As Tajikistan’s government consolidates its control over the restive Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region following the forceful suppression of recent unrest, it is now seeking to soothe anger with investments into large infrastructure projects that it says will generate jobs and prosperity.
Even as the authorities do this, however, a growing number of dissident figures in the Pamirs region are being sentenced to lengthy prison terms after perfunctory trials conducted away from public scrutiny.
President Emomali Rahmon has charged Industry and Innovative Technologies Minister Sherali Kabir, who is also the president’s special plenipotentiary to the GBAO, with overseeing the construction drive.
On June 30, work was started strengthening sections of the bank of the Pyanj River, which marks Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan. That same day, a government news outlet based in the GBAO reported on a project to provide drinking water to 620 families in the regional capital, Khorog. The city is also expected to see the construction of two new sports stadiums, parks and a 10-story building for the Khorog State University.
State broadcasters have devoted ample airtime to the planned construction of a 360-meter tunnel that is to be built along the highway linking the towns of Kalai-Khumb and Vanj, GBAO’s two westernmost districts. Work overhauling that section of road is being financed with loans from China.
The sudden flurry of announced projects appears to be an urgent effort by the government to soothe tempers still raw over the government crackdown initiated in May. That operation has culminated in many dozens of arrests and the killing of a group of informal local leaders – Mamadbokir Mamadbokirov, Khursand Mazorov and Zoir Rajabov. Another well-known informal Pamiri leader, Tolib Ayombekov, was arrested in June.
Around 300 Pamiris have been arrested since November, when the GBAO saw the revival of protest moods among autonomy-minded residents of the region. Many have faced charges ranging from extremism to terrorism and seeking to overthrow the government through violence and membership in radical groups.
Rahmon had refrained from commenting on events in the GBAO since November, but he broke his silence during a visit to his hometown of Danghara in southern Tajikistan last month.
In a speech on June 17, he described the GBAO crackdown as a necessary step toward pursuing development in the region.
“Providing security for citizens is the function of the state and the head of state, nobody else,” Rahmon said.
That day, he instructed Kabir, the minister, to study opportunities for the creation of technology parks and small and medium-sized industrial enterprises. Eighty percent of the people employed at those enterprises should be from the GBAO, Rahmon said.
Unemployment in Tajikistan is rife, but the problem is especially bad in the GBAO. While, by some estimates, around 20-30 percent of the national population lives below the poverty rate, that figure is near to 40 percent in the Pamirs.
Rahmon argued in his speech in Danghara that it was informal leaders, who he claimed were working in the service of unspecified foreign forces, that were largely responsible for bad living conditions in the Pamirs. He claimed among other things that the informal leaders have over the year received 26 million somoni ($2.6 million) in funding from the banned opposition Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan.
Even if none of these promised investments end up with tangible benefits, it is unlikely anybody will be allowed to complain, since Rahmon’s authoritarian regime tolerates absolutely no dissidence. The sweetener may well end up tasting sour.