Recent days have seen several developments that illustrate the difficulties still besetting the peace process in Tajikistan as well as the increasingly important role that Uzbekistan is playing in it. First, Tajik prime minister Yakhyo Azimov, United Tajik Opposition (UTO) leader Saidabdullo Nuri, and other top officials met with regional activists in the Garm district on October 31 as part of an effort to bring them into the peace negotiations. Second, repatriation of refugees began this week, as nearly 1,000 Tajik refugees from the Sakhi camp in northern Afghanistan crossed the Amu Darya into the Termez region of Uzbekistan, marking the first leg of their journey back to Tajikistan. Finally, beginning on the night of October 27, intermittent firefights occurred along the Uzbek-Tajik border, resulting in several Tajik casualties. Tajik officials claim that their own military forces are fighting others under the command of the rebel Col. Mahmud Hudoiberdiev, and Gafar Mirzoev, the Head of the Tajik Presidential Guard, has charged that Uzbekistan is backing Hudoiberdiev’s forces. That charge was vehemently denied by Uzbek officials. (Tajik and Russian agencies, October 30-31)
The regional meeting in Garm suggests that the Tajik government still faces the task of consolidating support for the National Reconciliation Committee (NRC). Indeed, on the same day as the meeting, officials from the Islamic Movement of Tajikistan chided the government for not moving fast enough to implement the peace process and for failing to firm up the provisions needed for the return of UTO deputy leader Ali Akbar Turajonzoda. (Tajik radio, October 31) The refugee repatriation is also not without problems. The procedures for returning approximately 6,000 to 7,000 refugees currently living in the Sakhi camp located east of Mazar-I Sharif are the result of an October 20 meeting in Termez that included Uzbek, Tajik, Afghan, and United Nations representatives. It remains unclear whether the government will be able to provide food and financial support for four months, as was stipulated in the agreement. The terms for repatriating individuals who fought with the UTO have also not yet been fully determined. Although Government sources say that a cross-department commission to regulate refugee migration will be established, its mandate and level of financial support remains uncertain.
Further complicating the situation is the violence that took place along the Uzbek-Tajik border not far from where the refugees are to pass. Security and Foreign Ministry representatives from both Uzbekistan and Tajikistan met in Termez on October 28, where they discussed and signed an agreement on mutual cooperation in border security. At an October 30 press conference, Igor Sattarov, the head of the Information Department of the Tajik Ministry of Foreign affairs, noted that the accord includes the coordination of security measures, information gathering, and, if necessary, the "exchange of support." Thus, while on one level some in the Tajik government are concerned over possible Uzbek involvement in Tajik internal affairs, on another, it is evident that they also recognize the need to work with their neighbor to the west. Uzbek president Islam Karimov, meanwhile, has reiterated his pledge that Uzbeks will never fight Tajiks. But the ability of his country to influence the politics of Tajikistan continues to increase.
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