Tajikistan poised to slide back towards war

Analysts say Central Asian nation is under internal and external pressure after decades-long rule of Emomali Rahmon.

Concerns are mounting about the rule of President Emomali Rahmon [Mike Segar/Reuters]

A nearly two-decade-old peace agreement that ended Tajikistan’s civil war is quickly unravelling and threatening to plunge Central Asia’s poorest country back into violence, a new report warns.  

A ban by the government of hard-line President Emomali Rahmon on the opposition Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) – widely considered moderate – has caused growing concern both within and outside the country.

“Given its problems, Tajikistan should be a conflict-prevention priority for the international community,” the International Crisis Group said in its January 11 report.

Rahmon’s rule has been marred by corruption, violence and economic tumult, while security in the country – which shares a 1,400km-long border with Afghanistan – is increasingly deteriorating, the report said.

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Ever since a peace agreement ended a five-year civil war in 1997, Rahmon’s government has cracked down on both religious and political opposition in the country. 

IRPT represented the civil war’s opposition forces in parliament, but the party lost all of its seats in the March 2015 election, which the report said was “riddled with irregularities”.

The party was banned in August and in September it was branded a “terrorist organisation” by Rahmon.

In December, Tajik lawmakers voted to give Rahmon the title “Leader of the Nation”, and granted him and his family lifelong immunity from prosecution.

But problems continue to arise in the mostly Muslim nation of 8.2 million people.

The deputy defence minister, General Abduhalim Nazarzoda – a member of IRPT – was killed in September by Tajik security forces. He had been accused of organising “terrorist” attacks by the authorities.

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group reported that the 1997 peace agreement that ended the civil war “is unravelling”.

“The 1997 peace agreement masked rather than resolved tensions after a brutal civil war,” the report said.

“Its core was IRPT representation of the war’s opposition forces in parliament, but Rahmon deprived the party of its parliament seats.”

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Mahmudjon Faizrahmonov, an IRPT spokesman, told Al Jazeera that renewed unrest appears to be on the horizon.  

“We expect the situation to get worse,” he said. “The undemocratic policies of President Rahmon will move the country towards violence. There are extremist parties across the border in Afghanistan. Rahmon’s undemocratic policies play into their hands, but we reject violence.” 

Religious repression is also causing security concerns. Reports indicate that hundreds of Tajiks have left and joined Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters.

In a YouTube video released on May 27, General Gulmurod Khalimov – head of the Special Assignment Police Unit of Tajikistan – said he had defected to ISIL in Syria because of increasing restrictions on religious freedom in Tajikistan.

Rahmon has ruled Tajikistan since 1994 and his current presidential term is expected to end in 2020.

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Source: Al Jazeera