Central Asia-Caucasus Institute
"A Decade of Peace in Tajikistan: Who Should Get the Credit?"
October 17, 2007
"A Decade of Peace in Tajikistan: Who Should Get the Credit?"
The event featured Dr. Vladimir Sotirov, Representative of the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General for Tajikistan and Head of UNTOP from 2002 to 2007. In addition, CACI had invited Mr. Grant Smith, former US Ambassador to Tajikistan from 1995 to 1998, and Mr. Daniel Kimmage, Regional Analyst for Central Asia at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, to share their opinions.
Forum audio is available by clicking here.
Prof. S. Frederick Starr, Chairman of the Institute, introduced the three speakers to the audience, asking them to elaborate on the factors that led to a lasting peace in Tajikistan as well as an assessment of the country’s future.
Mr. Kimmage attributed the success of the peace process in Tajikistan primarily to the concessions borne by the opposition. Nevertheless, the collective memory of the civil war should prevent radical measures by uncontent people, especially since the major players in the region are not interested in renewed conflict. There has been an authoritarian trend in the country that has played a positive role in maintaining peace. On the downside, however, the political opposition is not very prominent.
Beginning his lecture, Dr. Sotirov pointed to the relatively new concept of post-conflict peace building. Since over 50% of societies that undergo civil war lapse back to violence within five years of signing a peace agreement, peace building can make a decisive difference in assisting societies to overcome the trauma of civil war. However, sufficient funding is necessary to transform the political, social and security aspects of a society.
Of the four UN peace building offices in the world, only the Tajik office has successfully completed its mission. It has been able to assist in the development of the political environment, deemed the most important aspect by Dr. Sotirov, in a way that supported the peace process. Opened in 2000, the Tajik office has faced a number of challenges like the reintegration of fighters, the alleviation of poverty, the coordination of local political actors and the fostering of unity in society.
As for the root causes for the outbreak of the conflict, Dr. Sotirov blamed both external and internal interests. Elaborating on the latter, he specifically mentioned regionalism, i.e. the dissatisfaction with the regime of power sharing between Northern and Southern Tajikistan, the persistent Russian influence as well as the rising tensions between Orthodox believers and the resurgent Islamic party. Widespread poverty also aggravated the situation in the country.
With no mechanism to deal with the competing interests, the country plunged into civil war from 1993 to 1997, resulting in the death of 60,000 people and 100,000 internal refugees. Total damages were estimated at $7 billion. The early involvement of the UN may have prevented even higher casualties, as the warring parties eventually accepted its role as mediator in the conflict. In this capacity, the UN not only implemented a political mandate but was also responsible for coordinating international assistance to the country.
According to Dr. Sotirov, the UN’s efforts in Tajikistan can be divided into three areas. First and most importantly, the organization helped build democratic institutions, foster dialogue and support national unity. These efforts continued for a long time after the signing of the peace agreement. Given the lack of political culture, the UN sponsored panels that included the Tajik government, party and opposition leaders, journalists and members of the clergy. The focus was put on discussing security and stability in the aftermath of the civil war. Due to the high degree of mutual distrust, communication between the participants proved very difficult at the outset. This was especially true on the regional level. The UN later assisted in conducting elections by providing offices, mediation, training and help in reframing the electoral law of Tajikistan. It also worked with the country’s mass media, emphasizing professional reporting, objectivity and contacts between journalists and government ministries.
Secondly, the UN sought to support the reform of power structures, build capacity and train ministry personnel. Reforming the Ministry of the Interior proved very challenging, as it commanded the largest armed force in Tajikistan and former combatants had to be reintegrated. Pointing to the success of the project, Dr. Sotirov said that Tajikistan is now able to help solve conflicts elsewhere in the world.
Thirdly, the UN embarked on a large campaign geared towards capacity building as well as the protection and promotion of human rights. This included the regular monitoring by international bodies and an educational program that made human rights an integral part of every child’s high school curriculum.
The entire process of the UN’s ten-year involvement in Tajikistan has proceeded in three stages. The first phase, ranging from the signing of peace agreement until the first parliamentary and presidential elections in the middle of 2001, was characterized by the implementation of the settlement. In the process, the constitution was changed, the moderate Islamic Revival Party was legalized, small arms were collected and former combatants were reintegrated in society. Humanitarian assistance helped alleviate the dire economic conditions. The reconciliation commission ended its work in 2001.
The second phase, from 2001 until the presidential elections in November 2006, witnessed the consolidation of power and nation building and the cessation of warlordism. The party system has worked well, with the Islamic Revival Party gaining a larger following. International assistance increasingly focused on developmental instead of humanitarian aspects. During this period, Tajikistan also regained sovereignty over its border with Afghanistan. In addition, work began on linking the northern part with rest of country. Previously, this land route had been closed for up to six months per year.
The third phase, since November 2006, has so far been dominated by questions about how to proceed with democratization. Dr. Sotirov briefly touched on internal and external challenges. The former include establishing a pluralistic state, avoiding a polarization of society, reaching elites, avoiding marginalization of ex-combatants as well as combating corruption, nepotism and regionalism. The main external challenges are the situation in neighboring Afghanistan, the fight against drug trafficking and the demining and delineation of borders, especially with Uzbekistan. In addition, emphasis should be put on the free movement of goods and people and the combat against religious extremism.
Adding his perspective, Mr. Smith lauded the UN for providing a new framework for Tajikistan. He also pointed to the importance of US assistance and the rise of the Taliban. The latter prompted Russia and Iran to take the situation in Tajikistan seriously and put pressure on internal actors to come to an agreement. By now, the situation has changed dramatically, with polls showing that people do not want to go back to the period of civil war. This is important in preventing future crises. Mr. Smith was optimistic on the overall outlook for the country, even though the economic development and the formation of religious extremist organizations remain areas of concern.
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The Central Asia-Caucasus Institute was founded in 1996 and has grown to be the primary institution in the Washington area for the study of the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Caspian Region. The Institute forms part of a Joint Center with the Silk Road Studies Program at the Institute for Security and Development, Stockholm. The Institute sponsors impartial research on the region, acts as a forum for policymakers both in Washington and abroad, shares information concerning the region and provides access for its sponsors in business to relevant expertise on the region. Additional information about the Institute is available at www.silkroadstudies.org.