government forces, the GKNB asserts that he is on the run. Meanwhile, on September 23, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) sent a video message to the Tajik service of Radio Liberty, claiming responsibility for the assault on September 19 and suggesting that it was retaliation for Tajikistan’s crackdown on Islam and its cooperation with US-led NATO troops in Afghanistan. The IMU’s claim of responsibility for the attack casts doubts upon the plausibility of the government’s assertion that former Islamic opposition rebels were behind the assault. Unless Tajik security agencies provide clear evidence that the three former field commanders carried out the deadly ambush and reconcile it with the IMU’s claims, many in the country and abroad will be tempted to argue that the incident was used by President Rahmon’s administration as a pretext to eliminate old rivals.” ~~

Fighting Between Islamists and Government Forces in 2012

In July 2012, news services reported that more than 40 gunmen and Tajikistan government troops were reported killed in one of the largest armed clashes in Tajikistan since the end the 1992-1997 civil war. The fighting broke out after the government deployed security troops to find a former warlord, Tolib Ayombekov, who was suspected of involvement in the stabbing death of Gen. Abdullo Nazarov of the Security Ministry. Nazarov's car was stopped by attackers near Khorog, the capital of the semi-autonomous republic of Nagorno-Badakhshan in the south of Tajikistan, officials said.[Source: July 24, 2012]

Ayombekov has been employed by the government since 1997 as a frontier guard unit commander near Khorog. "After fierce fighting during the day, our troops killed 30 gunmen and captured 40, eight of which are Afghan citizens," Nuridzhon Buriyev, a Tajikistan Security Ministry spokesman, said. "Unfortunately we lost 12 of our soldiers dead and 25 injured." Buriyev said the operation would continue but that "its active phase is over as the armed resistance was crushed." He said he didn't have information about the fate of Ayombekov.

The independent Tajik news group Asia-Plus reported that Ayombekov may have fled south to Afghanistan. Ayombekov is very influential and has a small army of several hundred men, said Nuriddin Karshiboyev, chairman of the National Assn. of Independent Media of Tajikistan. "Ayombekov and his men obviously thought that the murder of the security general was used as a pretext to purge the region of former field commanders, and refused to surrender," Karshiboyev said in a phone interview.

Informal political leaders of Nagorno-Badakhshan have been regularly accusing Tajikistan’s government of corruption, Asia-Plus reported. The leader of the Party of Islamic Revival of Tajikistan, Muhiddin Kabiri, said recently that "the Tajik society hoped that after peace and accord were established in the country ... a mutual trust would grow between political forces in the republic, but that didn't materialize," Asia-Plus reported.

The Russia-24 TV network called the action in southern Tajikistan a large-scale military operation and reported that government helicopters were hovering over Khorog all day Tuesday while residents built barricades in the streets. Tajikistan has played an important role in ferrying supplies for NATO into Afghanistan, its neighbor to the south.

Image Sources:

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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