Today, the crisis intensified. Four of the seven former field commanders during the Civil War who exercise enormous power in Gorno-Badakhshan, asked Rakhmon for talks. That the other three did not is itself an indication of the difficult nature of the situation in the region ( ).
A few days ago, Viktoriya Panfilova of Nezavisimaya gazeta says, Dushanbe told the seven that they must cooperate with Dushanbe or face criminal sanctions. Today, it is expected that Rakhmon will reiterate that and say that their cooperation is critical for the completion of “the consolidation of society” after the 1990s civil war.
The seven, including the four who came, had fought during the 1990-1997 civil war on the side of the United Tajik Opposition against the Peoples Front, “one of the leaders of which was Emomali Rakhmon” who is now president. They have enormous influence among the Pamiris even after Dushanbe launched a military operation against them in 2012.
Local observers, Panfilova continues, “consider one of the causes of conflicts in the Gorno-Badakhshan AO to be a struggle for control over drug traffic.” At present, it believes that the seven are the leaders of this although it has not yet provided evidence of that sufficient to convince the local population to turn on them.
To tighten the screws, she says, Rakhmon has reportedly decided to strip Khorog, the capital of the oblast, of its power to “independently organize economic relations with the border regions of Afghanistan” and instead concentrate control in the hands of officials in Dushanbe. That step, of course, will affect many more people there than just the seven leaders.
According to Adolat Mirzoyeva, an independent specialist on Tajikisstan, “the situation in the Pamirs remains complicated … De jure the GBAO is an autonomy but de facto it isn’t. Everything that is going on there is not the fault of the population or ‘the popular leaders’ but the result of relations of the government of Tajikistan to that region” and others.
“The Pamiris are angry that the informal leaders of GBAO are being called criminal bosses” without evidence, especially since they were integrated into the political establishment of the region on the basis of the peace treaty which ended the civil war. In their view, Dushanbe is violating that arrangement.
Those attitudes mean that the population may be inclined to support the seven rather than Dushanbe, something that is even more likely, Mirzoyeva says, because “in contrast to the rest of Tajikistan which is populated by Sunni Muslims, the residents of the Pamir profess Ismailism.” And that in turn promotes a powerful sense of regional identity.
Another Tajik analyst, Khusand Khurramov told Panfilova that he doubts that the seven control the situation but adds that they can still count on the views of the population there that the world is divided between “their own” and “aliens” and that the seven are “their own” far more than Rakhmon.
Some in Dushanbe are pressing for a military solution, but Dushanbe is afraid of two things, Khurramov says. On the one hand, it fears the Pamiri cause will be taken up by the Tajik opposition in Europe and give Dushanbe a black eye. And on the other, it is worried the Pamiris could serve as a catalyst for the reunification of the opposition inside the country.
The analyst thus concludes that Rakhmon will seek reassurance from the four who are meeting with him that they will not link up with other opposition groups or the diaspora. In exchange, the Tajik president may back down from some of the demands he and his officials have made on Khorog.
If that doesn’t happen, the situation in this region could rapidly become explosive, something radicals in Afghanistan and opposition groups elsewhere in Tajikistan would be certain to exploit.