Short-term stability at the cost of long-term peace
Tajikistan is a nation that is often overlooked within the realm of international relations and is largely categorized as just another “-Stan Country”. However, it is currently undergoing a large-scale attack against political Islam; and after nearly two decades, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the poorest nation in Central Asia is sliding back into civil war. With the collapse of the Soviet Union came an intense debate within Tajikistan about the economic and political future of the nation. On one side, the People’s Democratic Party advocated for political consistency and a secular system. The other contender was the United Tajik Opposition (or UTO), which favoured democratic reforms and islamic renewal within the nation. The two parties engaged in one of the bloodiest post-SSR conflicts, resulting in nearly 100,000 deaths. The civil war ended with the General Agreement on the Establishment of Peace and National Accord, which largely dictated the conflict management techniques that were to be implemented. The peace settlement’s primary accomplishments were the establishment of a required 30% quota of UTO members within governance and a rapid reintegration process.
The General Agreement is often contributed to the end of the Tajikistan civil war and is predominately held in high regard as a conflict management strategy. However, much of the success that can be attributed to the General Agreement can also be attributed to its current failures. At the time the peace agreement was being made, the Tajik state was undergoing a rapid privatization. Accordingly, by incentivizing elites of the conflict with previously state-owned assists, peace became more profitable than war and the reintegration process occurred quite quickly. However, this approach to conflict management has proven problematic for Tajikistan. By appeasing elites of the conflict, government offices have become synonymous with self-enrichment. Given this, the General Agreement as entrenched corruption into the government system. This is clearly seen today, as Tajikistan ranks within the bottom thirty on the Corruption Percentage Index of 2015. Additionally, it has become clear the the appeasement of elites did little in the way of persuading the general public. Though the peace settlement was signed in 1997, fighting in the periphery of the nation did not reduce until 2001 (coinciding with Operation Enduring Freedom, as it hindered the Taliban’s ability to fund the UTO). Thus, the peace settlement was unable to address the root causes of the conflict. As a result, we see the current state of Tajikistan. As little has been done to actually ease the tensions between the current government and the Islamic roots within the nation, there is an increasing presence of violence.
Therefore, without addressing the root cause of conflict, the centralized government has been able to increase religious repression in the wake of Islamophobia throughout the region.
In January 2016, the Tajik police reported that they had “convinced” 1,700 women to remove their hijabs and 13,000 men to shave their beards. In addition to this, the federal government has deemed it illegal to enter a religious institution under the age of eighteen, and has restricted parents from naming their children anything that sounds too “Arabic”
The Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (or IRPT) has had a stabilizing effect within the post-war nation for nearly two decades. As a symbol of moderate Islamism, the IRPT was the only Muslim party within the region of Central Asia. Their presence was particularly unique given the one-party domination found within Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan and the outlaw of religious based parties in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.
Though this all changed in August 2015. Despite their 40,000 members spread throughout 58 regional branches, Tajikistan’s Justice Ministry ruled to dissolve the party citing a lack of membership. Tensions were further escalated on September 4, 2015 when an armed attack was perpetrated against a state security building in the capital city of Dushanbe. The attack resulted in the death of nine police officers and seventeen militants. The Tajik government declared that the attacks originated from Deputy Defense Minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda, whom was a IRPT member and active opposition fighter during the civil war. On September 15, 2015 Nazarzoda and ten of his supporters were killed during a battle with government security force. As a result, the Tajikistan government has used the recent attacks to declare the IRPT a terrorist group stating that the party has aspirations similar to those of ISIL. Soon after, President Emomali Rakhmon passed a motion to declare himself “Leader of the Nation” for life and gave him and his family life-long immunity.
So where do we go from here? Given the current state of Tajikistan, it is hard to ignore the need for conflict prevention measures. However, it is also difficult to induce international interest within the region, thus the most likely assistance will have to come either domestically or regionally. Though the United Nations has openly condemned the central government’s actions, little has been done to stop the fight against the Islamic roots of the nation. Accordingly, there is little hope to stop Tajikistan from spiraling back into a civil war. However, the Tajik story should not be lost within the narrative of conflict management. The General Agreement stands to demonstrate importance of measuring success on long-term peace, rather than prioritizing short-term stability.
Grant R. Smith, “Tajikistan: The Rocky Road to Peace,” Central Asian Survey 18, no. 2 (1999):243-251
Sumie Nakaya, “Aid and Transition From a War Economy to an Oligarchy in Post-war Tajikistan,” Central Asian Survey 28(3) (2009): 259-273.
Torjesen, Stina and S. Neil MacFarlane, "R before D: The Case of Post-Conflict Reintegration in Tajikistan," Conflict, Security & Development 7, no. 2 (2007): 311-332.