By Edward Lemon
September 23rd, 2015, The CACI Analyst
Rather than resulting from external factors, as the regime has argued, the recent violence in Tajikistan erupted from within the state itself. Elites within the Tajik state continually compete for political influence and economic gain. These struggles occasionally break out into violence. Ironically, such conflicts are actually useful for the regime. They allow it to legitimize a purge of potentially disloyal members and a crackdown on other opponents. By blaming the latest conflict on the country’s leading opposition party, the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT), the regime legitimized its move to ban the party and arrest its leading members.
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.
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.