Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 207

Tajik government forces gained the upper hand against former Colonel Mahmud Hudoberdiev’s rebels in Leninabad region over the weekend. Superior in numbers and firepower, the government troops yesterday reestablished control over the rebel stronghold Hujand (the country’s second-largest city), the nearby Chkalov military airport and the town of Aini (near the strategic Anzob pass and midway between Hujand and Dushanbe). According to official reports, the troops are currently mopping up rebel units which scattered in rural areas yesterday in the fifth day of fighting (see the Monitor, November 4-6).

Approximately 1,000 fighters of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), commanded by Mirzo Zio–now for the first time identified as a general–assisted the government forces. The UTO, currently in the process of joining a national unity government, regards Hudoberdiev on the basis of his record as an irreconcilable adversary of the compromise between government and opposition. Zio is the UTO’s candidate for the post of defense minister in that national unity government. Blocked by hardliners around President Imomali Rahmonov, Zio’s nomination now stands a better chance of success.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry yesterday rejected suppositions that Russia’s 201st division was assisting the government forces. Those suppositions had stemmed from the fact that some of the Tajik government troops were airlifted to Hujand, though Tajik forces have neither airlift capability nor combat aviation. Tajik Defense Minister Sherali Hairulloev may have spilled the beans, however, or some of them at least, by asserting that tactical aviation was “bombing and strafing” rebel positions. If so, that could only have been the 201st division’s tactical aviation, operating in a pattern familiar since 1995-96, when it supported government forces against the UTO in eastern Tajikistan.

The rebels apparently failed to rouse the northern clans and ethnic Uzbeks in Leninabad region against the central government, let alone in other regions, despite Hudoberdiev’s calls for regional power-sharing and his avoidance of any strictures against “Islamic fundamentalism.” Although Hudoberdiev distributed arms to the populace in Hujand, few residents seemed to join the rebels in combat. Nor was the ex-Colonel able to advance southward into the Tursunzoda district, that ethnic Uzbek stronghold recalcitrant to Dushanbe’s rule.

According to the authorities, political inspirers of the rebellion include former Prime Minister Abdumalik Abdullajonov and his brother Abdulgani Abdullajonov, a former mayor of Hujand. The Abdullajonovs and their supporters represent Leninabad’s traditional political elite–which used to control the entire country before being supplanted by the Kulob group around Rahmonov.

Meanwhile Dushanbe radio is accusing Uzbekistan and its President Islam Karimov of having organized–or at least condoned–the rebellion. The radio’s commentaries point out that Hudoberdiev had enjoyed sanctuary in Uzbekistan since 1997, invaded Leninabad region from the neighboring country, was well equipped with tanks and other combat hardware, and was able to draw on ethnic Uzbek fighters from Afghanistan long known to be armed and supplied by Uzbekistan. The same commentaries point out that Abdumalik Abdullajonov had been based in Tashkent for some time, though his latest whereabouts are not clear (Russian and Western agencies, Radio Dushanbe, November 6-8).–VS