Armed Conflicts, Asia-Pacific, Headlines, Human Rights, North America, Religion

Tajikistan’s New Generation of Guerrillas

Portia Crowe

NEW YORK, May 24 2011 (IPS) - While most of the world is closely watching the Middle East, monitoring the human rights situations in Bahrain, Syria, Libya and Israel, the International Crisis Group (ICG) is keeping its eye on neighbouring Central Asia.

On Tuesday, the group released a report highlighting growing security threats in Tajikistan – the country it deems “by most measures, Central Asia’s poorest state”, and which is increasingly facing internal and external security threats.

The report focuses primarily on insurgencies in the eastern region of Rasht. Military operations against the warlords and young insurgents there have been unsuccessful, and in 2010 resulted in a fragile peace deal between the government and those it had accused of terrorism.

After a 2009 ambush and continued fighting throughout 2010 “demonstrated that someone in the Rasht area was capable of deploying trained deadly force,” President Emomali Rakhmon arranged a deal with United Tajik Opposition (UTO) member Mirzokhuja Akhmadov, who was blamed for the assault.

Akhmadov and his followers gave up their weapons in exchange for full amnesty, and became allies of the government.

“The 2010 Rasht operation dealt a disastrous blow to the image and what remained of the fighting capacity of Tajik military and security forces,” the report said, and while Tajikistan’s army appears weak in the face of national warlords, the ICG report also raises concerns about the threat posed by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, or IMU, which is wreaking havoc in neighbouring Afghanistan.

The IMU is a guerilla group “with a vision of an Islamist caliphate, that is fighting in Afghanistan alongside the Taliban,” said Paul Quinn-Judge, Crisis Group Central Asia project director, adding, “Tajikistan must hope it remains preoccupied there.”

The report cautions that a weakened Tajikistan could catch the interest of the Central Asian guerrillas, as Afghanistan’s conflict draws nearer the 1,400-km Afghan-Tajik border.

Following the army’s efforts to quell the Rasht uprisings, only about 30 soldiers remain in its sole well-trained counterinsurgency unit. Meanwhile, Afghan fighters have been steady infiltrating Tajikistan for years, and “Tajikistan has almost no capacity to tackle a dedicated insurgent force,” the report says.

These security threats are stemming from new generation of guerillas emerging within both Tajikistan and the IMU, according to the report. “They are mostly men in their twenties with little memory of the Tajik civil war of 1992-1997,” it added, referring to the five year ethnic war that left some 50,000 to 100,000 people dead.

It said this development has “punctured” the assumption that Tajiks are too damaged by the memory of war to turn on the regime – a regime which continues to provide incentive for revolt.

“Corruption remains at a breathtaking level,” Quinn-Judge said. The Tajik government is suspected of smuggling narcotics from Afghanistan to China and Russia, and thus intentionally leaving the Afghan border insecure.

And the country’s corrupt politics and weak army are further matched with a “moribund” economy and degraded infrastructure, according to the report.

With these grievances in mind, some predict that the wave of citizen uprisings spreading across the Arab world will douse Tajikistan as well.

“President Rakhmon denies that the North African scenario of popular unrest and revolt could happen in Tajikistan”, said Robert Templer, Crisis Group’s Asia programme director.

“But Tajikistan is so vulnerable that a small, localised problem could quickly spiral into a threat to the regime’s existence,” he said, adding, “Tajikistan is not immune.”

The report offers recommendations for both the government of Tajikistan and the international community. It calls on the Tajik government to repeal its bans on moderate Islamist groups that repudiate the use of violence, and to encourage their participation in political and social life.

It asks Russia, China, and the United States to assess the risks to the Afghan-Tajik border and to discuss measures to reinforce border security.

It also asked for a reconfiguration of foreign aid strategies, suggesting conditionality as a norm and special rewards for reform. “Investing now in developing aid staff expertise in Tajikistan and Central Asia would pay significant dividends,” it says.

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