Authorities in Tajikistan seem bent on a confrontation with followers of Islam.
President Imomali Rakhmon has said his country has too many unregistered mosques. They are “propagating extremism” with foreign funding, “attracting youth to radical groups” and should be closed, he said at a February 10 meeting of his Security Council.
The comments came days after the spokesman of the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), Hikmatulloh Saifullohzoda, was brutally beaten outside his Dushanbe home. In response to the high-profile attack, the embattled party slammed Rakhmon for presiding over an authoritarian, corrupt regime and said someone had tried to assassinate Saifullohzoda.
Following a violent attack on its spokesman, the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, the country’s only real opposition party, has lashed out at the government of Imomali Rakhmon. Without specifying who is to blame, the IRPT has called Monday’s “assassination attempt” on Hikmatulloh Saifullohzoda a provocation, a sign of increasing authoritarianism, and a “threat to national security.”
The unusually combative IRPT statement accuses authorities of self-destructive behavior: “The authorities have chosen the way of confrontation instead of the way of dialogue, cooperation and mutual understanding and this may lead to [an] ailing atmosphere in society.”
"False rumors have been circulated in society recently and a deviation from principles of peace and accord have evoked serious concerns among experts and society itself,” the statement adds.
A 1997 peace agreement between Rakhmon and the IRPT, which has come under increasing pressure in recent months, ended the country’s civil war. Tens of thousands died between 1992-1997.
Suhrob Sharipov is something like President Imomali Rakhmon’s mouth. While he may sometimes speak without thinking, what he says -- as head of the Center for Strategic Studies Under the President of Tajikistan -- comes from the top.
So when he says journalists spend too much time talking to Tajikistan’s brutalized opposition -- the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT) -- we can’t help but wonder if he is foreshadowing another crackdown on the media, the opposition, or both.
"Constantly contacting representatives of this party and creating hullabaloo around it, journalists forget about other parties,” Sharipov lamented in comments carried by Dushanbe’s Asia-Plus news agency. “This is wrong and unfair.”
What other parties?
Maybe journalists speak with the affable and articulate heads of the IRPT more than with the leaders of the ruling party because they are accessible and actually have something interesting to say.
The IRPT was set up as the political wing of the armed opposition after Tajikistan’s 1990s civil war. In exchange for laying down arms, members took one-third of government positions. Since then, the president has slowly whittled down the party’s power, stealing seats and rendering its influence negligible.
Still, the IRPT represents the only real opposition voice to Rakhmon’s People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan (PDPT). There are several other mock-opposition groups such as the Agrarian Party and the Communists, though their love for the PDPT makes any sober observer realize they are no more than democratic window dressing.
Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon runs a corrupt, alcohol-sodden fiefdom, according to new wikileaked US Embassy cables available on The Guardian website. The reports describe a dysfunctional state where the dishonest top leadership is more interested in making money than envisioning a stable, prosperous future for its people.
Per usual, Rahmon (né Rahmonov) is portrayed as neither smart, nor caring; he realizes that economic prosperity leads to stability, but has little interest in sharing: “He has no deep understanding of the complexities and realities of the global economy. He wants Tajik economic growth, and he wants it now,” Ambassador Richard E. Hoagland wrote in November 2005.
The greatest obstacle to improving the economy is resistance to reform. From the President down to the policeman on the street, government is characterized by cronyism and corruption. Rahmon and his family control the country's major businesses, including the largest bank, and they play hardball to protect their business interests, no matter the cost to the economy writ large. As one foreign ambassador summed up, President Rahmon prefers to control 90% of a ten-dollar pie rather than 30% of a hundred-dollar pie.
Hoagland confirms that the Tajik Aluminum Company in Tursunzoda, the most profitable factory in the country, is simply a cash cow for Rahmon and his family.
As Tajikistan played Moscow and Washington off each other for aid and friendship, US diplomats witnessed an insecure, corrupt autocracy stagger -- sometimes quite literally -- from one superpower to the other, according to wikileaked cables from the US Embassy in Dushanbe. The newly released dispatches, which span five years, describe Tajikistan’s leaders as more interested in personal gain than long-term development. When friendship with Moscow isn’t profitable, for instance, officials eagerly aid NATO’s efforts in Afghanistan.
In cables dated November and December 2005 and available on The Guardian website, then-Ambassador Richard E. Hoagland describes ascending Russian influence and increasing suspicion of American non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
“Thanks to Russian pressure, Tajikistan is embarking on a potentially confrontational approach that will slow development and encourage the Tajikistan Government's worst instincts,” Hoagland writes.
The Russian intelligence services thoroughly dominate Tajikistan's Ministry of Security. Ministry of Security views often take precedence in the Presidential Apparat and key ministries like Justice that is responsible for registering foreign NGOs and Tajik media outlets and political parties.
"Taking part in the Rasht district events were citizens of former Soviet republics, foremost Tajik citizens," Rakhmon stated. He referred to the special operation by the republic's law-enforcement bodies to neutralize illegal paramilitary formations that began on September 22.
According to the Tajik leader, there have been no breakthroughs by the Taliban or al Qaeda into the eastern part of Tajikistan.
Earlier, law-enforcement representatives officially stated that there were foreign mercenaries from Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Russian Federation fighting on the side of the militants.
Foreign pundits have eagerly rallied around Tajik assertions that foreign Islamic terrorists have descended on the country. Citing government officials, for example, London’s Telegraph reported last week that al Qaeda had set up training camps in the mountainous former Soviet republic on Afghanistan’s poorly guarded northern border.
Maybe it’s not surprising that Russia has fallen in Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index. But one thing that should have Moscow ashamed is how the country – despite the size of its economy and its relative liberalism (we’re talking post-Soviet comparisons here) – it has sunk to the level of a small, destitute, despotic former satellite where you can’t drink the water.
Bloomberg headline: “Russia Most Corrupt G-20 Nation in Index, Slides to 154th With Tajikistan.”
Dow Jones: “It was tied with Haiti, Kenya and Tajikistan, and was ranked as the most corrupt country in Europe.”
Washington Post: “Russia tied with Tajikistan, Papua New Guinea and several African countries.”
To be fair, Russia and Tajikistan tied with eight others.
Elsewhere in Central Asia, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan win the dubious distinction of tying for 172 (out of 178). Kyrgyzstan stood at 164, and Kazakhstan, the ignominious chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, beat the rest at 105 to tie with Moldova.
If you wear a beard in Tajikistan, you must be a terrorist. At least, that’s what some authorities appear to believe. In their latest effort to stamp out expressions of Islam in the country, police have begun detaining bearded men, according to local press reports.
One (formerly?) bearded Dushanbe resident described his detention:
"[Police] explained that [my detention] was connected with anti-terror measures. Is it normal to see a terrorist in every bearded man? Logically, a terrorist would not wear a beard to avoid attracting attention, knowing how such people are being treated nowadays. However, what should we do, we who have no extremist views and are just fulfilling the sunnahs [following the practices of the Prophet]? For me the beard is a sunnah, which I want to and should fulfill. When I tried to explain that, they said that I could live in Pakistan, for example, if I am not satisfied with the laws of this country.”
Dushanbe is looking to boost public support for its campaign against alleged Islamic militants in Rasht, but its performance – lurching from one PR catastrophe to the next – is simply fostering increased skepticism.
The government is having trouble keeping its message on top of the news cycle. Though officials insist only seven soldiers died in a helicopter malfunction on October 6, independent local and foreign media, citing unnamed military sources, report that 28 actually died.
One could be forgiven, given the mounting discord within the security forces, for being skeptical of the government account. (Separately, sources told AFP and the BBC Persian Service and RFE/RL and Asia-Plus that the death toll greatly exceeded official figures.)
As of October 8, Asia-Plus continues to report that 28 died.