On July 31, the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) is scheduled to complete its unilateral disarmament, officially described as “integration” of UTO’s guerrillas into government forces. The government-opposition joint Attestation Committee has registered some 6,000 UTO guerrillas, approximately 4,500 of whom have opted on an individual basis for service with government forces, which are in turn subject to Russian control. On August 1, the UTO is scheduled to officially announce–in effect, to issue a guarantee–that it no longer has any armed detachments at its disposal. In return, the government will take steps to lift the ban on the opposition parties and their press. The government had imposed that ban in 1993 after winning the first stage of the civil war with Russian support. The 1997 Moscow peace agreements envisaged a quid-pro-quo whereby the UTO would give up its military capabilities in return for political guarantees, such as free operation of political parties, powersharing and fair elections.
That reciprocity, however, has not been observed. The opposition is about to give up its military leverage in return, essentially, for promises, and despite the government’s backtracking on some of those pledges. The UTO has been denied the defense minister’s post; is excluded from any real role in shaping government policy, despite nominally heading several ministries; is still a long way from obtaining its due quota of 35 percent of district and municipal government posts; is only entitled to 25 percent of the seats on the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) and the local commissions, and has not been allotted that quota either. UTO leaders are concerned that the government is stacking the CEC and local commissions in order to predetermine the outcome of the upcoming general elections. The UTO yesterday appealed to the Contact Group–which is made up of the UN and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe envoys and those of the countries guarantor to the 1997 agreements–to “pay serious attention” to this issue ahead of the elections.
The government-controlled CEC is now completing preparations for a national referendum to be held in September on amendments to the constitution. The amendment’s content was approved last week after lengthy bargaining between the government and UTO. The changes will extend the term and scope of President Imomali Rahmonov’s powers; enable religious parties–that is, the UTO’s Islamic Renaissance Movement–to exist legally; turn the parliament into a full-time legislative body–as distinct from the existing, Soviet-type, part-time parliament–and create a Chamber of the Regions in the role of upper house. This latter change favors mainly the UTO, whose strongholds are in large but sparsely populated regions of a distinct ethnic, linguistic and religious makeup. But the same change also works in favor of Rahmonov’s Kulob district, helping it to offset the weight of the rival and far more populous Leninabad region.
In Leninabad, five criminal trials have begun against a total of 160 supporters of the rebel ex-Colonel Mahmud Hudoberdiev, and two trials against another sixty-six supporters are about to begin. The charges include terrorism, deliberate murders, treason and involvement in a coup d’etat, all stemming from the defendants’ participation in or cooperation with Hudoberdiev’s November 1998 attempt to seize that region. Politically marginalized and disenfranchised by Dushanbe, the Leninabad region has proven receptive to the appeal of Hudoberdiev–an ethnic Uzbek native to that region–and open to the influence of neighboring Uzbekistan.
Tashkent also seeks to extend its reach further afield into Tajikistan. This week, Uzbekistan lodged the strongest in a series of complaints against the presence of two groups of Islamic fundamentalist fugitives from Uzbekistan in the mountains of central Tajikistan–a territory largely under UTO’s control. One Uzbek group, at least 1,000-strong and composed largely of young males, has been observed conducting paramilitary practice. The other group, 150-strong and armed, is headed by Juma Namangani, a prominent Islamic militant from Uzbekistan, who is wanted on terrorism charges stemming from the December 1997 series of assassinations in that country. Tashkent is pressuring Dushanbe, which is in turn pressuring the UTO, to apprehend and deliver that group. Both Dushanbe and UTO are, however, interested in a solution that would minimize Tashkent’s opportunities to meddle with Tajikistan under the guise of combating terrorism.
It is, however, the approximately 15,000-strong Russian military presence that clearly limits Tajikistan’s sovereignty. Lieutenant-General Vladimir Chilindin, commander of Russian Army troops in Tajikistan, in a July 27 interview provided an encyclopedic list of rationales for an open-ended occupation. The Russian soldiers are indispensable to the country, Chilindin asserted: they “help in the peaceful resolution of all issues through political methods, dispense humanitarian aid to the population, monitor the fulfillment of inter-Tajik agreements, contribute to the observance of human rights, help in de-mining the territory, escort refugees, and airlift food supplies to the otherwise inaccessible Badahshon region”–for which service the Tajiks are charged 7,000 rubles per flight hour, Chilindin added. The general thus described the Russian military’s mission in Tajikistan as political and social work. He skirted over the strategic considerations which recently led the Russian side to arm-twist Tajikistan into granting long-term basing rights to the Russian troops–a move which dropped the CIS guise under which the Russian troops had hitherto operated in the country (Itar-Tass, Radio Dushanbe, Asia-Plus-Blitz, July 26-29; see the Monitor, April 21, and Fortnight in Review, April 23).
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