Wednesday, 16 January 2002

US SENATORS VISIT TAJIKISTAN, A FORMER HOTBED OF EXTREMISM

Published in Field Reports

By Alexei Igushev (1/16/2002 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Tajikistan has been ignored by the world community, even during the course of a bloody five-year civil war in the mid 1990s. But it has now become visible in the world arena. Against the background of the current anti-terrorist operation, Western media have started discovering that the post-Soviet Republic of Tajikistan provides a great deal of insight into what has led to a globally significant tragedy.

Tajikistan has been ignored by the world community, even during the course of a bloody five-year civil war in the mid 1990s. But it has now become visible in the world arena. Against the background of the current anti-terrorist operation, Western media have started discovering that the post-Soviet Republic of Tajikistan provides a great deal of insight into what has led to a globally significant tragedy. Now thrust into geographic and strategic prominence by its lengthy border with Afghanistan, Tajikistan is something of the epicenter of growing international interest. Just over a month after Tajikistan celebrated the tenth anniversary of its independence, on 9 September, it became an important strategic ground. On January 7, nine US senators led by Democrat Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and Republican John McCain of Arizona arrived in Dushanbe. Prior to arriving to Tajikistan, the senators visited Ankara, and Tashkent.

“We have come to familiarize ourselves with the current situation, and to express gratitude to Tajikistan’s authorities for rendering assistance while carrying out antiterrorist operation in Afghanistan”, Senator McCain stated at a press conference after meeting President Emomali Rakhmonov. “We have also listened to your President’s ideas with regard to what should be undertaken in the region in the long term”, McCain added. Senator Lieberman said that the world and American foreign policy have changed after the September 11 terrorist attacks, and emphasized that “we are intending to reinforce our constructive partnership with Tajikistan in geopolitical, economic and humanitarian respects”. The senators stressed that cooperation with Tajikistan will continue and expand even after the demise of the Taliban.

Answering questions of journalists, the Senators said that the United States and their allies are not intending to carry out any military operation in Pakistan in order to annihilate international criminals and senior members of Al-Qaeda. 

On January 8, the Senators left Tajikistan to continue their weekly tour. The next destinations were Pakistan, India and Oman. The visit of the US politicians is a sign of a vivid interest to the problems of Tajikistan and developments in Central Asian region. As a matter of fact, the young sovereign state of Tajikistan was at risk to become a bridgehead for international terrorism, and due to the current alterations is has become possible to avert this. 

Well-known terrorists started their ‘careers’ on Tajikistan’s territory. In 1994, the Tajik Interior Ministry's Special Rapid Reaction Brigade dislodged a gang of mercenaries headed by the field commander Khattab, the Jordanian who later moved to Chechnya. Besides, there have been numerous domestic field commanders, who would likely belong to the category of “international terrorists”. 

Terrorism is a social phenomenon, which accompanies every big conflict. Several generations of Soviet people were absolutely confident that the Russian revolutionaries, who according to some definitions could be termed terrorists, were doing noble actions for the sake of their descendants’ future.

The formation of mass consciousness in the Soviet Union was accompanied by the formation of positive images of terrorists, which helped justify the means and goals of the regimes. Some terrorists were being presented as national heroes. Writers wrote books about them, filmmakers made movies, and painters created pictures. The strength of Communist ideology supported this image. In a similar way, ideology is strong in Islamic countries, especially the poor ones, today. Religion is not only the “opium for people”; it is also a tool for governing masses. 

It would hence be wrong to consider personalities like Hitler or Bin Laden as just maniacs. Whatever we call them, they have ideological ground and support from people prone to a certain ideology. Yet for the absolute majority of people, it is clear that there is no war between Christians and Muslims: in reality, obscurantism declared war against the civilized world. This has been illustrated in Tajikistan in the years of the civil war. A colorful example is the mullahs, supposedly spiritual leaders, who played the role of field commanders, carrying a machine gun and practicing Islam simultaneously.

The information vacuum in Tajikistan can bring about the most undesirable consequences, exerting negative influence on social and political developments in the region. The most recent illustration of this is the northern Sugd province of the country, which borders on the Ferghana valley region of Uzbekistan (known for the fundamentalist moods of its population.). Last year, hundreds of people in both Sugd province and the Ferghana valley were arrested and charged with illegal activities, and plotting to overthrow the secular government. The presence of the illegal movement Hizb-ut-Tahrir was unexpected both in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan up to quite recently. With the disappearance of the strong Soviet ideology, the extremists are snatching all opportunities to fill the ideological vacuum. This is facilitated in areas where the free media cannot operate, and where there is a lack of secular education. The biggest mistake of the current political regime is the absence of attention to the problems of the mass media. 

In the late 1990s, due to efforts of UN agencies, OSCE and other international organizations, it became possible to avert escalation of the conflict in Tajikistan and to carry out parliamentary and presidential elections. International experts say that Tajikistan’s experience in establishing peace is unique. The warring factions are considered to have found a common language and achieved a compromise fairly quickly. In reality, a lot of efforts are needed to achieve complete stability in Tajikistan.

Alexei Igushev

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