In providing updates to its would-be insurgency and smears of the opposition almost daily, Tajikistan’s government has succeeded mostly in undermining its own credibility.
A dispatch circulated by Khovar state news agency on September 26 reaches new heights of implausibility. The story contends that the alleged renegade deputy defense minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda had plotted his uprising since 2010 in collusion with the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT).
From 2005 onward, Nazarzoda occupied numerous high-ranking positions in the security establishment. Between then and 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. His elevation to deputy defense minister came in January 2014.
Allegations that plotting should have been happening for so long at the highest level is at best an astonishing admission of incompetence by Tajikistan’s security structures. Alternatively, Dushanbe is spinning a yarn in full confidence that nobody within the country, including all the diplomatic stations based there, will dare to question its narrative.
Some details in the latest account are recycled versions of earlier, barely credible, accusations, but there are some new aspects.
Khovar cites prosecutors as saying Nazarzoda teamed up with IRPT leader Mukhiddin Kabiri to create 20 organized crime groups comprising a total of 300 members, who were paid $100 or more each monthly with funds of unknown provenance.
An avalanche of splenetic editorials published on Khovar has pointed to the activities of mysterious foreign sponsors. It is not spelled out who those foreign sponsors might be, but occasional references to “extremist international organizations” appear to be an invitation to speculate that some kind of radical Islamic organization is involved.
Then again, another recent piece excoriating Human Rights Watch at great length leaves a window open to the prospect of Western governments standing accused of fomenting the unrest. One telling passage suggests “HRW has adopted the functions of an information-propaganda tool in the diplomatic, economic and military interference of the West in the internal affairs of other countries.”
Another article, under the byline of Denis Vedeneyev (more below), goes even further by specifically accusing the United States and the European Union of funding IRPT.
Accusations leveled at the West are intensely ironic coming at this juncture. The U.S. began joint military exercises with Tajikistan in mid-September, while mop-up operations against Nazarzoda’s group were reaching their culmination. And only a few days ago, the U.S. handed over $260,000 worth of equipment to Tajikistan’s OMON — a special forces unit of the Interior Ministry renowned for its thuggishness and brutality. (Tellingly, the embassy did not invite journalists to attend the handover ceremony, something their colleagues in Ukraine have typically done with gusto for similar events).
Also, while refraining from any public comments on the liquidation of Tajikistan’s only viable opposition party, the IRPT, the U.S. embassy has issued regular security notices about recent events for its citizens, in effect validating the government’s frequently flimsy narrative.
Not content with its existing gallery of suspects, Khovar has also extended its criticism to articles by writers with “Slavic names and surnames,” who have committed the offense of casting doubt on the government’s story. The names include lively propagators of conspiracy theories about U.S. meddling in Central Asia — again piling irony upon irony.
In an apparent bid to preemptively deflect charges of inciting ethnic hatred, Khovar ran the article under the patently pseudonymous, Russian-sounding byline of one Denis Vedeneyev, who goes out of his way to describe himself as a real “Ivan Ivanovich Ivanov” born in Tajikistan.
Only the Russian government is spared of any outright accusations, and for fairly understandable reasons.
The sheer intensity and absurdity of Khovar screeds has taken on overpowering shades of “the lady doth protest too much.” With governments and international organizations — many of them guarantors of the 1997 peace agreement that now lies in tatters — remaining powerfully mute, however, there is no reason to expect a change of tone.