Uzbekistan’s apparent support for the recent, abortive rebellion in Tajikistan (see the Monitor, November 4,5,6,9,10) has backfired badly against Uzbek President Islam Karimov and his policies. The rebellion targeted not the Tajik government per se but its compromise with the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), a deal objectionable to Karimov on two grounds: because it both brings Islamists (however moderate) into government and excludes Tajikistan’s Uzbek-inhabited Leninabad region from power-sharing. Tajik President Imomali Rahmonov and his military, with UTO support, defeated the rebellion more handily than might have been expected. The government is now using the new situation as an opportunity to emancipate itself from Uzbekistan’s intrusive tutelage, which the Tajik government had long needed but also feared.
In two addresses to a special session of parliament, Rahmonov accused Karimov, by name, of having supported the rebellion in order to bring his Leninabad proteges into the Tajik government. Disputing the view that the rebellion had been an internal Tajik event, Rahmonov described it as external aggression against Tajikistan by Uzbekistan. Moreover, he warned, “we have 100 percent reliable evidence to inform all international organizations that the danger of aggression against Tajikistan from Uzbekistan has not passed.” Rahmonov revealed that he had long demanded, in vain, of Karimov to terminate the Tashkent asylum of Abdumalik Abdullajonov and other “rebel leaders” and to extradite them to Tajikistan. Terming the power-sharing claim on behalf of Leninabad “an attempt to set the Tajik and Uzbek peoples at loggerheads,” Rahmonov warned Karimov that “presidents come and go but peoples remain friends.” Apparently paraphrasing Stalin’s dictum that “Hitlers come and go,” Rahmonov was proffering, against Karimov, the ultimate insult in the Soviet and post-Soviet political parlance.
State Security Minister Saidamir Zuhurov and Prosecutor-General Salomiddin Sharapov in turn told the session of “irrefutable evidence” that the rebels had initially been trained on Uzbek-controlled Afghan territory, and later in special camps in Uzbekistan’s Jizzakh district near Tajikistan. According to these officials, captured rebels admitted that Uzbekistan hosted, trained and financed them. For several days running, Tajik television displayed captives who told that same story.
The parliament appealed to the UN, OSCE and other authorities to “give an assessment” of Uzbekistan’s intervention in Tajikistan. The Foreign Ministry detailed the charges in a special statement addressed to foreign governments and international organizations. Opposition chairman Saidabdullo Nuri seconded the charges in a parallel statement to the UN and the countries-guarantor of the inter-Tajik peace agreements. Noting that rebel groups had withdrawn “toward Uzbekistan,” Nuri warned that “they may again be brought up to full strength and at some point start another conflict.”
Uzbekistan’s response has been largely defensive and subdued. Karimov officially disavowed the rebellion in an early statement, after which he fell silent. Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov issued several blanket denials of the Tajik charges. In the process he openly questioned the Uzbek authorities’ ability to monitor the border with Tajikistan. The statements and counterstatements would seem to suggest either that Uzbekistan’s military and security services are inadequate to their task, or that the autocrat Karimov does not fully control them. According to unconfirmed reports, Uzbekistan allowed–or tolerated–a column of Tajik government troops to pass through Uzbek territory in an enveloping operation against the rebels.
Significantly, Komilov asserted in his several statements that civil peace in Tajikistan will remain elusive unless “all political and social forces” are included in the power-sharing negotiations. He even noted–accurately–that the rebels had encountered no local resistance in marching through Leninabad region and seizing its capital Hujand before being overcome by troops from outside the region. These remarks suggest that Uzbekistan will, after some decent interval, probably continue to call for including Leninabad region representatives in the Tajik government. Uzbekistan has all along hoped through this tactic to increase the clout it already possessed in Tajikistan. That clout seems to have evaporated after the rebellion’s fiasco (Radio Dushanbe, Itar-Tass and Russian agencies, November 12-16).–VS
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