ON UZBEK-TAJIK RELATIONS

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The observer of the WPS agency/

On the night of November 4, 1998, at 4 a.m., the anti-government military group headed by Makhmud Khudoiberdyev, with the financial support of ex-Prime Minister of the Republic of Tajikistan Abdumalik Abdulladjanov and other criminal mafia structures, broke into the Leninabad Region of Tajikistan. The invasion was carried out through villages of the Shakhristan and Ura-Tyube districts. The number of armed people was about one thousand.

Having disarmed the governmental block-posts in the Shakhristan, Aininsky, and Ura-Tyube districts, the armed men killed 25 police officers. On November 5 at 12 a.m., 39 governmental soldiers were killed and more than 100 were wounded as a result of scuffles between government troops and rebels. There were also civilians among those killed and wounded. The fight caused great damage to many buildings located in the region. On November 4, government military forces started a wide-reaching operation against the rebellion. On the night of November 5, government soldiers surrounded the Administration building of the Leninabad Region and freed 35 police officers who had been taken hostage. On November 5 at 2 p.m., the government forces managed to fully clear the capital of the Leninabad Region and round up the members of the military group headed by M. Khudoiberdyev near the regional airport in the town of Khudjanda. The rebel formations were also blocked in the town of Chkalovsk and in the Aininskii and Ura-Tyube Regions.

The headquarters of the bandit formation headed by Makhmud Khudoiberdyev and his closest company were encircled. But Khudoiberdyev, along with some of his friends, managed to escape.

During the fighting, the government troops lost 39 men and the rebels lost about 50 fighters.

During their first interrogations, the arrested members of the armed formation of M. Khudoiberdyev said that they came to Tajikistan from the territory of Uzbekistan. Many of them had fought in Afghanistan in the divisions of General Abdurashid Dustum. Among the rebels killed were also citizens of the Islamic State of Afghanistan who earlier served in the military formations of General Dustum.

One question remains: Does Tashkent have ties with the rebellion? And why did this happen? It is difficult to find an answer to these questions. But the fact is certain. As a result of the fight, the Leninabad Region was in the hands of the bandits for almost a full day, and Dushanbe wasn’t able to control the situation there.

What was it: a rehearsal to tear away the town of Khudjand from Tajikistan or just a bandit sally? The leaflet that Colonel Khudoiberdyev distributed during his rebellion can to some extend clear up the situation. Even the title of the leaflet draws the reader’s attention: “The Statement of the Chief of Staff of the Movement for Peace in Tajikistan”. So it should be clear from the beginning that even outwardly Khudoiberdyev wants peace. But the text of the statement contradicts this. Khudoiberdyev writes:

“The development of events in the Leninabad Region and in several other regions of the Republic of Tajikistan and around them bears witness to the fact that Rakhmonov and his Government do not want the peace in Tajikistan and prefer, instead of negotiations, to use force to solve the inter-Tajik conflict. The information that we have shows that E. Rakhmonov asked for military-technical aid from Russia and other CIS countries. In particular, the transfer of Tajik government forces to regions where fighting was going on was done with the help of the Russian 201st division, which is in fact rude interference in the inner conflict in our country.

“I say once again for those who do not hear the truth: I am neither a terrorist and nor a rebel. I want peace in our land and that is not possible without drawing all sections of the population into the problem, without the participation of the political and regional leaders of the country. Simultaneously, some Russian and Tajik media are propagating false information about the situation in the center and outskirts of the Leninabad Region, including information about alleged exchanges of fire in the town of Khudjand. In this connection I say: I haven’t forgotten that in August 1997 the Russian armored 201st division at first acted as a mediator in our inner Tajik conflict then perfidiously attacked our forces. At that time, only in order to save the lives of Russian soldiers whose aim in Tajikistan was to participate in the process of reconciliation and not to fight against the population of Tajikistan, I was forced to step back. With the help of radio interception I found new evidence that Russian officers and soldiers are taking part in military operations on the side of the government troops; I also know that Russia transfers its military equipment to the Republic of Uzbekistan.

“In this connection I say: we will consider any attempts of interfere with the inner Tajik conflict as an aggression aimed against our country. We are ready to repulse them with all our strength. In order to prevent this interference we, as a measure of suppression, have undertaken the following action: we have mined the dam of the Kairakum hydroelectric power station which, if destroyed, will flood the vast territories of Central Asia. The hotheads in Tajikistan, as well as in other countries, should choose either peace in the country or millions of victims for the sake of Rakhmonov’s ambitions and the ambitions of his supporters.

“At the same time I again confirm my readiness to hold talks with the government of Tajikistan on the conditions of discontinuing military interference. I support various political leaders and CIS countries which intend to as intermediaries in the negotiations. I repeat again and again: terror has never been my method during my military career, and I do not intend to admit this later. At the same time, I have to warn that I may have no other way out. It depends on Russia, Uzbekistan, and Rakhmonov.

“Colonel Makhmud Khudoiberdyev, November 5, 1998.”

Commenting on this announcement, General-Major Vladimir Kovrov, head of the Headquarters of the CIS Collective Conciliatory Forces (CCF) in Tajikistan, has told an Interfax correspondent: “I officially announce that the 201st motorized-rifle division governed by the United Commanding Point of the CCF did not participate in the military actions in the northern part of the republic. Consequently, no military equipment or ammunition has been received. Khudoiberdyev’s statements that detachments of the 201st motorized rifle division allegedly assisted the Tajik forces are not true.

“The Conciliatory Forces are continuing to fulfill the tasks stipulated by their mandate. During the mutiny they intensified their guard of the military objects belonging to them and residences of servicemen, and were ready to act at any minute in accordance with their conciliatory mission.”

Meanwhile, on November 30, Uzbek President Islam Karimov announced that Russian military units assisted the Tajik governmental troops. Moreover, at a briefing in Tashkent he accused the Russian special services, and hence Russia, of kindling a conflict between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

The Russian Foreign Ministry and the Federal Security Service immediately refuted these announcements. Thus, the situation is getting more and more intricate. But the problem, which confirms the nascence of a new conflict situation in Central Asia, is obvious. One can believe Karimov, who states that Tashkent has nothing to do with the mutiny in the Leninabad region. But one cannot discount the possibility that large Uzbek mafia clans interested in separating the rich region of Tajikistan stand behind Khudoiberdyev. Now one can boldly state that, among the international problems which appear in Central Asia every now and then, those connected with Tajik-Uzbek relations are the most acute. They were out of sight for some time. However, after the mutiny in the Leninabad region and the consequent mutual accusations issued by official figures in Tashkent and Dushanbe, it is clear that another “hot spot” may appear in the region. And if earlier only internal conflicts occurred (for instance the conflicts in the Fergana Valley in Uzbekistan in 1990-1991 and in the upland areas of Tajikistan in 1991-1995), after November 1998 the Tajik-Uzbek conflict may be characterized as an international. About 1.2 million Uzbeks live in Tajikistan. Nobody knows the exact number of Tajiks in Uzbekistan, but this number is not less than 6-7 million. There are many mixed families in both republics, since the Tajik and Uzbek cultures are similar. Officially, there are no inter-ethnic problems in Tajikistan or Uzbekistan. But they do exist, and they may cause a great international conflict. This is connected with the fact that in the beginning of the 1930’s Tajiks living in the Bukhara and Samarkand regions of Uzbekistan were registered as Uzbeks, and anti-Uzbek sentiments are common in these regions. Karimov’s regime suppresses these phenomena by retaliatory actions, but any deviation from stability may cause a conflict. Uzbeks are almost entirely absent from the Tajik government, and in the Uzbek government the situation is analogous.

It is noteworthy that Khudoiberdyev’s actions started after the conciliatory process was resumed and representatives of the United Tajik Opposition started to return to Tajikistan. It is worth while heeding to the announcement of Abdumalik Abdulladjanov, the former Prime Minister of Tajikistan, who has accused the current Tajik authorities of “political, regional, and ethnic genocide.”

It is noteworthy that this announcement was received by informational agencies from Tashkent. Abdulladjanov, the leader of the National Renaissance of Tajikistan political bloc, asserts that after the mutiny in the Leninabad region thousands of people were imprisoned, dozens of houses were pillaged, and missing people number in the hundreds.”

Thus, the conflict in the Leninabad region is apparently entering a new phase, and one can hardly see a solution to this conflict. However, there is hope that after the presidential election in Tajikistan scheduled for 1999 a power balance will be restored.

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