A former leading armed opposition figure, a businessman and a man trusted by President Emomali Rahmon.
Former deputy defense minister and general Abduhalim Nazarzoda was all these things before his sudden and inexplicable transformation into what Tajikistan’s state media have described as a terrorist bent on sowing unrest.
In a television report aired on September 7 on state television, Nazarzoda, who is also widely known by the name Hoji Halim, was depicted as a figure of the criminal underworld. He owns three illegally built dachas in the elite Varzob area outside Dushanbe, a construction business, and severals homes in the capital, the report said. Nazarzoda also has a bakery, expropriated land in Dushabe and illegally privatized a raft of other property across the country.
Nazarzoda was one of the very few remaining former opposition warlords that had managed to hold onto the government positions granted as part of the peace agreement that followed the civil conflict of the 1990s.
He was born to a family of manual laborers on January 1, 1964, in the collective farm settlement of Guliston, in the Rudaki district, near Dushanbe.
He completed his middle school studies in Dushanbe in 1981, and from 1983 he worked at a textile factory in the city. From May 1983 to May 1985, Nazarzoda served in the Soviet army.
After that brief stint in the military, he worked initially as a laborer in a construction company and then, through the year of Tajikistan’s acquisition of independence, as the head of a warehouse facility in Dushanbe.
In 1992, Nazarzoda became an active member of protests rally movement in Dushanbe. His associates have said Nazarzoda, always an eager hunter, took up his rifle to begin waging combat that year and joined the ranks of the armed opposition as a commander.
On September 7, 1997, the year after the signing of the UN-brokered peace agreement, Nazarzoda was appointed commander of military base 31001, which was assembled out of what was the former opposition forces 25th battalion. When that battalion was dissolved, Nazarzoda was given the rank of colonel, despite having a negligible military background.
At the age of 43, in 2007, he received a diploma from Russia’s Combined Arms Academy of the Armed Forces. That was followed by graduation from the Tajik National University at 46. From 2005 to 2007, he served as first deputy commander of the ground forces, and from 2007 to 2014, he headed the Defense Ministry’s military security services. The appointment to deputy defense minister came in January 2014.
Nazarzoda earned Rahmon’s trust a few years ago, when he assisted in quelling an earlier confrontation between the government and the former armed opposition. At the time, he was credited with persuading erstwhile warlord Shoh Iskandarov to join the ranks of the national law enforcement.
In his 18 years of service with the Defense Ministry, Nazarzoda’s name reached public attention on two notable occasions. Once, at the end of 2012, when Mahmadruzi Iskandarov, former head of the Democratic Party of Tajikistan, who was sentenced to 23 years in jail in 2006, told Nigoh newspaper in an interview that Nazarzoda was implicated in his arrest and subsequent deportation from Moscow to Tajikistan.
As Iskandarov tells the story, Nazarzoda invited him to a meeting in 2003 in Moscow, where the police were in waiting. An intervention by the then Interior Minister, Humiddin Sharipov, led to Iskandarov’s release. But Iskandarov said Nazarzoda phoned him again two years later to organize another encounter, which ended up with Iskandarov getting extradited.
Nazarzoda has denied these accounts.
In 2012, another exiled opposition figure, Dodojon Atovulloev, claimed that Nazarzoda had been given instructions to assassinate him for a $1 million fee. Again, Nazarzoda denied the allegations.
Authorities insist that Nazarzoda is a member of the Islamic Renaissance Party, a claim which the party itself vehemently denies, arguing that military personnel are in any case barred from political affiliations. Indeed, IRPT has suggested that Nazarzoda was one of those members of the armed opposition that argued for IRPT to be closed.
The authorities’ eagerness to link the general to the IRPT has led some to speculate that the purported insurgency is being used another pretext to snuff out what little remains of the opposition in Tajikistan.
Nazarzoda is the fifth general to be accused by Tajikistan’s authorities of plotting against the government, following Yakub Salimov, Mahmadruzi Iskandarov, Ghaffor Mirzoyev and Mirzo Ziyoyev.
On September 8, authorities announced that they were pursuing charges of treason, organization of an extremist group, terrorism and subversion against Nazarzoda and an associate, Junaidullo Umarov.