Chapter 3: Tadjikistan
by Arkady Yu. Dubnov*
IntroductionAfter the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the declaration of independence by the former Soviet republics, Tadjikistan acquired national sovereignty for the time in history. Inexperience, in conjunction with a particular clan-oriented, regional-based, political culture established the foundation for the prolonged conflict that ensued in post-Soviet Tadjikistan. The intensity of this conflict has been further fueled by the ethnic and historical externalities of the unresolved political situation in Afghanistan.
Today, Russia's interests in Tadjikistan center around preserving its economic and geopolitical position in Central Asia. These interests, however, conflict with those of the newly independent states in the region which are focused on preventing Tadjikistan from becoming a "Russian protectorate." Not only the countries bordering this region, but others as well, seek to exploit this contradiction for their own interests. In this respect, resolution of the civil war in Tadjikistan is part of the broader problems of reconstituting global spheres of influence and establishing a "new world order" in the wake of the Soviet collapse.
In addition to the seemingly obvious military, strategic, and geopolitical factors, there are critical economic issues that underlie Russia's interests in retaining Tadjikistan within its sphere of influence. Tadjikistan is a mountainous country, rich in fuel and mineral deposits. Tadjikistan's potential to generate hydroelectric power is second only to Russia among CIS member states. Moreover, not so long ago, Tadjikistan was Moscow's main supplier of aluminum, titanic oxidant and vanadium catalysts, bismuth, animony and barium, as well as cotton. Finally, the country has the resources and infrastructure to become a major industrial power in the region.
The Kremlin's posture toward the civil war in Tadjikistan, which began prior to perestroika, has been one of gradual military intervention. This process has evolved in three phases. First, there was the stage of "latent intervention" (February 1990-May 1992), as Russia's involvement in the political struggle in Dushanbe was carried out indirectly through regional party organs and special services that were becoming increasingly independent from the central government in Moscow. The second phase of "impulsive-spontaneous involvement" (May 1992-August 1993), was characterized by the gradual involvement in the civil war of Russian troops stationed in Tadjikistan. Finally, there was the phase of "active engagement" (from August 1993 until the present), marked by Russia's concerted, though uncoordinated, attempts to establish a political and military presence in Tadjikistan.
The ideological and political foundations for Russia's involvement in the crisis in Tadjikistan were weakly rooted at each stage. Many of Moscow's critical decisions in the course of the development of events in Tadjikistan were made, it appears, out of conflicting and ambiguous considerations. Moreover, the process of decisionmaking in Moscow has been thoroughly concealed from the public. As a consequence, it is extremely difficult to discern the basic political motivations and objectives for "Moscow's policy toward Tadjikistan."
The Path To Military Intervention: February 1990-May 1992
The Beginning Of the "Tadjikistan Disturbance (`Smuta')": The Communists In Moscow and Dushanbe UniteThe origins of the conflict in Tadjikistan lie in the stormy events of February 11-12, 1990, when mass demonstrations and major political upheavals racked the republic. These events were the by-product of the Soviet government's campaign to prevent the political ascendance of anti-Communist and national-democratic opposition groups in the republics of the USSR. Regional Soviet political leaders, in efforts to shore up their own local positions, exploited this intervention by the central government to alter the political landscape in Tadjikistan, thereby fueling local instability.
One such manipulation concerned rumors of an influx of Armenian refugees into Tadjikistan. It is well-known that in January 1990 a wave of pogroms took place in Baku (the capital of Azerbaijan). Following these events, Soviet troops were dispatched to Baku. Rumors circulated that the Armenian refugees would receive apartments in Dushanbe that were previously allocated for the local Tadjik residents by the state. A spontaneous demonstration took place near the headquarters of the Central Committee of the Tadjik Communist Party demanding an official clarification of the issue. The government, however, assumed a belligerent posture and fired upon the demonstrators, killing three Russian-speaking residents.
That same day, First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Tadjik Communist Party Kahar Makhamov (after reporting to Moscow on the situation on the ground), received permission to declare a "state of emergency" in Dushanbe. According to Abdullo Habibov, a retired major in the Tadjik KGB, tanks of the Soviet 201st division (stationed in Dushanbe) were brought into the streets of the city. During the following 24 hours, reinforcements, consisting of several airborne units, arrived from other divisions stationed in Russia. Shortly thereafter, shooting broke out across the city killing 26 people and wounding several hundred.
Amidst the chaos and looting that ensued in Dushanbe, Russian-speaking residents were singled out and beaten. Pogroms were carried out by youth gangs, led by the famous Dushanbe racketeer Yakub Salimov. Salimov, who was detained at the time, went on to become one of the "field commanders" of the pro-Communist National Front, and, following the party's subsequent ascendance, the Minister of Internal Affairs of the Tadjik Republic.
On February 12, Boris Pugo, chairman of the Party Control Committee of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, arrived in Dushanbe. (Later, Boris Pugo was appointed the Minister of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs). According to an eyewitness account, Pugo essentially removed Mahkamov from power and assumed personal control over managing the crisis in the city. The next day, Mahkamov addressed the residents of the city, and in a speech in Russian, called upon them to form a "self-defense" force. This appeal was interpreted by the local Russians as a threat.
It can be argued that the rise of anti-Russian sentiments in the republic benefited the regional Communist government. The existence of such animosities and threats to the status quo would ensure Moscow's support for the regional government in its struggle against the local opposition, which was blamed for inciting such tensions. The subsequent intervention by the Soviet government, however, altered this scenario as it became the actual basis for the anti-Russian sentiments that took root in a certain part of Tadjik society, thus undermining the legitimacy of those local political organs that allied with Moscow.
The commission, created by the Tadjik Supreme Soviet and chaired by the Transport Prosecutor Safarali Kendzhaev, was not able to attribute responsibility for the tragedy in Dushanbe. The most widely accepted interpretation of the events was that the "provocation" was initiated by Tadjikistan officials with the aid of the Soviet government in an attempt to undermine the growing opposition. This was the opinion, for example, of Buri Karimov, who was at that time the chairman of the republic's Gosplan (State Planning Committee). At the request of the demonstrators, he became the head of the commission on the talks with the Tadjikistan leaders. In his book, The Victim of the Double Strike, Karimov cites evidence of KGB snipers firing on the demonstrators, and offers proof that "the February events were planned in detail in the depths of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and KGB."
The elections to the Tadjik Supreme Soviet, which were held on February 24, only a few days after the riots in Dushanbe, indirectly revealed that the Tadjik government provoked the crisis in order to prevent the growing influence of the local opposition. By this time, the popular movement Rastokhez (Revival) had gained considerable popularity among the people. During January and February, representatives of the movement constantly picketed the Central Committee of the Tadjik Communist Party, demanding that the party leadership repeal Article 6 of the Soviet Constitution (the article pertaining to the supreme role of the Communist Party in Soviet society). Immediately before the elections, the government-controlled regional press was replete with articles about the destructive role played by the opposition during the crisis in Dushanbe. As a result, 95 percent of the deputies elected were representatives of the Communist Party and economic nomenklatura.
The fact that those responsible for the February tragedy went unpunished alienated a significant portion of the Tadjik public from the republican government. This, in turn, fueled mounting radicalism among both Russian-speaking and native residents. The Russian population, in particular, perceived the crisis as a growing threat to their standing and livelihood in Tadjikistan. In fact, their emigration from Tadjikistan increased tremendously, as they "started to feel themselves here as people of an inferior sort." Moreover, they referred to the draft of the new republican constitution, which started with the words: "We, the Tadjiks . . . ," and made no mention of dual citizenship or Russian as an official language, as evidence of this growing threat.
"The Islamic Threat" As A Weapon In the Fight Against the Anti-Communist OppositionThe events of February 1990 intensified the antagonism between the republican government and the increasingly popular opposition movement. Tadjikistan was the only republic of Soviet Central Asia where Gorbachev's perestroika lead to the formation of mass socio-political organizations and parties. The largest of these groups were Rastokhez, comprised of members of the Tadjik intelligentsia; the Democratic Party of Tadjikistan (DPT), headed by Shodmon Yusuf and enjoying widespread support among the non-Tadjik peoples; and the Islamic Revival Party (IPV), which was popular in rural districts and had been operating as a covert organization for a long time prior to the events in Dushanbe under the leadership of Said Abdullo Nuri. The core membership of the latter party consisted of the so-called "unregistered priests," who had directed the party's independence from the All-Union Islamic Revival Party in 1990. The followers of Hodzhi Akbara, the kazikolon (spiritual leader) of the Tadjik Muslims at the time, also numbered among the Islamic groups of Tadjikistan that were active at the time.
A common thread among the various opposition party's was the pursuit of a democratic, progressive, and anti-Communist political agenda. This included demands for the annulment of the leading role of Communist Party in Tadjik society, freedom of action for parties and movements, freedom of press, freedom of conscience, return to the national values of Tadjik people, and establishment of Tadjik as an official language of the republic (together with Russian). For the most part, the anti-communism of the intelligentsia-democrats was purely secular, while that espoused by the Muslim groups carried religious overtones. This religious commitment, however, was rather moderate and the attempts to intensify it found little support among the opposition, even among the Muslims groups. Indeed, the kazikolon himself in the beginning protested the establishment of the Islamic Revival Party, believing that religious leaders should not be involved in politics (this later prompted Geidar Dzheimal', the leader of the All-Union IPV, to brand him as "the traitor of the mission of Islam.") Yusuf, the leader of the DPT, declared in 1989, "I am disgusted that you unite the culture of my nation with Islam." In a similar vein, the future Tadjik presidential candidate from the democratic-Islamic opposition, Davlat Khudonazarov, said, "A lot of what Islam has brought into the national mentality of the people of Central Asia undoubtedly hinders our spiritual and social development."
In short, it was anti-Communism and the yearning for democracy, not Islam, that united the Tadjik democrats and followers of Islam in opposition to the republican government. As a result, the Communist government in Tadjikistan, unlike the other republics in the Soviet Central Asia, faced the specter of a consolidated opposition that was gaining momentum and support in the local society. In response to this formidable threat to their control, officials in Dushanbe resorted to the tactic of hyping the "threat of Islamic fundamentalism." This proved sufficiently effective to arouse popular anxieties that, in turn prompted the Tadjikistan Supreme Soviet in 1990 to pass a resolution on "The Prohibition of the Activities of IPV on the Republic's Territory." As a result of this propaganda campaign, almost all of the Russian-speaking population (about 300,000 people) voted for the Communists in the Supreme Soviet elections of February 1990.
The government played the "anti-Islamic" card more blatantly in September 1991, in response to the prolonged demonstrations in Dushanbe that were conducted by the opposition. The demonstrations were directed against the return to power (after the brief anti-Communist euphoria that followed the failure of the Moscow putsch of the State Emergency Committee) of Communist sympathizers. Rumors circulated that the demonstrators were demanding the formation of an Islamic republic. These rumors were intended to turn the Russian population against the opposition, and consequently lay the foundation for an appropriate reaction from Moscow. In response, the opposition leaders issued statements to the contrary in Russian, while the kazikolon of the republic explained on television that, "the creation of an Islamic republic goes against the democratic principles of the Tadjikistan development."
In Moscow, the official attitude toward the "Islamic threat" was never publicly aired during 1990-1991. However, within the context of the prevailing norms in Soviet center-periphery relations, the silence conveyed Moscow's complete agreement with its "young Communist partners" in Tadjikistan. The only difference might have been that, unlike the officials in Dushanbe, who knew the actual nature of the "Islamic threat" in Tadjikistan, Moscow might have really believed in its existence.
Moscow's misperception of the "Islamic threat" is illustrated by an episode that centered on the comments made by Davlat Khudonazarov. As he later related to the author, the arrival in Tadjikistan of certain analysts who were close to Gorbachev had serious consequences for Khudonazarov's presidential campaign in the fall of 1991. During one of the meetings with the leaders of Islamic-democratic opposition, Khudonazarov began to discuss, among other things, the right of Tadjiks to freely practice their religion. He was interrupted by Turandzhonzoda who said: "Let us express the point of view of the believers ourselves." Based on this incident, Khudonazarov asserts that Gorbachev's advisers, who witnessed this exchange, reported to the Soviet president that the balance of power in the Tadjikistan opposition had shifted. They suggested that "Khudonazarov was only a cover for the Muslims in Tadjikistan, and if elected president, he [would] be quickly pushed aside and the real power would be transferred to the Islamic clergy." Reportedly (based on Khudonazarov's trusted source in the Kremlin), it was following this conversation that Gorbachev finally decided to back Rahmon Nabiev.
Clan Fighting As An Instrument For Restoring Communist Power and Distracting the KremlinThe August 1991 putsch attempt sharply exacerbated affairs in Tadjikistan. Specifically, the struggle for power between the USSR and the Russian leadership distracted and paralyzed Moscow's control over the course of events in the distant Central Asian republic.
The government of Tadjikistan, which supported the State Emergency Committee in Moscow, was heavily criticized by the Islamic-democratic opposition. During the first days of the putsch, the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Tadjikistan, Mahkamov, gave an interview to Pravda in which he expressed his unconditional support for the organizers of the State Emergency Committee. Khudonazarov got a hold of the recorded tape of this interview and used his connections with Gorbachev insiders to force Mahkamov's resignation in the aftermath of the failed coup attempt.
Kadriddin Aslonov, the Chairmen of the Supreme Soviet at the time, was elected Mahhamov's successor. One of Aslonov's first actions as leader was to sign an edict calling for the cessation of all activities of the Communist Party on the territory of Tadjikistan and the nationalization of the party's property. The Congress of the Tadjikistan Communist Party subsequently convened in the second half of September 1991 to announce the dissolution of the republican Communist party. In an emotional outburst that reflected the anti-Soviet mood prevalent during the period, a local crowd gathered to dismantle the Lenin monument in the center of Dushanbe.
Although this state of affairs seemed to further the cause of democracy in Tadjikistan, it gave rise to an unexpected factor that muddled the course of transition. Specifically, the vacuum of power that was left in the wake of the dissolution of the Communist party exacerbated regional-clan conflicts. This factor, while difficult for Moscow to comprehend, was all too familiar to Tadjik society.
The regional clan tensions in Tadjik society were clearly demonstrated following a March 1992 meeting of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of Tadjikistan, broadcast live on Tadjik television, at which Chairman of the Supreme Soviet Safarali Kendzhaev accused the head of the republican Ministry of Internal Affairs, Navdzhuvanov, of exploiting his position for personal gain. Kendzhaev specifically insulted Navdzhuvanov's Pamir heritage. In reaction, protests by Pamir clan members broke out in Dushanbe. These protests, in turn, precipitated a series of rallies in which the followers of the Democratic bloc supported the offended people of Pamir origin (these rallies lasted for almost a month and included more than 300,000 participants). The demonstrators demanded that Kendzhaev resign. They were subsequently joined by sympathizers in the city of Horog, located in the center of the Gorno-Badahshanskaya (Pamir) autonomous region.
To counter these rallies, the leaders of Kulyab pro-Communist movement organized an alternative demonstration in a different section of Dushanbe. At this rally the protesters used slogans such as "Long Live CPSU! (Communist Party of the Soviet Union)"; "Death to Islam"; "Death to Turadzhonzoda and to Yusuf"; etc. One of the prominent leaders of the Leninabad clan, Abdumalik Abdullodzhanov, offered considerable financial and organizational support to the Kulyab rally. Both Leninabad and Kulyab clans worried that their positions would be threatened by the success of the opposition Pamir and Garm regional clans.
The antagonism vented during the two sets of rallies led to chaos within the Tadjik government, which struggled to comply with the mutually exclusive demands of the competing groups. In the end, President Nabiev formed a `Presidential Battalion' comprised of the pro-Communist Kulyabs, and armed them with 1,700 machine-guns. These weapons were taken from the arsenal of the 201st division, according to a Russian colonel in that division. The next day, a fierce skirmish erupted between the battalion and the supporters of the opposition. These events constituted the beginning of the civil war in Tadjikistan. Accordingly, they also marked the beginning of Russia's military intervention into the civil strife in Tadjikistan. At first, this intervention was spontaneous, but over time Russian involvement became increasingly directed by Moscow.
The Army As A "Spontaneous Subject" Of Politics: May 1992-August 1993A new state of affairs in Russian-Tadjik relations took shape in May 1992 and lasted until August 1993. This phase was characterized primarily by the fact that the decisions regarding the involvement of Russian troops in the inter-Tadjik conflict were made either by mid-level and junior military officers or via coordination between the Tadjik government and the local Russian commanders. According to the former commander of the 201st Russian Division, Vyacheslav Zabolotny and President Nabiev personally encouraged the intervention of the Russian military on several occasions.
The escalation of the Russian military's involvement in the civil war in Tadjikistan was the result of several factors, including the extremely chaotic and inconsistent nature of the domestic political terrain in Tadjikistan, the inconsistencies of Moscow's policies toward Tadjikistan and Central Asia in general, and the poor level of military discipline among the Russian units stationed in the republic. At times the Russian military became involved as "independent suppliers" of military forces, while on other occasions it acted as a "junior partner" of the Tashkent military-political machine, paying only lip-service to Moscow's official policy of neutrality. It was only as the Russian government began to gradually clarify its political priorities in the region (i.e., at the end of August 1993) that it became increasingly obvious to Moscow that the Russian troops in Tadjikistan were one of the major sources of support for the pro-Communist (the People's Front) movement.
The Spontaneous Involvement Of the Russian Army In the ConflictAs was the case with other post-Soviet republics of Central Asia, Tadjikistan did not have a political tradition of formal constitutionalism that guaranteed popular representation or interest group mediation. Consequently, violence, that was previously contained by authoritarian means of governance, became the main form of political struggle. Different popular groups that were traditionally divided along regional lines became both the victims and perpetrators of this violence.
With the absence of a powerful professional army, however, the instrument of violence became mostly criminal groups, united on the basis of regional "zemlyacheski" (fellow countrymen) ties. The conflict assumed the character of "us versus them"--or Leninanbad residents attacking those of Garm, the Kulyab people attacking those of Pamir ancestry. At first, the regional clan leaders exploited these criminal organizations to gain control over certain industrial production facilities and political structures. Subsequently, however, the criminal authorities assumed the role of field commanders with increasingly independent control over the course of violence. Moreover, they were incorporated into governing structures that, in turn, became increasingly dependent on their military support.
The prominence of criminal leaders and groups was largely a result of the fact that Tadjikistan was virtually the only post-Soviet republic that did not immediately form a national army upon declaring independence. Mahkamov, who was the leader of the republic until September 1991, refused to create a Tadjik Ministry of Defense. Many believe he feared a resurgence of violent regional conflicts that risked embroiling Tadjikistan in a full-scale civil war.
For a long time, the Tadjik government relied exclusively on the Soviet federal government to maintain stability in the republic. This ensured that the republican leadership could maintain its position of power even in the face of acute internal instability, as was the case in February 1990. In the new situation that emerged in spring 1992, however, it was no longer possible to rely on Moscow. As a result, Nabiev created a militia that was responsible directly to him--the Presidential Battalion. It should be noted that, even after August 1991, he refused Moscow's offer to place the 201st division (stationed in Tadjikistan) under his jurisdiction. Nabiev justified this refusal on the grounds that the republic lacked the financial resources needed to train and maintain the division. It is possible, however, that the pragmatic Communist leader rebuffed the proposal out of concerns that he could not depend on the loyalty of the "foreign" army.
Meanwhile, the events of 1992-1992 evolved in such a way that the intervention of Russian troops became virtually inevitable. Moscow's policy was neither well thought out nor consistent. On the one hand, Moscow could not devise a clear set of objectives or missions for its troops in the region; on the other hand, its was predisposed to keep the division in Tadjikistan. Consequently, the intervention that ultimately took shape was haphazard and woefully unorganized. The combat effectiveness of the Russian troops was severely degraded by the barbarian methods of fighting that were used by both sides of the Tadjik civil war. Nonetheless, Russian forces became increasingly involved.
The character of the leading figures in the clan-political conflict (that developed after May 1992) created an additional political barrier to a negotiated settlement of the crisis. For the most part, these leaders were criminals, such as Sangak Safarov, who had spent 23 years in prison and subsequently became the leader of the pro-Communist People's Front that assumed the reins of power in November 1992; and Yakub Salimov, one of the leaders of Dushanbe racketeers, who became the Minister of Internal Affairs in President Emomali Rahmononov's government. Both Safarov and Salimov represented the Southern Kulyab clan.
It was not only the pro-Communist forces, however, that employed violence as a means for achieving political objectives. On April 20, 1992, supporters of the opposition seized the Supreme Soviet building in Dushanbe. They took several deputies and government officials hostage, and demanded the resignation of Speaker of the Parliament Safarali Kendzhaev. On May 5, they occupied the offices of the national television station and the Dushanbe airport. For the next three months, a senseless and bloody civil war engulfed the country. At the end of August, a "youth group" of opposition supporters burst into the presidential palace and took hostages, including three deputy prime ministers of the government. In the process, they killed the Deputy Chairmen of the Kulyab Regional Executive Committee (ispolkom). On September 7, the "Youth of Dushanbe" took Nabiev hostage at the Dushanbe airport and coerced his resignation. The first of the ten "youth" representatives, who acted as a witness to Nabiev's resignation, was also a criminal--one of the local racket leaders.
Throughout this period, the Russian army actively took part in the crisis. Russian troops, for example, directly supported the actions of the People's Front. By their own admission, Russian servicemen used their tanks and armored vehicles in the July 1992 clashes in the Kurgan-Tyube region. At the end of September 1992, Kulyab fighters seized the regional center of Kurgan-Tyube with the assistance of Russian tanks. (According to Vice President Iskandar, these [Russian] tanks were subsequently destroyed by Russian bombers.)
The obvious bias of the Russian servicemen stationed in Tadjikistan toward the People's Front fighters can be explained primarily by ethno-psychological and ideological factors. The fact of the matter was that most of the junior officers of the Russian troops closely identified themselves with the Russian-speaking residents of Tadjikistan. The latter regarded the opposition's drive to oust the government by force as a threat to their own existence. The Dushanbe government, which understood this very well, masterfully and successfully played the "Russian card" to its own advantage. Although, at times, it was assisted by the counter-productive acts committed by the opposition.
The atmosphere of the "anti-Russian hysteria" that imbued the conflict in Tadjikistan was manipulated by the pro-Communist Tadjik government as grounds for the imposition of a "state of emergency" in the republic. The spontaneous change in attitude among the indigenous population can only partially explain this intense anti-Russia mood. Rather, these sentiments were the product of calculated and politically-motivated propaganda campaigns that were employed by both the Tadjik government and the opposition movement.
The infamous statement by the DPT leader, Shodmon Yusuf, at a May 10, 1992 press conference inflamed the anti-Russian spirit in the republic. He warned specifically that "if the CIS troops continued to intervene in the inter-Tadjik conflict, the opposition would be unable to ensure the safety of the Russian-speaking population in the republic." He also declared at that time that the leaders of the opposition were prepared to solicit assistance from Afghanistan and Iran.
Despite Yusuf's apology the very next day, the damage was done. His statement was regarded by the Russian-speaking population as another threat against them, this time a direct one. They began to panic, causing a frenzied rush to leave the republic by all possible means of transportation.
Furthermore, Yusuf soon issued another set of ultimatums to the Russian population of Tadjikistan in which he declared explicitly that "Russia must get out of Tadjikistan!" thus supporting the accusations that the opposition encouraged the spread of Islamic fundamentalism.
These accusations had a direct effect on the official position of the Russian leadership. Russian military leaders in particular (who were always more susceptible to such comments than the liberal-democrats of Yeltsin's entourage at the time) became extremely sensitive to claims about the need to protect "Russian-speaking people." These themes were also exploited by the Communist-patriotic camp in Moscow, as well as by the leaders of the People's Front in Tadjikistan as a rallying point for their respective movements.
The dialogue that took place in fall 1992 between the deputy commander of the Russian ground forces, General Eduard Vorob'ev, and the leader of People's Front, Sanhak Safarov, typifies the pejorative references to nationality in political discourse at the time. In response to Vorob'ev's statement, "Just wait, Sangak, the bear will wake up soon," Safarov retorted, "No, the bear is dead, but we, the bear cubs, will complete his project here and in Russia." In the same address, Safarov openly declared that, "We broke the back of democracy in Tadjikistan and will drive this scum so far that it will never rise again, neither in Central Asia, nor in Russia."
Thus, it was no accident that Soviet flags were hoisted on the "Sangak" and Russian tanks that were stolen from the 201st division and used to shoot at the "opposition" kishlaks (villages) and armed formations. As the ideological conflict between the "pro-Russian Communists" and the "anti-Russian Muslims" intensified, the Russian troops increasingly assisted those groups fighting under the slogans of rebuilding of the Soviet Union and suppressing "Islamic fundamentalism."
The hardening attitudes of the Russian-speaking residents in Tadjikistan, who were rapidly becoming a direct party to the civil war, also escalated national antagonisms within the republic. In Kulyab, for example, the local Russians organized rallies urging President Yeltsin to supply them with the weapons necessary for "self-defense." That these appeals fell on deaf ears in Moscow only fostered greater sympathy and support within the ranks of the Russian army units based in Tadjikistan for the cause of the regional pro-Communist forces.
In addition to these ideological motives, there was a "pragmatic" reason for the proliferation of Russian weapons in the conflict in Tadjikistan. In particular, there was a high rate of corruption and theft within the forward-based Russian army. There were many episodes involving illicit sales or theft of Russian armored vehicles, tanks, and equipment. Some Russian servicemen sold and rented military supplies directly to the guerrillas. One officer of the Kulyab regiment, for instance, cavalierly stated that, "I'll sell an armored vehicle and buy myself a home in Russia. I do need a place to live afterwards."
Such occurrences, of course, worried the Russian commanders. Despite this anxiety, however, there were essentially no measures adopted to stop them. As the deputy commander of the Russian ground forces, General Sokolov, told the author, the only measure taken to stem the deterioration of troop morale was to raise the wages of the Russian troops stationed in "hot spots." Defense Minister Grachev personally prepared a directive that called for increasing salaries and equating one year of service in the region to three years of peacetime service. Moreover, a decision was made to hire additional volunteer servicemen to perform duties in "hot spots" such as Tadjikistan.
The Russian leadership at the time avoided commenting officially on the situation in Tadjikistan. Only at the beginning of October 1992, following the Bishkek meeting of the leaders of the CIS states that dealt with Tadjik problem, did Russian Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar arrive in Dushanbe to meet with representatives of the Tadjik government. In the course of these negotiations, he promised economic assistance to the coalition government in Dushanbe and the de facto cessation of Russian military involvement in the civil war in support of the People's Front.
Apparently, Gaidar's refusal to sanction the de facto alliance between Russian servicemen and the pro-Communist People's Front made the commanders of the 201st division hesitant about opposing the "Islamo-democrats." This became clear during the October 1992 putsch attempt by the People's Front.
On the night of October 24, about 150 People's Front guerrillas, led by former Speaker of the Tadjik Parliament, Kendzhaev, occupied the buildings of the government and the Parliament in Dushanbe. The national television studio and the Ministry of Communications, as well as the airport and train stations, however, remained protected by the 201st Russian division. The Russian military command insisted on preserving its neutrality and refused to submit to the demands of the guerrillas. A fierce firefight ensued between the putschists and the supporters of the coalition government, who succeeded in liberating the occupied buildings. Talks between Vice President Iskandarov and Kendzhaev were subsequently held in the garrison of the 201st division. The negotiations concluded with an agreement calling for the surrender of weapons by the attackers and their withdrawal from Dushanbe. Kendzhaev was personally driven out of Dushanbe in a Russian tank.
The fact that the Russian army did not participate in the October putsch prompted Iskandarov to form the Tadjikistan State Soviet and make the commander of the 201st division, Muhitdin Ashurov, a member. For their part, the Communist opponents of the coalition government reacted by turning away from Moscow and looking to Tashkent for support.
Following the Lead Of Tashkent's PoliticsThe uncertainty and inconsistencies that marred Moscow's policy toward Tadjikistan in 1992 placed the Russian 201st division, which was by far the strongest armed force in the region, in the awkward position of taking actions that were, in essence, imposed by Tashkent. The influence of Uzbekistan on the situation in Tadjikistan following its attainment of independence should be regarded as one of the decisive factors in the crisis. The leaders of the Leninabad clan always took their lead from the political leadership in Uzbekistan. Naturally, Tashkent was satisfied with this state of affairs.
At this juncture, the policy pursued by Uzbek President Islam Karimov was in transition from its earlier endorsement of Rahmon Nabiev (as the leader of Leninabad clan) to one of military support for the leaders of the Kulyab clan, which, he hoped, would be more aggressive in dealing with the Islamo-democratic opposition in Tadjikistan. With the creation of the Government of National Reconciliation in Dushanbe in spring 1992, however, Uzbek President Karimov publicly lambasted President Nabiev for his "weakness" in allowing the "Islamists" [Muslims] to become part of his Government. More importantly, at a meeting of the leaders of the CIS states that took place on May 15, 1992, in Tashkent, Karimov abandoned his former opposition to the formation of a CIS defense force in return for an agreement that called for the intervention of CIS combat troops in the Tadjik civil war. This agreement not only legitimized the presence of the Russian 201st division in Tadjikistan but also sanctioned Uzbek military intervention. When it had become clear (during the failed October putsch) that Russia was not yet willing to overtly support a Kulyab-dominated government, Tashkent decided that the time had come for it to pursue an independent track.
A session of the Tadjikistan Supreme Soviet was organized in November-December 1992 in Hudzhande, under the protection of the Uzbek army (including armored units). During this session decisions were made to allow the Kulyab clan to assume power in Tadjikistan. The session called for the dismissals of President Nabiev and Speaker of the Parliament Iskandarov, as well as for the appointment of Emomali Rahmonov, one of the field commanders of the People's Front who was the former chairman of the Kulyab Regional Executive Committee, as the new head of state (Chairman of the Supreme Soviet).
Despite Rahmanov's promise not to persecute the supporters of the opposition, a full-scale war was immediately initiated against them. This decision was taken at the conference of the field commanders of the People's Front with the military and political leaders of Uzbekistan. This conference took place before the end of the parliamentary session in the Uzbek city of Termez. Several units of People's Front, who had been trained in Uzbekistan, entered Dushanbe on December 10 with tanks that were supplied by the Uzbek government. They defeated the opposition with the aid of the Uzbek air force. The new Dushanbe government openly stated that the "sorties were flown in connection with an official request from the Tadjik leaders."
Moscow officially reacted to the incursion with silence, which was quite revealing in its own right. The protests by the Moscow democrats against what amounted to the involvement of Russian troops in the suppression of the "Islamo-democratic" opposition were not "heard" by the government and were lost amidst Yeltsin's more immediate pressures of quelling the recalcitrant Russian Supreme Soviet which was dominated by a "Communist-patriotic" majority that naturally voiced no objections whatsoever to the policy of supporting the neo-Communist Dushanbe government.
Thus, Russia was locked into deferring to political decisions made by the Uzbek government. Russia had to deal with political elites in Tadjikistan that were hand-picked by Tashkent and not directly beholden to the Kremlin or submissive to its preferences for handling the crisis. Moreover, the "political" conflicts between the different "branches of power" in Moscow further muddled the political terrain, thus exacerbating the ambiguity in Russia's policy toward the civil war in Tadjikistan.
The only thing that Moscow seemed to be able to do at the time was to "put a good face on the matter." It assumed the role of Dushanbe's "strategic ally," at the same time that it embraced the role as peacekeeper in the conflict. Such an intrinsically contradictory and ambiguous position was the logical extension of the previous policy of helpless and unprincipled "neutrality."
Between an "Ally" and a "Peacekeeper"By the beginning of 1993, Russia began to lobby international organizations to accept its future role as the primary "peacekeeper" in the post-Soviet space. On February 28, Yeltsin declared that "the time has come for the . . . U.N. to confer on Russia special authorities as the guarantor of peace and stability on the territory of the former USSR." Moscow had already conducted successful peace-keeping operations in the trans-Dniester region and South Ossetia. This experience seemed to warrant application in the Tadjik crisis. In Tadjikistan, however, there were fewer grounds than probably anywhere else to expect that the Russian military would be able to remain neutral.
By the beginning of January 1993, Russian border guards, together with Uzbek pilots, began shooting refugees that tried to cross the Pyandzh border into Afghanistan. Hundreds of civilians were killed. In addition, approximately sixty Russian soldiers cooperated with the Tadjik government forces in missions aimed at "clearing" the regions to the east of Dushanbe of supporters of the opposition. Also, during the summer, the Russian and Uzbek air forces conducted raids on the opposition's positions in Tadjikistan. Moreover, the Russian military provided support for a large-scale Tadjik government offensive on the Gorno-Badahshan autonomous region. Armored vehicles, driven by Russian servicemen of the 201st division, were used in this assault. Such were the "subjective realities" that supported Russia's claims as a peacekeeper.
In fact, Russia assumed more the role of an accomplice than a neutral peacekeeper. On May 25, 1993, the Russian-Tadjik Friendship Treaty was signed. According to this document, Russian troops were to be left in Tadjikistan until the Tadjik government formed its own border guard troops. From that point forward, Russia's involvement in the civil war took on the character of an interested party and ally of the Tadjik government. As Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev stated during his September 1993 visit to the Tadjik-Afghan border, "Russia will not leave Tadjikistan in trouble." The Tadjik Deputy Prime Minister's reaction to this promise was rather peculiar. In particular, he said that, "Your personal point of view encourages us to undertake new efforts." This type of rhetoric by Russian officials encouraged the Kulyab leaders to reject a peaceful solution to the conflict and resume fighting until they had completely eliminated the opposition. In the words of Ubaydullaev, "Holding talks with the opposition is impossible. They are all enemies of the people."
In a subsequent attempt to disavow the implications of his earlier statements, Kozyrev declared that "it would be ridiculous to depict the democrats in the Russian government as supportive of the so-called pro-Communist regime in Tadjikistan. This is an incorrect interpretation. We simply want to promote the search for a `territorial-ethnic' consensus in this country." But the meaning of "consensus" became clear in July, after radical members of the opposition attacked a Russian border patrol, killing 25 border guards. At that time, Boris Yeltsin, for the first time officially articulated an explicit Russian "Tadjik" policy, declaring that "everybody should understand that the border is essentially Russian and not Tadjik." Meanwhile, Russian defense minister Grachev stated that "my task consists of the development and pursuit of measures that ensure that our adversary is put under control and destroyed in such a way that nobody will dare to lift their hand against the Russians in the future." Three days later, in an affirmation of these words, Russian and Tadjik government troops began to shell the Afghanistan kishlaks where the camps of the Tadjik opposition were located.
The Army as Instrument of an Activist Policy: August 1993-June 1995Only after the Russian servicemen in Tadjikistan suffered many losses in the summer of 1993 did Russia's "Tadjik" policy begin to take a distinct form. The first dimension of the revised policy centered on the strengthening of the Russian "fist" in Tadjikistan as a means to contain the opposition's armed forces and protect the Rahmonov regime. The second aspect of the policy consisted of an attempt to coerce the Tadjik government into a political dialogue with the opposition. This was done by forcing the Tadjiks to assume the lion's share of the military burden of directly confronting the opposition. Finally, Russia strove to "offload" the burden of supporting the government in Dushanbe onto those CIS member states that bordered Tadjikistan. In an effort to explore these prospects, the Kremlin convened an emergency session of the leaders of the CIS in Moscow on August 7, 1993.
The Military Versus the Diplomats and the Intelligence Service
From the beginning there were serious contradictions embedded in Russia's new policy. On one hand, Moscow considered the Tadjik civil war to be an exclusively military problem involving the delineation of international borders; on the other hand, Moscow admitted that this problem could be solved only through political compromise with the opposition that was acting both inside and outside of Tadjikistan. The fact that Yeltsin appointed Foreign Minister Kozyrev to be the "coordinator of the Russian policy toward settling the situation on the Tadjik-Afghanistan border" reflected this contradiction. Moreover, the attempts by the various Russian government agencies to conduct their own "peace-keeping" activities should be interpreted in the same light (since in doing so these agencies were pursuing independent and contradictory interests).
The principal impediment to Russia's "Tadjik policy" by the beginning of 1994 was the absence of reliable information concerning the military and political situation on the ground. There were no reliable channels of contact with the opposition that would allow Moscow to assess the real intentions of the local leaders. Moscow's political judgments and decisions were usually based on the information supplied either by military sources that were sympathetic to the Tadjik government or by the republican regime's direct representatives.
It is important to note that Andrei Kozyrev concluded in fall 1993 (during a discussion with the author) that press reports suggesting that the leaders of the opposition wanted to meet with the Russian leadership prior to establishing contact with the government in Dushanbe were false. The minister interpreted this as mere "speculation" and as a desire to "make an enemy out of Russia," with whom "one has to negotiate." Such a conclusion indicated that Russia was already at that point refusing to admit its partiality and favoritism toward one side of the conflict.
The indecisiveness of Russian diplomacy allowed the Russian commander of the CIS "peace-keeping" force (CPF) in Tadjikistan to seize the initiative in negotiations with the opposition. The CPF commander, General-Colonel Boris P'yankov, met with the leadership of the opposition Coordination Center of Tadjik Democratic Forces in the CIS to try to pit democratic leaders against each other, and the "moderates" against the "hard-liners." These attempts were (as predicted) unsuccessful, leading General P'yankov to deliver an address that chided and threatened the Tadjik opposition movement. Moreover, he announced that a series of CPF military exercises in Tadjikistan were scheduled to take place in March. He made it understood that these maneuvers were intended to demonstrate the readiness of Russian troops to fight against the Tadjik opposition.
This "stalemate" situation was unexpectedly salvaged by the head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, Evgeniy Primakov. In November 1993, he met with the leader of Tadjik opposition, Abdullo Nuri, in Teheran. Nuri was satisfied with the outcome of the meeting, according to his deputy, Akbar Turadzhonzoda. Afterwards, the opposition's point of view was for the first time reported in the Russian media, including statements that it acknowledged Russia's geo-political interests in Tadjikistan and accepted the continued Russian presence on Tadjik territory.
In the beginning of March 1994, Russia's First Deputy Foreign Minister Anatoliy Adamishin met with another opposition leader, Akbar Turadzhonzoda. At that meeting, an agreement was reached to initiate inter-Tadjik talks in Moscow, under the aegis of the U.N. It is important to note that during the meeting, Adamishin admitted that the Russian military "often overstepped its mandate" in Tadjikistan. He also subtly confirmed Russia's military involvement in the inter-Tadjik conflict.
The political leadership in Dushanbe took umbrage at these contacts, declaring that the dialogue with the opposition was "poorly timed" because of the terrorist action against Deputy Prime Minister Nazarshoev. (Nazarshoev was killed right after the Teheran meeting that took place between Adamishin and Nuri.) Dushanbe's position was fully supported by the Russian "High Command." During a meeting with Akbar Turanzhonzod in Moscow, for example, the Deputy Minister of Defense, Boris Gromov, was completely uninformed of the opposition's intentions. Gromov blamed the opposition for striving to sever all ties with Russia, and stressed that the army would protect the Russian-speaking population under any circumstances.
Such behavior by Moscow and Dushanbe reflected domestic political demands. On the one hand, the Russian leadership needed to demonstrate to its domestic "nationalist-patriotic" opposition that it was appropriately tough in protecting Russia's "national interests"; on the other hand, the Tadjik leadership had to reassure "field commanders" by showing that merely "talking about the negotiations" did not compromise their position.
Between Negotiations and WarDue to pressure from Moscow, negotiations between the Tadjik government and opposition finally got underway in April 1994 under the aegis of a special representative of the U.N. General Secretary. The talks, which took place in Moscow without the participation of the senior leadership of either side, resulted in an agreed-upon agenda that consisted of 27 points. These points were divided into three categories--measures directed at a political settlement of the civil war; measures aimed at a resolution of the problem of refugees and those who were forced to resettle; and measures pertaining to the drafting of the Tadjikistan Constitution and the consolidation of Tadjikistan's sovereignty. Finally, it was agreed that the next round of talks would take place in Teheran.
At the same time, General-Colonel Valeriy Patrikeev replaced Boris P'yankov as the Commander of the CPF in Tadjikistan. This resulted in an abatement of the bellicose rhetoric emanating from the Russian military. By May-June, however, a wave of terror resurfaced in Dushanbe, with Russian servicemen suffering heavy casualties in their attempts to police the city. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Adamishin stated that "there were many signs that the opposition had its hand in this [affair]." He hastened to add, however, that "at that moment there [was] not a single case where it was possible to tell for sure that this was carried out by the opposition, and that it was not the government of Tadjikistan." Although the opposition denied involvement, the Tadjik government was able to stymie the second (June) round of talks in Teheran, as it had no need to fear any sanctions issued by Moscow. As a consequence, the centerpiece of the diplomatic agenda--a cease-fire agreement--was not realized. Dushanbe refused to guarantee a process of reconciliation that was to include the releasing of political prisoners, a repeal of the ban on the activities of the parties, and a free press.
A decision by Dushanbe to conduct presidential elections further intensified the conflict. As became clear later, Moscow had been consulted in advance about this decision and had agreed to support Dushanbe's effort to legitimize the incumbent Tadjik government. Since Moscow had no doubt that Rahmonov would win the elections, there was confidence that Russia would be able to offer more effective help to a legitimate president. Moscow's position could be characterized as follows: the stability and predictability of the existing regime, even though it might not have been the most sensible or democratic, was preferable to the uncertainty and redistribution of power that was bound to occur if the regime changed.
The previous agreement about a joint discussion of the constitutional provisions for a new election was circumvented. In response, opposition fighters attacked a unit of government forces stationed in Tavil'dar region, taking fifty-three servicemen prisoner. The fighters declared that this attack was not a terrorist action, but rather a continuation of the armed struggle against the Dushanbe regime that refused to embrace the notion of political compromise.
Following the postponement of the elections due to the pressure applied upon Dushanbe by Tashkent, the inter-Tadjik dialogue continued. In September, the sides signed a "Temporary Cease-Fire Agreement" in Tehran. This allowed the U.N. to station military observers in Tadjikistan and legitimized the presence of the opposition's armed groups on the territory of Tadjikistan. In the course of the following rounds of negotiations, which took place in Islamabad in October-November of 1994, the sides strove to agree to extend the duration of the Teheran Agreement. The opposition insisted that Moscow promise to abide by the agreement and prevent violations committed by combat troops and border guards deployed in Tadjikistan. The failure to honor these obligations, opposition leaders averred, would force the movement to "take all of the necessary measures."
The commander of Russia's border guards group in Tadjikistan, General Anatoliy Chechulin, however, sent a letter of protest to the U.N. mission in Dushanbe. He defended the actions of the Russian border-guards as in complete compliance with the "Russian-Tadjik Treaty of Joint Border Protection" that was concluded in May 1993. Thus, the Russian commander refused to order his troops to follow the provisions of the Teheran Agreement. This meant that the border guards, acting in accordance with the treaty with the Dushanbe government, would regard the opposition groups (wherever they were located) as hostile forces--with all that entailed. Such an approach, in effect, undermined the agreement, as was noted by the U.N. military observers in their reports. It became apparent that the leadership of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation (which was formally responsible for the coordination of the Russian policy with regard to Tadjikistan), was not capable of controlling the border guard command or preventing it from undertaking independent actions.
Meanwhile, the uncertainty of the mandate ceded to the Russian border guard troops by the Teheran Agreement and its rather free interpretation by the Tadjik leadership further escalated the conflict on the Tadjik-Afghanistan border. In January 1995, U.N. military observers noted a violation of the agreement--351 government troops were deployed by helicopters to the regions of Gornuy Badahshan. Two months later, these units attacked the opposition's force, which was regarded by the U.N. Mission as a violation of the agreement. For a few weeks prior to this action, the opposition units remained under siege and were essentially cut off from their leaders. A week later, as a column of Russian and Kazakh border-guards moved toward this region, they were attacked by an opposition border patrol that interpreted the mission of the "peace-keeping" troops as one of reinforcing the Tadjik government's forces.
In Tashkent, President Karimov met with the leaders of the opposition several days prior to the incident. In his discussion with the author, one of the executives of the Uzbek Ministry of Internal Affairs interpreted these events as a joint provocation on the part of the Russian border guards and the Dushanbe government that was intended to undermine the agreements signed in Tashkent. Not surprisingly, Emomali Rahmonov sent a private message to Boris Yeltsin on April 10 that requested the "provision of help and assistance, in particular through the increase of the military supplies, in order to ensure the effective protection of the Southern borders of the CIS."
The provocations at the beginning of April were severely criticized by the Commander of the CPF in Tadjikistan, General Patrikeev. In his address during the meeting of the Council of CIS Defense Ministers in Moscow on April 19, he declared that "the Tadjik government's attempt to reinforce its military presence in Gorniy Balahshan represent[ed] a violation of the Teheran Agreement, which prohibits any movement of troops." The general also said that "for their part, the border guard troops of the Russian Federation started a border reinforcement operation, which was also interpreted by the leaders of Gornuy Badahshan defense units as a violation of the armistice agreement."
The new inter-Tadjik consultations that began in Moscow on April 19, 1995 came very close to ending in a scandal following an extremely strident address delivered by Foreign Minister Kozyrev, who assigned responsibility for the border crisis to the Tadjik opposition and warned that, if such actions continue, "Russia will use all available military forces and resources against the opposition." The head of the opposition's delegation, Turazhonzod, replied that "his delegation considers it untenable to continue the consultations in such an atmosphere." Only due to the mediation of the U.N. representative was this incident settled and the consultations continued. Meanwhile, Kozyrev's deputy, Albert Chernushev, declared that "Russia does not consider itself in any way a part of the inter- Tadjik conflict."
By this time, the Russian leadership had openly distanced itself from the Central-Asian leaders' attempts to facilitate an inter-Tadjik dialogue. In Moscow's opinion, these leaders were mesmerized by the present Tadjik leadership and, therefore, were "playing into the hand" of the Tadjik opposition. Meanwhile, Moscow still retained extensive influence on Dushanbe. Moscow used this influence to prevent the consolidation of the post-Soviet Central Asia under the aegis of regional leaders such as Islam Karimov or Nursultan Nazarbaev.
ConclusionOn November 11, 1994, the author was invited as a Central Asian expert to a foreign policy conference that was conducted by Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Among those participating in the conference were: Head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Andrei Kozyrev, the President's Assistant on International Affairs Dmitriy Ryurikov, First Assistant to the President Viktor Ilyushin, several members of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Board, and members of the Presidential Council. While expressing his evaluations of the Tadjikistan situation and answering the questions of President Yeltsin, the author once again became convinced that the information the Russian president receives about the situation in the region, as well as about the motives guiding the actions of the primary players on the ground, is considerably distorted and one-sided.
It appears that the Russian policy in Tadjikistan had been based not on assessments of long-term Russian interests in the region, but rather on ad hoc evaluations, as well as on personal preferences and antipathies. In the future, such an approach to policymaking can lead to a sharp decline in Russia's role in this strategically important region. Moreover, this process threatens to embroil Russia deeper into regional conflicts, putting Russian servicemen and Russian-speaking residents of this region in ever greater danger.
[*] Arkady Yu. Dubnov is a political observer for Novoye Vremya (New Times).
 Safarov's "star" had originally ascended at the beginning of the civil war, when became one of the leaders of the "Presidential Battalion" that had fiercely dealt with those residents of the Kulyab and Kurgan-Tyubinsky regions, who migrated from other regions of Tadjikistan. These people were part of the hundreds of thousands of those people were forced to leave Tadjikistan to flee from the persecution of the People's Front fighters. They constituted the Tadjik refugees that moved to Afghanistan and other republics of the CIS.
 The author ascertained details about the preparations for the putsch from one of the senior executives of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs, as well as from other well-informed sources, that shed a different light on the role played by the Russian military in this incident. Before initiating the assault, Kendzhaev received assurances from the Russian Ambassador in Dushanbe, Mecheslav Senkevich, that once the putschists entered the city, the Russian troops would support them. (This explained the relatively small number of the attackers.) Senkevich, in a report sent to his supervisors in Moscow, solicited the Kremlin's endorsement for the plan. One of the arguments Senkevich employed was that the Russian-speaking population of Tadjikistan was supposedly threatened by the "Islamo-democratic" opposition and needed protection. In Moscow, however, the Russian ambassador's commitment to support Kendzhanov was rejected. The only message that arrived from the Ministry of Defense to Dushanbe was an order to the commander of the 201st division to protect vital assets in the Tadjik capital. As a result, the attempt of the People's Front to topple the government via the `hands' of the Russian military failed.