Tajikistan's authorities said on Sunday that the renegade general who had attacked government security forces is still alive, contradicting reports from two days earlier that he had been killed.
The confusion and ongoing rebellion come at an awkward time for President Emomali Rahmon, as he gets ready to host Russian President Vladimir Putin and other post-Soviet leaders who are meeting in Dushanbe starting on Monday.
The conflict began September 4, when armed groups led by deputy defense minister and general Abduhalim Nazarzoda attacked police posts and military bases around Dushanbe, and then fled into the Ramit Gorge, about 50 kilometers outside the city.
A source in the security services told newspaper Asia Plus that Nazarzoda was killed on September 11. But on September 13, the secretary of the national security council Abdulrakhim Kahharov announced that Nazarzoda was still alive, though surrounded.
All this suggests that the upcoming summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization could be a bit more unpredictable than Rahmon would have liked. The confluence of the two events has clearly made the authorities uncomfortable.
"Now, only one thought occurs: that the goal of this action [of Nazarzoda] was to disrupt the social-political situation ahead of Independence day [on September 9] as well as the CSTO summit, which will be held in Dushanbe on September 14-14," the state news agency Khovar wrote in a commentary on September 10. "I assure you that by the end of the CSTO summit, the operation will be completely finished," one source told Russian news agency Interfax.
Russia has offered unspecified support to Rahmon in his fight against the uprising. "I think that [offer of aid] will be one of the main issues in the meeting" between Rahmon and Putin scheduled for September 14, said Yuriy Ushakov, a Putin aide.
But Putin's "support" may not be exactly what Rahmon is looking for. "Russia will use these difficulties of the Rahmon regime to strengthen its position in Tajikistan itself as well as in the region as a whole," wrote Aleksey Malashenko, in an analysis of the events for the Moscow Carnegie Center. "In Moscow, they consider the cause of Tajikistan's instability to be not so much internal circumstances, as much as negative external influence by Islamist extremists.... Moscow has an interest in the existence of this threat, as it justifies the military-political presence of Russia, including the CSTO, in Central Asia."