By Charlie Smith (08/07/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Central Asia is a key region that many believe has fallen into the crosshairs of the terrorist group calling itself the Islamic State (ISIS). Local governments are gravely concerned about returning fighters and possible ISIS infiltration in the region, and foreign powers, especially neighboring Russia and China, have expressed their deep concerns. This grim picture, however, obscures a more complex, and perhaps more accurate, story. Might the specter of ISIS have less to do with its on-the-ground ability to destabilize the region and more to do with the geopolitical concerns of those who are stating these threats?
By Oleg Salimov (06/24/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
The leader of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) Mukhiddin Kabiri gave an extensive press conference during the conference “Central Asia – Current Challenges” in Moscow, organized by Russian and Tajik educational and policy research institutions. In particular, Kabiri emphasized the growing confrontation between IRPT and Tajikistan’s government headed by Emomali Rakhmon. Kabiri, currently living in Turkey in self-imposed exile after his party was ousted from parliament in March 2015 elections, spoke about his fear of returning to Tajikistan due to political persecution. Official Dushanbe has yet to comment on Kabiri’s allegations.
Prior to March 2015, IRPT was the largest opposition party in the Tajik parliament, counting up to 40,000 active members. IRPT is a formal successor to the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), which it dominated during the Tajik Civil War. IRPT controlled the opposition’s armed forces and coordinated UTO’s efforts during the peace negotiations in 1994-97. IRPT is the only officially registered Islamic party in the former Soviet Central Asia, whose status became possible due to the peace accords signed by the UTO’s previous leader Said Abdullo Nuri and Tajikistan’s president Rakhmon in 1997.
IRPT has previously accused the Tajik government of violating the provisions of the peace accords in 1998, 1999, and 2000. Initially, according to the peace accords, the opposition received 30 percent of the seats in government. Consistent persecution and manipulations allowed Rakhmon to entirely expel the opposition from government. In 2003, IRPT protested new amendments to the constitution, which allowed another reelection of Rakhmon. In 2005, IRPT denounced the parliamentary elections as rigged. In the 2010 elections, IRPT gained 8.2 percent of the votes. IRPT rejected the results of the last parliamentary elections when it gained only 1.6 percent of the votes. At the same time, the party emphasized the peaceful character of their protest and condemned possible outbursts of violence by its supporters.
The harassment of IRPT progressed considerably greatly after the 2010 elections. In the wake of attacks by Islamists in Tajikistan’s Rasht region in fall 2010, the government initiated a series of actions aimed to intimidate IRPT. Thus, the IRPT’s headquarters in Dushanbe were searched and documents and computers seized. Soon thereafter, the IRPT’s all-women mosque was set on fire. In early 2011, official Tajik media started an attack against IRPT, intended to demonize the party and its leadership.
These tactics continued up until the 2015 elections. Human rights groups reported several arrests of IRPT activists at the end of 2013. The leader of the IRPT cell in Badakhshan, Saodatsho Adolatov, received a five-year prison term in January 2014. Also, a series of discrediting reports and videos on immoral behavior of IRPT’s regional leaders was published in the media and social networks. IRPT denounced these reports and videos as false. In August 2014, the government newspaper Jumkhuriat published an extensive article comparing IRPT to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. Most recently, IRPT reported the arrest of Kurbon Mannonov, the leader of the IRPT cell in Nurek on June 10, 2015.
After losing last parliamentary elections, some members of IRPT and Islamic clergy called for a dissolution of the party, which they believe has become ineffective and has discredited itself. The call was widely publicized by official Tajik media. The same media depicted Kabiri and his family’s departure to Turkey as an escape from Tajikistan, which only intensified speculations on the IRPT’s termination. During his press conference, Kabiri stated that he is not planning to return to Tajikistan due to the criminal investigation opened against him. Kabiri considers the investigation a pretext of the Tajik government to cover up political persecution against IRPT and himself.
Kabiri characterized his party’s future in Tajikistan as uncertain due to intensified persecution. Kabiri announced that IRPT has submitted an open letter to Rakhmon, describing the discrimination and harassment of IRPT’s leadership and members, following up on a 189-page appeal to Tajik parliament and law enforcement. IRPT calls on Rakhmon to observe the conditions listed in the peace accords of 1997. It should be noted that soon after the elections, the Tajik Islamic extremist group Jamoat Ansarulloh posted an online death threat to Kabiri for cooperating with Rakhmon. Andrei Serenko, an expert at the Russian Research Center of Contemporary Afghanistan, suspects that the threat was staged not by extremists but by Tajik security services to explain the future assassination of Kabiri.
The post-Civil War reconciliation provided Tajikistan with a unique opportunity to become the most progressive new state among the Central Asian republics by recognizing and allowing the only Islamic party to take part in the state building processes. However, the intimidation and suppression of IRPT and its leadership exhibits a devaluation of democratic principles and advancement of authoritarianism in Tajikistan. Also, the persecution of moderate Islam, as represented by IRPT, can provoke the growth of extremism and radicalism among its followers.
EXISTING PARADIGMS FOR RESISTANCE IN THE NORTH CAUCASUS CHALLENGED BY KADYROV, ISIS, by Kevin Daniel Leahy
FOOTBALL NATIONALISM AMONG IRAN’S AZERIS, by Emil Souleimanov
KAZAKHSTAN COMPLETES WTO ACCESSION NEGOTIATIONS, by Nurzhan Zhambekov
AZERBAIJAN AND THE EU, by Natalia Konarzewska
RUSSIA ENHANCES ITS SOFT POWER IN GEORGIA THROUGH LOCAL NGOs, by Eka Janashia
BISHKEK AND TASHKENT FACE UNEASY RELATIONS, by Arslan Sabyrbekov
TAJIKISTAN’S ISLAMIC RESISTANCE PARTY STRUGGLES TO SURVIVE, by Oleg Salimov
ARMENIA AND IRAN HOLD POLITICAL CONSULTATIONS, by Erik Davtyan
IRAN, A NUCLEAR TREATY, AND ITS NEIGHBORS, by Stephen Blank
THE PROSPECTS OF IS IN AFGHANISTAN, by Sudha Ramachandran
AZERBAIJAN AND KAZAKHSTAN FACE TOUGH ECONOMIC DECISIONS AMID DECREASING OIL PRICE, by Nurzhan Zhambekov
CONFLICT-RELATED VIOLENCE DECREASES IN THE NORTH CAUCASUS AS FIGHTERS GO TO SYRIA, by Huseyn Aliyev
KYRGYZSTAN'S PRESIDENT MAKES UNANNOUNCED VISIT TO MOLDOVA, by Arslan Sabyrbekov
PRIVATIZATION IN UZBEKISTAN: THE NEXT DOUBLE, by Umida Hashimova
ACUTE POLITICAL CONFRONTATION SIMMERS IN GEORGIA, by Eka Janashia
TAJIKISTAN'S OPPOSITION SUFFERS KIDNAPPINGS AND ASSASSINATIONS, by Oleg Salimov
By Oleg Salimov (04/01/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On March 5, 2015 the leader of the Tajik opposition organization Group 24, Umarali Kuvatov, was assassinated in Istanbul. Kuvatov has previously been accused of extremism in Tajikistan, and Tajik law enforcement has pursued him since 2011. He was previously arrested in Dubai in December 2012 at the Tajik government’s request on charges of fraud. In April 2013, a Dubai court allowed Kuvatov’s extradition to Tajikistan, which was later postponed and Kuvatov was released from custody in August 2013, at the request of human rights organizations and European parliament representatives.
Kuvatov was arrested anew in Istanbul on December 14, 2014 while awaiting refugee status, according to the Human Rights in Central Asia association, and released on February 3, 2015. On March 5, 2015 Kuvatov was shot in the head in Istanbul and pronounced dead at the scene. Turkish authorities arrested three Tajik citizens on March 9 in connection to the crime. The investigation revealed that Kuvatov was poisoned that night while having dinner with one of the suspects. No motives are yet announced for the meticulously organized assassination. Tajik authorities refrain from commenting the incident.
Previously, Maxud Ibrogimov, leader of the Tajik opposition group Youth for Revival of Tajikistan, who disappeared in Russia at the beginning of this year, reappeared in Tajikistan. Tajikistan’s Prosecutor General’s office confirmed in January, 2015 that Ibrogimov is in the custody of the State Committee of National Security (former KGB) in Dushanbe. The Prosecutor General’s representative Rizo Khalifazoda stated that Ibrogimov is charged on several counts of Tajikistan’s Criminal Code, including extremism, although no other details on the charges were provided.
Prior to the kidnapping, Ibrogimov received numerous threats and survived an assassination attempt in Moscow in November 2014, which Ibrogimov’s supporters believe were linked to his political views. Ibrogimov’s organization, formed in October 2014, focuses on fighting corruption and the clan system, and engaging Tajik youth in political processes. The opposition coalition New Tajikistan, in which Ibrogimov holds an administrative position, is convinced that the kidnapping is a result of protest actions against Tajikistan’s government, which the coalition organized in several Russian cities.
Tajikistan’s government outlawed Youth for Revival of Tajikistan on October 7, 2014, soon after Group 24, also part of the New Tajikistan coalition, announced plans for an unsanctioned demonstration against President Emomali Rakhmon in Dushanbe on October 10, 2014. Although the demonstration never took place and Ibrogimov officially denounced any violence in his organization’s political activity, he still drew the attention of Tajik authorities.
On November 27, 2014 an unidentified person attacked Ibrogimov in Moscow. Ibrogimov was delivered to a hospital in a severe condition with multiple stab wounds. In an official statement, New Tajikistan directly accused Tajikistan’s secret services and Rakhmon of the assassination attempt. Meanwhile, Tajik law enforcement requested Ibrogimov’s extradition on charges of extremism. Ibrogimov spent two days in confinement in Moscow awaiting extradition to Tajikistan but was released as a holder of Russian citizenship. His kidnapping followed soon after. A similar assassination attempt on a Tajik journalist, Dodojon Atovuloev, took place in Moscow in January 2013. A profound critic of Rakhmon, Atovuloev was stabbed multiple times by an unidentified person but survived.
Tajikistan’s extradition request to Spain of another member of Group 24, Sharofiddin Gadoev, in July 2014, was declined by Spanish authorities. Ukraine also denied extradition to Tajikistan of a former presidential candidate and rival to Rakhmon, Abdumalik Abdulojonov, in April 2013 after holding him in detention for nearly two months. As seen in the cases of Atovuloev, Ibrogimov, and Kuvatov’s, Tajik opposition activists in exile have become targets of assassinations and kidnappings.
Tajik authorities have previously resorted to kidnapping members of Tajikistan’s political opposition. In April 2005, the ex-chairman of the opposition Democratic Party of Tajikistan, Makhmadruzi Iskandarov, was kidnapped in Moscow and secretly transported to Dushanbe. Iskandarov was sentenced to 23 years in prison in October 2005. Another Tajik citizen, Savriddin Juraev, was kidnapped in Moscow and reappeared in Dushanbe to stand trial on charges of extremism in November 2011. Juraev received 26 years in prison in spring 2012.
While investigations into previous assassination attempts on members of Tajikistan’s opposition have never proven any involvement of Tajik authorities, these events clearly intimidate those who confront the ruling elite at home and abroad. Unless the problem draws wider attention from human rights organizations, Tajikistan’s international partners, and proponents of civil society and democracy, these practices will likely continue.
The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.