Tajik Mutineer And Special Forces Commander Killed In Battle
Tajikistan's authorities say they have killed the fugitive general who mutinied two weeks ago. In the fight, however, the commander of the most elite special forces unit in the country, the Alfas, was killed as well.
The former general, Abduhalim Nazarzoda, was killed on September 16 at 14:00 local time after a day-and-a-half-long battle in the Romit Gorge at an altitude of 3,700 meters above sea level, Tajikistan's Interior Ministry and State Committee on National Security said in a joint statement.
During the fighting, the chief of the Alfas, Colonel Rustam Khamakiyev, and three other officers of the Alfas and OMON (a special forces unit of the Interior Ministry) were killed, the statement added.
There were earlier reports (though never officially confirmed) that Nazarzoda had been killed last week; and officials vowed that they would get him by the end of the summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization in Dushanbe, which wrapped up September 15.
There are reasons to be skeptical of the official account of events, noted Edward Lemon, an expert on Tajikistan, on twitter. "The Tajik government has a tendency to cover up/misrepresent the way in which 'terrorists' are killed in security operations," he wrote. "[I]n 2011, the regime said that Ali Bedaki was killed in a firefight. And then a video emerged of him being interrogated at gunpoint... [I]n 2009 the government alleged that former Minister of Emergency Situations, Mirzo Ziyoyev, had been captured by government forces, then they changed their story and said he had been killed by his former 'terrorist' allies." (edited slightly to detwitterize) So, we shouldn't be surprised if the story changes somewhat in the future.
Nevertheless, this would seem to bring to a close Nazarzoda's mutiny. But the debate over how to interpret it is likely to continue.
Many see this episode as the latest in what has become a regular occurence in Tajikistan over the past few years: leaders of the losing side in the 1990s civil war, who were then co-opted into the government as part of a peace deal, then saw the government appear to try to change the terms of the deal and sideline them, and rebelling in defense.
But Tajikistan's president Emomali Rahmon has contended that the episode was somehow the result of external forces, trying unconvincingly to link Nazarzoda to ISIS. At the CSTO summit, Rahmon got support from his allies for this thesis. "Tajikistan is always disturbed on the border with Afghanistan and the latest events occurred with involvement of external forces," said Kazakhstan's president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, at a meeting with Rahmon. And the region's latest bogeyman, ISIS, was at the top of the summit agenda, reinforcing the notion that threats to Tajikistan (and the rest of Central Asia) come from outside, rather than within.
Rahmon surely knows better, but this focus on external enemies is currently very useful for his domestic agenda, as he rapidly moves to sideline his only political opposition by smearing them with charges of terrorism.
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.