Is the economy again at the root of the current armed conflict in Tajikistan?

Another figure from Tajikistan’s 1992-97 civil war era is on the run in the latest reminder of the fragility of the country’s 18-year-old peace accord.

Former Deputy Defense Minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda and possibly up to 100 armed supporters fled to the rugged Romit Gorge region east of the capital, Dushanbe.

Dozens of people have been killed and dozens more injured since the fighting began on September 4.

The cause of the latest violence is unclear, although Tajik authorities say Nazarzoda and his supporters intended to launch attacks aimed at overthrowing the government. One thing that seems clear is that this conflict has little to do with Islam or international terrorism, as the highest figures in the Tajik government claim.

Nazarzoda was a field commander in the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), the backbone of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) which fought the government in civil war two decades ago. However, reports suggest Nazarzoda was not much in Tajikistan during this five-year conflict.

But Nazarzoda was reportedly incorporated into Tajikistan’s armed forces as part of the 1997 peace accord that gave the OTU 30% of government and military posts. Nazarzoda formally renounced his IRPT membership as part of his entry into the armed forces.

The Tajik peace agreement ended up being more of a compromise than a real final agreement. There were individuals on both sides who opposed the deal before it was signed, and others appeared to have agreed to the arrangement simply because they personally benefited from it.

Some – like former Interior Minister Yakub Salimov and former Presidential Guard Deputy Commander Mahmud Khudaiberdiev – launched attacks on the government just days after the peace accord was signed. During his tenure as minister, Salimov had overseen the increase of the Interior Ministry forces to the point where they outnumbered the armed forces. After being removed from his post, in 1995 he was appointed ambassador to Turkey and marked Tajikistan’s Independence Day celebrations in Ankara by bringing two planes full of guests from Tajikistan at a time when checkouts of state back home were nearly empty – sparking speculation as to how he could have amassed such resources.

For his part, Khudaiberdiev essentially claimed the Tursunzade region in western Tajikistan, where the country’s aluminum factory was located, one of his main sources of income.

Ghaffor Mirzoev was another government ally who served as commander of the Presidential Guard from 1995 until January 2004, when he was removed from his post and appointed head of Tajikistan’s counter-narcotics agency. In August 2004 he was arrested and charged with hoarding a large amount of weapons for the purpose of staging a coup. But other reports suggested he had been involved in narcotics trafficking and even used government helicopters to move the illicit cargo. He was convicted in August 2006 of conspiring to overthrow the government and sentenced to life imprisonment.

From the OTU there were people like Field Commander Mullah Abdullo and members of an Uzbek group who sided with the OTU and also rejected the peace accord. This latter group became the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) – which was designated by the United States, Russia and others as a terrorist organization – and was linked during and after the Tajik Civil War to its involvement in drug trafficking. deals outside of Afghanistan.

In the years after 1997, some OTU members also used the peace process for personal gain. One such person is Mirzokhoja Ahmadov, another former IRPT commander who was given the post of chief of the local police tasked with combating organized crime in the Garm district, east of Dushanbe.

Authorities suspected Ahmadov of using his position to engage in illegal activities, including drug trafficking. A force sent in 2008 to arrest Ahmadov was shot and the force commander was killed. Ahmadov was not arrested but was forced into retirement, although he did not stay out of the news for very long.

Mullah Abdullo returned to Tajikistan in 2009 and found refuge in his native Rasht Valley region. Ahmadov allegedly helped shelter Abdullo.

Another former OTU field commander, Mirzo Ziyoyev, was sent to persuade Abdullo to surrender to the authorities. Ziyoyev had been named emergency situations minister under the peace accord until the ministry was disbanded in November 2006. Ziyoyev was killed in the crossfire between government forces and Abdullo supporters in July 2009. Both sides accused the other of Ziyoyev’s murder.

When a convoy of government troops was ambushed in the Rasht Valley and nearly 30 soldiers were killed in September 2010, the government blamed Abdullo, Ahmadov and another former OTU field commander, Alovuddin Davlatov, of being behind the attack.

Abdullo and Davlatov were eventually hunted down and killed by government forces with the help of Ahmadov, who is still alive.

In addition to representing a few pages of Tajikistan’s post-civil war history, these stories are a reminder that alliances have constantly changed since the peace agreement. Many of those who participated in the civil war were accused of wrongdoing during or after the conflict. Rahmon and his government have been accused of arbitrarily choosing the times to finally act on such transgressions.

Some suggest that when these people’s business interests were left unowned, members of the government, friends or relatives of the president, moved in to take over.

This incident involving Nazarzoda and his supporters came as authorities prepared to act on orders from the Justice Department to shut down the IRPT by September 7, and Nazarzoda’s previous ties to the IRPT figured prominently. in Tajik state media.

Nazarzoda, besides being an officer in the army, was also a small businessman. He owned a bakery, but also owned other businesses involved in importing textiles and other legal basic goods.

Tohir Safarov of RFE/RL’s Tajik Service contributed to this report