Asia

Motives for Tajikistan violence murky

Police officers secure an area in Dushanbe where several special forces officers were shot dead on 4 September Image copyright AP
Image caption Friday's attacks raised fears of a return to unrest in Tajikistan

Many in Tajikistan were shocked by the announcement that a disaffected deputy defence minister was responsible for attacks on security buildings in the capital Dushanbe on Friday.

Nine police officers were killed when militants led by Gen Abdukhalim Nazarzoda launched the assaults. Operations against his group are continuing at the Romit gorge, about 50km (30 miles) east of Dushanbe.

Why would a senior security official attack his own colleagues, seize weapons and hide in a gorge with his followers?

It is important to note that the government is providing very little information, which makes these attacks hard to analyse.

Mr Nazarzoda was a field commander during the civil war in the 1990s and fought government forces as part of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO).

After a peace agreement in 1997, he joined the army and became a commander. Other members of the UTO, which had a 30% quota under the peace deal, joined the government. But the integration into the state structures was never smooth.

Deadly force

Edward Lemon, a doctoral student at the University of Exeter who studies Tajikistan, says President Emomali Rakhmon has gradually moved against his former opponents and consolidated power across the country. The breakdown of power-sharing agreements occasionally leads to violence.

Thus an attempt to arrest former warlord Mirzahuja Akhmadov in 2008 resulted in an ambush in which the head of special forces was killed.

Later on, however, Mr Akhmadov supported government operations against other former field commanders - a move which secured him immunity from prosecution, at least for the time being.

Image copyright AP
Image caption President Rakhmon has ruled Tajikistan since 1992

When influential commander Mullo Abdullo, who had not been seen for almost a decade, returned to Tajikistan in 2009, authorities launched a special operation to capture him in what it described as a counter-narcotics campaign.

During the operation Mirzo Ziyoyev, former emergency minister and one of the leaders of UTO, was shot dead. Mullo Abdullo was eventually killed in 2011.

Thus, as Mr Rakhmon's power grew over time, he became bolder in removing former field commanders who still had their armed supporters who could challenge him.

And lately, the government has cracked down on the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party, which was at the core of the UTO during the civil war. Its leader fled the country fearing persecution and the party has been effectively banned.

Sending a message

Some observers view the case of Mr Nazarzoda as yet another example of the government's growing crackdown on anyone who can oppose the regime.

However, Mr Nazarzoda has not been close to the opposition in the past decade. According to Parviz Mullojanov, a Dushanbe-based political analyst, he was not involved in politics and did not pose any threat to the president.

Besides, field commanders do not have the political or military powers they had before, he says.

So motives behind the deputy minister's decision to take up arms and turn against the government are not clear. However, suggestions that the attacks are a reflection of growing Islamic radicalisation should be treated with caution.

"Despite the regime's concern over radical Islam, the reality is that almost all of the recent conflicts in the country have been less about religion and more about local politics," says Mr Lemon.

Whatever the reasons for the attacks, the government clearly feels it needs to take action.

In 2012, when a group that was under the command of a former warlord killed a security service general in the east of the country, the government sent hundreds of troops with heavy equipment and armoured vehicles. Officially, 30 rebels and 17 soldiers were killed.

This time again, the government will want to punish the gunmen in a similar manner. They will try to deliver the message that anyone who opposes the government will be destroyed.

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