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Date: Sun, 4 Feb 1996 11:35:36 -0500
Sender: Former Soviet Republic - Central Asia Political Discussion List <CENASIA@VM1.MCGILL.CA>
From: Barnett Richard Rubin <brr3@COLUMBIA.EDU>
Subject: Comments on Tajikistan events

Comments on Tajikistan events

By Barnett Richard Rubin, 4 February 1996

The following is a set of hypotheses or suggestions about current events in Tajikistan:


Boymatov, the commander in Tursunzade, is an ethnic Uzbek former bus driver who rose to power as a commander of the Popular Front in the 1992 war. In his house in Tursunzade he had a huge picture of Karimov and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, according to a US diplomat who visited him. The latter came from the subject of the former. He was the main commander of the PF troops from that region, known as Hissar (now a raion next to Tursunzade, formerly a beklik of Bukhara including the whole area west of Dushanbe).

Mahmud Khudaberdaev, the commander in Kurgan Tiube (Qurghan Teppa) is an ethnic Uzbek who was a regular Soviet army officer who served in Afghanistan. He served in the Turkestan military district and had many Russian and Uzbek military contacts in Tashkent. He used these contacts to form one of the most effective units of the PF in 1992. His unit fought in what was then the province of KT and has risen to be a colonel despite his young age. Last summer he was involved in a fight with a Kulabi ex-PF unit (also now in the army) in which an Austrian officer secunded to UNMOT was killed. The Kulabis were transferred out of the area, to the hot areas of Tavildara and Gharm. M. Khudaberdaev was considered one of the rising young commanders in Tajikistan's new army.

These two regions, Hissar and KT, were two of the three regions where elements of the population fought for the PF. In Kulab the PF was entirely Tajik. In Hissar it was mostly local Uzbek. In KT it was mixed, including both local Uzbeks and Kulabis.

Since the PF won, there has been continually growing tension between the Kulabi Tajik and Uzbek elements of the winning coalition. The mutual killing of Sangak Safarov (Kulabi Tajik) and Faizali Saidov (father was a Lakai-Uzbek from KT, mother a Kulabi, so they say) symbolized this. The Kulabis united KT and Kulab into a single province, Khatlon, depriving the Uzbeks of a power base in KT (the expulsions of the Garmi Tajiks had left KT about half Uzbek, but they were now under Kulabi domination). The new Kulabi security forces attempted to disarm mainly Uzbek PF forces that had not been incorporated into the new armed forces. Most important, the Uzbek elements of the PF coalition were not integrated into the ruling mafiyas that grabbed and redistributed to their supporters Tajikistan's dwindling economic resources.

International aspect:

Ever-narrowing Kulabi dominance occurred under Russian sponsorship. The original action in 1992-93 had joint Uzbekistan-Russian support, but Russia increasingly made Tajikistan its own foothold in CA to the detriment of Uzbekistan. This alarmed not only karimov but also Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Hence the other CA states have distanced themselves from Russia's policy and opened dialogue with the Islamic opposition based in Afghanistan and Iran. They argue that Russia has been blocking progress in the UN-sponsored peace talks because it wants to keep its forces in CA as part of its long term vision of reintegrating the former Soviet space. Rahmonov's government is seen as the local agent of this Russian design, and karimov has openly criticized Pres. Rahmonov in the past year.

Furthermore, Rahmonov has recently been somewhat undermined by the CIS heads of state declaration giving him a 6-month deadline to reach an accomodation with the opposition.

Further complication: An agreement with the opposition (mostly Garmi Tajiks and Pamiris) would in effect solidify the domination of Tajikistan by a coalition of southern Tajiks, who tend to be much more nationalist than the more cosmospolitan and Turkicized Tajiks of Khujand/Leninabad, who ran Tajikistan from the post-war period to 1992. Hence the prospect of such an accomodation is probably not welcome to Uzbek former PF commanders (and Khudaberdaev has volunteered to send his men to Tavildara to fight the opposition).

Speculation on the cause of the current events (no evidence): Karimov is supporting these revolts covertly -- his government has long-standing ties to both leaders -- but his goals are different from theirs (is anyone surporised?). Boymatov and Khudaberdaev struck at the opening of parliament to demand dismissal of their rivals for a share of the fruits of victory in the hopes of getting some benefits and blocking the creation of a Southern Tajik nationalist coalition government of national reconciliation.

Karimov is reminding the Russians and Rahmonov that he cannot be ignored in any settlement. For him it is more important that the uprising occurred at the start of the Ashqabad (Ashgabat) talks. He wants to impress on Rahmonov how weak he is and force him into a settlement that will take into account uzbekistan's interests, get the refugees out of Afghanistan (where they are influenced by Arab radical Islamists and Iranians, not to mention Afghans) and lower the Russian profile. the russians are useless in solving this problem, but Karimov could be very helpful.

Does anyone have any information that would bear on this analysis?

Barney Rubin