President Imomali Rahmonov and United Tajik Opposition (UTO) Chairman Saidabdullo Nuri held yesterday yet another fruitless negotiation on the allotment of government posts to the UTO. Under peace accords signed last June and July, UTO is entitled to a share of 30 percent of government posts at the central and local levels. The current rulers, mostly from the Kulob clan, are to retain 70 percent of the posts, excluding other opposition organizations — notably the National Revival Bloc — from power-sharing.
The agreement, however, has not been implemented because Rahmonov and his supporters want the UTO to first dissolve its guerrilla units into the regime’s forces — before UTO leaders accede to government posts and before constitutional arrangements on power-sharing are put in place. On February 10, the government announced that it has prepared accommodations for 1,350 opposition fighters in Lenin and Kofarnikhon districts, where opposition forces have long been entrenched on the eastern approaches to Dushanbe. According to government officials, half those fighters are to be disarmed and demobilized. The other half are to be enrolled in government forces. The officials admitted that they want to begin the process of disarming the opposition precisely in areas close to Dushanbe in order to "stabilize" the government’s position. At the same time, the government is stonewalling on its commitment to allow a 500-strong opposition unit to return to Tajikistan from Afghanistan. (Russian and Western agencies, February 8 through 11)
These developments point to two traps that lay open before the UTO. The first is disarmament before power-sharing. This sequence would allow the government to both deal with the UTO from a position of unmatched strength and impose its own terms on the eventual settlement of the civil conflict.
The other trap lies in limited political concessions to the UTO alone — which render the latter dependent on the Kulob clan and exclude the National Revival Bloc (representing the secular opposition to that clan). While UTO represents the underpopulated and underdeveloped eastern regions, NRB represents the country’s north — the most developed and most populous region by far, and traditionally the source of the republic’s leadership personnel. UTO had sought last year to include the NRB in the power-sharing arrangements, but Rahmonov and the Kulob clan adamantly refused. NRB leaders have the support of Uzbekistan, which opposes Russian influence in the region.
A political settlement would be inherently unstable if it were to confirm the current rulers’ predominance, coopt a weakened and dependent UTO, and alienate the country’s northern center of gravity. Such an outcome, moreover, could ensure the continuation of Russia’s political influence and military presence in Tajikistan.
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