After some of the largest anti-government demonstrations since Tajikistan’s civil war, Dushanbe, officials say, has begun withdrawing troops from the eastern mountain town of Khorog, scene of fighting last month that left dozens dead.
Thousands of protestors amassed in Khorog on August 22 and 23 after the murder of an informal leader and former warlord, Imomnazar Imomnazarov. Authorities had accused Imomnazarov, an opposition commander during the 1992-1997 civil war, of involvement in July fighting that left approximately 50 dead, including 30 militants, 17 government soldiers, and at least one civilian.
Under a deal signed late on August 23, the government agreed to begin pulling troops out of the town and promised to complete withdrawal in 20 days, Reuters reported. The soldiers are expected to move to their permanent garrisons. The deal stipulates that participants in the illegal rally will not be prosecuted, but the local government chairman, Kodiri Kosim, will remain in his post despite demands for him to step down.
Government troops stormed Khorog on July 24 to capture another former warlord, Tolib Ayombekov, whom Dushanbe blamed for the July 21 murder of a local KGB boss. Dushanbe has said that Ayombekov, Imomnazarov and several other former commanders were involved in drug trafficking, prompting speculation that some senior officials in the notoriously corrupt country were using the military operation as cover for a turf battle. An estimated 30 percent of Afghanistan’s opiates transit Central Asia, mostly through Tajikistan. Khorog, situated in Gorno-Badakhshan province on the border with Afghanistan, is critical to the drug trade.
The operation was also seen as a show of force by President Emomali Rakhmon, who has never fully consolidated control of Gorno-Badakhshan, a region where most people supported the opposition during the civil war.
Ayombekov surrendered on August 12 in exchange for a promise the troops would withdraw. Thus, many Khorog residents, who blame the government for Imomnazarov’s assassination, feel central authorities reneged on their promise. Tajikistan’s power ministries have denied involvement in the murder, though few would be surprised if the central government has less than total control over its security agencies.
The besieged opposition Islamic Renaissance Party -- which has had one leader murdered and another held incommunicado by the security services since the July fighting broke out -- has condemned Imomnazarov’s killing as “uncourageous” and said it cast doubt on a peaceful resolution to the crisis.