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Aleksandr Shustov: Tajikistan on the verge of Civil War

September 26, 2010

The following commentary is reprinted with permission from Russia’s Strategic Culture Foundation.

Tajikistan on the verge of Civil War
©  Aleksandr Shustov
Source:  Strategic Culture Foundation
September 25, 2010

The security situation in Tajikistan is facing rapid destabilization. On September 19, an unknown group armed with machine guns and grenade launchers ambushed Tajikistan’s defense ministry convoy in the Kamarob Canyon in eastern Tajikistan. The attack left 25 soldiers dead according to the official report, but alternative accounts estimate that the death toll could be as high as 40. Tentatively, the operation against the government forces in the Kamarob Canyon was carried out by the militants led by Mullo Abdullo, the civil war-time field commander who had rejected the 1997 peace accords and fled to Afghanistan with his group. He showed up in Tajikistan’s eastern regions last summer but later dropped out of sight.

Another field commander – Alovuddin Davlatov a.k.a. Ali Bedak – and militants from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Russia are also suspected of having taken part in the attack. The militants from Russia escaped from the Tajik jail run by the republic’s security agency several weeks ago.

Seeking to regain control over the situation, the Tajik government dispatched additional forces and heavy weaponry to the Rasht Valley which – according to unconfirmed reports – was placed under an 8 pm – 6 am curfew. Stationary and cell phone communications as well as Internet access (which, due to the mountainous landscape, is also provided by sell phone companies) were shut down across the region the same day.

The firefight in the Rasht Valley was just one in a series of alarming incidents in Tajikistan. The escalation began with the September 23 jailbreak by a group of 25 convicts including relatives of prominent opposition figures and politicians either arrested by the government or killed under circumstances suggesting the government’s involvement. Seven of the escapees have been recaptured up to date. On September 3, suicide bombers in a car loaded with explosives crashed into an organized crime department station in Khujand killing two policemen an injuring 27 people, two of them – civilians. Responsibility for the terrorist attack was claimed by Jamaat Ansarullah in Tajikistan, a previously unknown Islamic group which stated that at least 50 people had been killed or wounded.

An explosive device was detonated in a Dushanbe nightclub on the night of September 5. Four people – or at least seven people according to unofficial reports – were wounded in the incident. Rumors similarly attributed the terrorist act to Islamists or the mujaheddens at large, and Reuters even backed the hypothesis with a reference to sources in Tajik law-enforcement agencies.

A National Guard sergeant was shot dead in a skirmish during the hunt for the escaped convicts in the Romit Gorge on September 7. On September 10, fighting erupted at the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan where a borderguard and at least 20 militants were killed. Islamists are known to be continuously sneaking into Tajikistan from Afghanistan.

Certain policies of the Tajik government in fact have the effect of re-energizing the armed opposition. The tide of arrests of former United Tajik Opposition commanders and ordinary members combined with the overall harshness of treatment they are exposed to force the people to revert to armed struggle. In a typical case, on September 21 the Tajik law-enforcement agencies launched a raid in the Takoba village. Former field commander Mirzohudzha Akhmadov told that some 30 former militants were working at their potato fields at the place but left for the mountains when the cleansing commenced. Akhmadov warned that the fugitives would likely join the group responsible for the September 19 ambush in the Kamarob canyon unless the government suspends the operation. There is a growing frustration in Tajikistan over the pressure exerted by the government on the increasingly popular Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan. Its deputy leader Mahmadali Hayit was arrested recently on charges of propaganda of Salafism, a doctrine outlawed in Tajikistan. Well-known politician and theologian Akbar Turajonzoda who used to be a United Tajik Opposition leader and served as vice prime minister and senator after the 1997 peace deal is confronted with an aggressive information campaign. Attempts are made to implicate Turajonzoda in the notorious Dushanbe jailbreak.

Last month’s frequent fighting in Tajikistan may altogether be a prologue to a new civil war in the republic. Despite the residual illusion of stability, collapse can follow any moment, especially if veterans of the United Tajik Opposition and Afghan Talibs – the groups with exceptional skills in guerrilla warfare – choose to openly enter the stage. It is noteworthy that General Ghaffor Mirzoev who is currently serving a lengthy jail term and Colonel Mahmud Hudoiberdyev who – despite the reports of his death – is widely believed to be hiding in Uzbekistan enjoy a legendary status among a part of Tajikistan’s population.

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See also: Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) claims responsibility for attack on Tajikistan army convoy, Inteltrends, 23 Sep 2010.

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