The dust is still settling in Tajikistan. Following the February-March 2000 parliamentary elections, the National Reconciliation Council was dissolved. And in early June the UN Mission in Tajikistan withdrew after a six-year stay. The resulting balance of power between President Imomali Rakhmonov and Mullo Abdullo Nuri, head of the coalition United Tajik Opposition is now similar to that during the civil war. Nuri, in particular, is struggling to strike a difficult political balance, and President Rakhmonov must deal with the consequences.
The UTO has made most of the concessions to which it committed itself in the June 1997 peace agreement. During the summer of 1999, for example, the bulk of the UTO militias were disarmed, even if some groups in the upper Gharm Valley still refuse to give up their weapons.
But the UTO has still not met its basic goals, including the advances to which the pace agreement entitled it. For example, the agreement stipulated that the UTO was supposed to get 30 percent of the seats in the coalition government and at least one key ministry post responsible for security, such as the minister of the interior or of defense. Today, the number of UTO cabinet members is far fewer than 30 percent, and neither of the two ministerial posts was given to the UTO.
A compromise was struck by assigning leadership of a new ministry the Ministry of National Emergencies -- to the UTO's principal military commander, Ziayev. This, in turn, allowed the UTO to keep a small armed contingent within the framework of the Ministry. In addition, the parliament passed a law on "multipartism," which allows for the formation of political parties of a religious nature -- a clear reference to the Islamic Renaissance Party, which is the bulwark of the UTO.
In the minds of some UTO members, Nuri has not done enough to demand fair treatment for the opposition. On the contrary, they complain, he has complied with a process that makes the UTO only a junior partner in President Rakhmonov's government. For example, he decided to accept the results of the parliamentary elections, even though they manufactured a poor showing of national support for the UTO through widespread electoral fraud.
In an interview with Radio Mashhad on April 7, Nuri stated that he gave priority to peace and national reconciliation over full democracy. He noted that this process is slowly opening the political scene and will allow more and more democracy with time and will ultimately shatter the political hegemony of the present ruling elites. In a word, Nuri's stated priority was keeping Tajikistan united in the face of interference from both Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. This position would make him seem more a nationalist and a democrat than an Islamist.
It is true that the uneasy process of national reconciliation and power-sharing, although unequal, makes Tajikistan probably the most open of all the Central Asia States in terms of political pluralism. The two snags are the attitude of disgruntled UTO military commanders and the strategy of President Rakhmonov.
Some commanders have now their own resources, garnered through drug trafficking from Afghanistan to Kyrgyzstan. They also failed to surrender their weapons and ammunition during the disarmament process and resisted being dislodged from the upper Gharm Valley. They also retained some links with Islamic Uzbek militias, which, under the leadership of Juma Namangani, made armed forays into Kyrgyzstan in August and September 1999.
Nuri must play his cards cleverly. He cannot fight openly against "Islamic" fighters, for fear of alienating his Islamic constituents, nor can he rely on them. Indeed, the UTO as such seems a less and less organized movement, having decentralized into a loose coalition of Islamists, Gharmis, and democrats. Yet it remains the key player for stabilization in Tajikistan, largely thanks to Nuri's political and religious credentials and his reputation for integrity.
Unfortunately, Nuri is rather isolated in the regional and international context. The Taliban, the Islamic Uzbek opposition, and their Pakistani and Arab godfathers blame him for having made a deal with the "kafirs," the infidels. But he has also not received any support from the West. Indeed, he is largely disqualified for backing from Washington because of his former links with Iran.
Rakhmonov has every reason to be satisfied with Nuri's current situation. Rakhmonov is firmly in charge, has divided the opposition, and has increased his own legitimacy and room for maneuvering by bringing the opposition to the status of a junior partner.
But old habits are well entrenched in Central Asia. The authoritarian shift of all the other presidential regimes in the region might sooner or later push Rakhmonov to further restrict his opposition's autonomy. Against the background of fierce competition for resources, which are increasingly linked to drug trafficking, he might be moved to take advantage of Nuri's precarious position.
The short-term future of Tajikistan depends largely on two men, Rakhmonov and Nuri, and their political wisdom.
Olivier Roy is a Senior Researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research. Dr. Roy has served as a consultant for United Nations Office of the Coordinator for Afghanistan, Special Envoy for the OSCE in Tajikistan, and head of the OSCEs mission in Tajikistan. He is the author of numerous books and articles on Political Islam, the Middle East, and Central Asia.
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