Sunday, June 11, 2023

Fearful of Secession in Gorno-Badakhshan, Dushanbe Cracks Down on Ismailis and Aga Khan

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 9 – Faced with continuing unrest and fearful of secession sponsored from abroad in its Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast, the government of Tajikistan has launched a crackdown against the Ismaili faith followed by most of the region’s its 230,000 residents and the leader of that faith, the Aga Khan, who, Dushanbe believes, is closed tied to the West.

            The isolated and mountainous region shares borders with Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and China, was the base for much of the anti-Dushanbe movement during the civil war in the 1990s, and remains restive, with criminal groups based on smuggling and narcotics often having more power than the official government.

            Since the civil war ended, Dushanbe has tried, with mixed success to resubordinate the GB AO, arresting many of the leaders of criminal gains, appointing its own officials to run things and introducing forces from elsewhere in the republic to try to control it ( and

            In the past, Dushanbe has been most concerned by Chinese and Afghan involvement in the region: China claims the area as its own, and there are numerous Pamiris in Afghanistan who are closely related to those in the GBAO (

            Now, the Tajikistan central government is turning its attention to the Aga Khan and his Ismaili followers, seeing him and them as potential agents for the West who are interested in countering China and Russia in much the same way they were viewed by some during the Great Game of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

            Dushanbe has closed various Ismaili institutions in the GBAO and seized properties owned by the Aga Khan, actions that may limit the actions of this group but are far more likely to drive it underground and radicalize its adherents (

If that happens, Dushanbe may find that it has thrown water at a grease fire and that it will soon face even more violence there, with China, Russia and possibly others becoming even more actively involved than they have been up to now. 


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