In a joint communique published yesterday, Presidents Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan and Imomali Rahmonov of Tajikistan "condemned political and religious extremism" and undertook to resist it. The communique followed Rahmonov’s one-day "working visit" to Tashkent, during which Karimov expressed concern over the United Tajik Opposition’s (UTO) intentions as it prepares to join a coalition government in Dushanbe. Karimov challenged the UTO to make clear whether or not it intends to strive for an Islamic state in Tajikistan. He obliquely linked the UTO to Wahhabism (see item on Wahhabism in Chechnya above) by charging that adherents of that fundamentalist sect in Uzbekistan had been trained in eastern Tajikistan.
The two presidents and senior security officials reviewed the internal situation in Tajikistan, the status of Russian troops there, the implementation of the political agreement between government and opposition, and the possible composition of the coalition government in the making. Karimov declared that "an Islamic state in Tajikistan would pose a danger to Uzbekistan" and that "we do not want an Islamic state as our neighbor." While Uzbekistan is officially one of some ten countries-guarantors of the inter-Tajik agreement, Karimov argued that "no country has a stronger interest than Uzbekistan has in a peaceful Tajikistan." (Russian agencies, January 4-5)
These remarks, as well as the agenda of the talks, suggest that Uzbekistan intends to play a significant role in shaping internal developments in Tajikistan. Compared to other Central Asian leaders, Karimov takes a more alarmist view of "Islamic fundamentalism," and has also expressed concern over the alleged intentions of Afghanistan’s Taliban to expand northward. Uzbekistan earlier supported the Tajik government militarily against the UTO, and last year expressed reservations over the Moscow agreement which provides for a Tajik coalition government. Official Dushanbe in turn charged that Uzbekistan was behind the abortive rebellion of pro-government hard-liners who rejected the Moscow agreement, and who were based in the ethnically Uzbek area of Tajikistan.
Uzbekistan possesses some important levers for influencing internal developments in Tajikistan. In his talks with Rahmonov, the Uzbek president agreed to defer the repayment of Dushanbe’s $180 million debt to Tashkent and pledged to continue Uzbek fuel and raw material deliveries. In addition to the anti-"fundamentalist" and economic cards, Tashkent will also probably call for the inclusion of ethnic Uzbeks in the Tajik coalition government. The emerging compromise between the government and the Islamic opposition has virtually shut out the country’s sizable Uzbek minority, whose elite forms a secular opposition to the Dushanbe government. Uzbekistan’s bid for influence in Tajikistan will probably irritate Moscow and Tehran, who have been acting jointly to shape Tajikistan’s future.
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