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History, Independence

Supreme Assembly, Khujand, formal treaty, peace accord, presidential system

In September 1991 the Tajik Supreme Soviet declared Tajikistan’s independence from the Soviet Union, following similar declarations by most of the other Soviet republics. The USSR officially collapsed in December. Most of the former Soviet republics, Tajikistan included, joined a loose political alliance called the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

After Tajikistan’s independence, Communist officials who were resistant to democratic and economic reforms continued to control the government. In November 1991 Nabiyev, the onetime head of the Communist Party of Tajikistan, won the country’s first direct presidential election with 57 percent of the vote.

Renewed antigovernment demonstrations began in Dushanbe in March 1992 after Nabiyev dismissed some prominent sympathizers of the opposition from his government. The officially banned opposition parties staged demonstrations calling for Nabiyev’s resignation. The opposition was composed of the Islamic Rebirth Party and pro-democracy secular groups (Rastokhez, the Democratic Party of Tajikistan, and Lali Badakhshon). In early May government troops fired on the demonstrators, killing several people. Violent clashes between the opposition and pro-government forces soon escalated into civil war.

In September the opposition seized Nabiyev in Dushanbe and forced him to announce his resignation. In November the Supreme Soviet abolished the office of president and appointed a hard-liner official, Imomali Rahmonov, head of the Supreme Soviet, and as such, head of state. The Supreme Soviet also elected a new neo-Soviet government, maintaining the longtime regional bias in the political power structure. Government officials came from the Khujand, Kulob, and Hisor regions, whereas the opposition was based in the southern Qurghonteppa (Kurgan-Tyube) region, the Garm (Gharm) Valley to the east of Dushanbe, and Gornyi-Badakhshan in the east.

The Islamic-democratic alliance formed a military coalition called the Popular Democratic Army and held control of Dushanbe until December. They agreed to hand over the city when the new government was formed, but militias loyal to the government attacked and captured the capital anyway. Opposition rebels fled to the mountains east of Dushanbe and to Afghanistan. The Islamic opposition, from bases in Afghanistan, continued to wage guerrilla warfare along Tajikistan’s southern border. Fighting between government and rebel forces also took place in Gornyi-Badakhshan. The Islamic Rebirth Party rebels, who established a political coalition of parties and individuals and armed supporters called the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), reportedly received the support of Afghan mujahideen (Islamic guerrilla fighters). The continuous fighting killed tens of thousands and drove hundreds of thousands of people from their homes in late 1992 and early 1993.

After reestablishing control, the government renewed its campaign of suppression and persecution of the political opposition. Activities of the press were severely constrained, and opposition newspapers were closed. Many journalists were arrested, several disappeared, and others were found dead. Prominent opposition leaders were also placed under arrest. The Supreme Court officially banned all opposition parties in June 1993, leaving the Communist Party of Tajikistan as the only legal party in the country. Later in the year members of the government or close associates formed a number of pro-government parties, including the People’s Party of Tajikistan.

By December 1993 Russia and all of the Central Asian states except Turkmenistan had deployed a CIS peacekeeping force of about 25,000 troops to Tajikistan. The troops were stationed to guard the Tajikistan border with Afghanistan and fight the Islamic guerrilla groups operating within Tajikistan and from bases in Afghanistan. In early 1994 Rahmonov announced the government was willing to negotiate with the opposition, which had been urging peace talks since 1993. In September both sides reached a temporary cease-fire accord and agreed to seek reconciliation through political means. The cease-fire took effect in October, and the United Nations (UN) sent an observer mission to monitor it. The opposition was restricted from participating in November elections, which included a referendum on a draft constitution reinstituting the presidential system. Voters approved the constitution and elected Rahmonov as president, although international observers found the election neither free nor fair. The opposition was still banned and not allowed to present candidates for the legislative elections held in February 1995. Candidates affiliated with the Communist Party of Tajikistan and its ally, the People’s Party of Tajikistan, dominated the new legislature, called the Majlisi Oli (Supreme Assembly).

With the help of the UN, peace talks between the two sides continued on an on-and-off basis after the establishment of a cease-fire in 1994. By mid-1996 Russia, which backed the Tajikistan government, began to view the rise of the Taliban, an Islamic movement in Afghanistan, as a bigger threat to its interests than the UTO. Russia urged the Tajikistan government to make some concessions to obtain a peace agreement with the UTO. The talks resulted in a new cease-fire agreement in December. However, some Islamic rebel factions and other armed groups caused further sporadic fighting. Negotiations over the terms of a formal treaty continued, and in February 1997 Rahmonov and the leader of the Islamic opposition, Said Abdullo Nuri, signed a preliminary peace agreement. In the subsequent ongoing negotiations, the government agreed to legalize the opposition parties it had previously banned and include opposition leaders in 30 percent of high-level government posts. Both sides signed a peace accord that incorporated these government concessions in June, although several rebel leaders refused to sign the agreement.

In September Nuri returned to Tajikistan after five years in exile in Iran and Afghanistan. Nuri was appointed head of the National Reconciliation Commission, a joint government-opposition panel set up to establish a lasting peace. In mid-January 1998 opposition leaders abruptly quit the commission, charging the government with reneging on its power-sharing pledges. By the end of the month, however, the two sides agreed to resume cooperation, and Rahmonov announced the government would grant amnesty to all opposition leaders in exile. He also agreed to appoint one of the Islamic opposition’s leaders as first deputy prime minister. In late 1998 one of the rebel leaders who had refused to sign the peace accord launched an uprising in northern Tajikistan, but the government quickly crushed it with the help of former opposition groups. In 1999 Rahmonov was reelected president in an election that Western observers criticized as undemocratic.



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