On July 13, a panel of the Supreme Court of Tajikistan sentenced two Dushanbe Islamic Institute students to death for having firebombed a Korean-sponsored Christian missionary church in Dushanbe. Ten church members were killed and more than thirty were injured in that attack last October. The court cited “religious fanaticism” as the motive. The two students, aged 22 and 25, were also found guilty of having firebombed a Dushanbe store, the merchandise of which had offended their beliefs. The families and defense counsel maintain that the two were tortured into confessing.
On July 14, another panel of the Supreme Court sentenced two men to death for a car bomb attack on Mahmadsaid Ubaidulloev, mayor of Dushanbe and chairman of the upper house of Tajikistan’s parliament. The attack last February narrowly missed Ubaidulloev, but killed Deputy State Security Minister Shamsullo Jobirov. The authorities describe the two sentenced men as members of the former United Tajik Opposition (UTO), apparently to embarrass its successor, the Islamic Rebirth Party (IRP). The two men are natives of Vanj in eastern Tajikistan, the UTO’s stronghold, where support for the IRP remains high. Vanj residents have taken to the streets demanding the release of the two sentenced men.
The case reflects the regional tensions that triggered the civil war and that vitiate the postwar dispensation. Vanj lies in a part of the country–its center and east–that has to all intents and purposes been excluded from governance by the southern, “Kulob” clan, in power since 1992 in Dushanbe. Ubaidulloev is a key exponent of that clan. As first deputy prime minister until last year, Ubaidulloev supervised the army, security services and law enforcement system, and is believed to retain substantial influence in that sphere. His informal power is said to exceed even that entailed in his two current official posts.
On July 17, President Imomali Rahmonov’s foreign policy adviser Karim Yuldashev was assassinated outside his home in Dushanbe in broad daylight by three unidentified gunmen. Yuldashev, aged 60, had served since 1992 on Rahmonov’s senior staff. The presidential office describes the attack as a “terrorist act”–a term usually reserved for the former UTO’s supporters, and meant to increase the pressure on the IRP.
Government troops, meanwhile, continue the “antiterrorism” operation against the armed detachment of Rahmon Sanginov and Mansur Muakkalov, ex-UTO field commanders who are sympathetic but insubordinate to the IRP. Launched on June 22 with artillery, armor and aviation support, the operation has pushed the Sanginov-Muakkalov group from the eastern outskirts of Dushanbe to approximately thirty kilometers east of the capital. Some 3,000 Internal Affairs Ministry troops are continuing the operation in hilly terrain. On July 15 the authorities issued an updated body count of forty-five rebels killed, but implausibly left the casualty figure for government troops at nine killed, unchanged since June 26, and claimed that the “terrorist group” had been liquidated–a claim that the government had already made on June 26 and July 7, only to be disproved by the continued fighting.
Meanwhile, on the Tajik-Afghan border, Russian border troops reported seizing on July 15 a consignment of more than two tons of raw opium from northern Afghan smugglers en route to Tajikistan. Three aspects of this incident are striking. First, it is officially described as the largest drug consignment ever seized “on any CIS border.” Second, the raw opium came from the northern Afghan area opposite Tajikistan, controlled by Russian-backed, anti-Taliban forces, where poppy cultivation has increased after the Talibs suppressed it in their territory. And, third, the massive smuggling of raw opium across that border, as recently reported, indirectly confirms the information about heroin-making laboratories thriving in Tajikistan (Asia-Plus, July 13; Dushanbe Radio, Itar-Tass, July 13-15; Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Mashhad), July 15; AFP, July 16; Keston News Service, AP, July 17; see the Monitor, February 9, March 12, June 13, 26, July 6, 13).
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