Introduction: from war to politics
Catherine Barnes and Kamoludin Abdullaev (March 2001)
In comparison with many of the ‘internal’ wars of the late twentieth century, the inter-Tajik conflict is notable both for its rapid escalation to war in 1992 and for its relatively quick conclusion through a negotiated settlement reached in June 1997. This issue of Accord documents these events, provides insight into the main parties to the conflict, describes the official aiq informal initiatives that comprised the peace process, and explores issues around implementation of the agreements and the challenges of post-conflict peacebuilding.
If war can be understood in part as the failure of politics by ordinary means, the Tajik peace process helped to end the war through restoring the politics of compromise. The initial chapters explore the background to the civil war and reveal that it originated primarily in the dynamics of a power struggle between a new class of ‘political entrepreneurs’, rather than in deep social divisions. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Tajikistan unveiled a vibrant array of political movements. They were formed at a time of great social and economic insecurity and were able to attract many activists. In addition, as Roy points out, inter-regional competition during the Soviet period generated tensions that fuelled the conflict; fighting was most intense where it intersected with localized antagonisms.
Decades of Soviet control over the state meant that few mechanisms were in place to manage this political diversity and the leaders of the new movements had little experience in the practice of political compromise. There were few counterbalances to ward off the rapid descent into violence as the means for gaining political dominance. This problem was exacerbated by external powers (foreign governments and armed movements) that directly or indirectly supported the different factions. With an interest in the outcomes of the war, they became in effect ‘secondary parties’ to the conflict. Although they contributed initially to the war effort, they later became vital resources to the peace process.
Design and outcomes of the peace process
The challenge to the participants in the peace process was to end the fighting and restore order while also addressing the underlying dilemmas that made Tajikistan susceptible to war. There were a few early attempts by Tajikistanis to end the war and establish a government that would be considered legitimate by all parties to the conflict. Yet these efforts did not result in a durable ceasefire or political settlement. In late 1992, the United Nations Security Council, at the request of member states, authorized the UN to support a negotiated settlement. The UN later sponsored the inter-Tajik negotiations, which began in April 1994 and resulted in a peace treaty a little more than three years later.
The UN crafted a narrow mandate that focused on ending the war. The process it sponsored was oriented towards drawing the armed factions into a negotiation process that would conclude with an agreement capable of restoring stability. As a result, some political interests were not represented in the negotiations. Nor was the process designed to provide opportunities for effective public participation or for popular ratification of agreements reached. The agreements represented the minimum point of consensus between the negotiators at the time they were drafted and did not attempt to provide a normative blueprint for the future.
These omissions point to a central dilemma for many peace processes. This is the tension between the ‘security first’ approach – aiming for a negotiated settlement between the armed parties to end the fighting – versus a process based on broad participation that aims to develop substantive agreements capable of transforming the underlying conditions that generated the conflict. Many Tajikistanis would argue that life without armed conflict in the present is preferable to the risk of prolonging the war so as to make a more inclusive peace process or to reach a more ‘perfect’ agreement – even if the exclusion or agreements reached might contain the seeds of future conflict. Their history of war and violence has led many to prefer a government capable of sustaining a ‘negative peace’ based on life without war at the price of not enjoying their full range of personal rights and liberties.
Increasing numbers of Tajikistanis believe that this understanding of peace is unsustainable. Correspondingly, some of the authors believe that the future durability of the peace could be jeopardised by those excluded from the process and the power-sharing transitional government. Others are concerned that neither the process nor the substantive outcomes helped to consolidate a democratic transition. Exclusion of some interest groups and ‘privileging those with access to the gun’ ended large-scale armed conflict. Yet it may not have ensured non-violent modes of political expression or enabled the diverse range of Tajikistanis to find a voice in the political system that will shape the future of the country.
The four articles by Asadullaev, Olimova and Olimov, Sattorzoda, and Akbarzadeh provide insight into the main political factions that dominated Tajikistan’s public life during the 1990s. They reveal how the war grew out of the conflict over the reorientation of relations between the state and society. It became a contest over what kind of state and which social elements would dominate it. The key substantive issue in the conflict was the definition of principles that would guide the country’s future. This took shape in the struggle between secular and Islamicist visions for the state. In addition to this central conflict, various opposition groups promoted a range of ideological platforms – ‘democratic’, ‘nationalist’ or more specifically regional agendas.
With this multiplicity of parties, a key challenge was to find a way to bring them into a negotiation process to reach agreement on the state structure that they would cohabit. Each party represented a coalition of interests that was realigned in the circumstances created by the war. The pressures and opportunities of this period often resulted in rapid changes as former allies were forsaken (for example, the alliance between Kulobi and Leninabadi factions), parties split from within (the Democratic Party of Tajikistan) or individuals switched allegiance. As the mediator and sponsor of the talks, UN officials had to engage in continuous consultations to identify the range of issues and aspirations fuelling the conflict, as well as to ascertain who represented a ‘primary party’ to the conflict and should therefore be invited to the talks.
The inter-Tajik negotiations were eventually structured around two opposing parties: the government and the United Tajik Opposition. The creation of a unified opposition bloc was crucial to reaching an agreement. Although dominated by one of its members, the Islamic Renaissance Party, it provided a channel for the government to negotiate with a range of opponents. It reduced the government’s ability to use ‘divide and conquer’ strategies that typically rebound by prolonging conflict, as different parties seek to cut a better deal by shifting alliances. It also facilitated a process whereby agreements reached at earlier rounds of the talks between the two parties could build cumulatively into the basis for a comprehensive peace treaty.
Coordinating the ‘secondary parties’
In addition to bringing the primary parties to the negotiating table, it was important to elicit the support of the secondary parties who were likely to back them. Although the Tajik parties were ultimately responsible for making peace, the articles by Goryayev and Rigacci Hay describe the design and methods used in the inter-Tajik negotiations. They reveal a UN-led process that put great emphasis on recruiting a range of external stakeholders and coordinating the active participation of various governments and international agencies (who were able to play ‘third party’ roles). Foreign governments that had influence with the parties – notably those of Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, and the Central Asian countries – were official observers of the process and sponsored different rounds of talks. They also played important functions ‘behind the scenes’ in encouraging their allies to reach agreements.
As in many complex humanitarian emergencies created by war, a range of international agencies and non-governmental organizations worked with their Tajik counterparts to address the political, legal, humanitarian, socio-economic, and security dimensions of the conflict. The inter-governmental organizations – the UN, organization of the Islamic Conference and the organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) – all worked to unify their strategy in support of the peace process. An informal Task Force on Tajikistan assisted coordination within the UN system. The keys to effective coordination of external actors in the peace process were: (a) a clear mandate for the lead institution – the UN – whose role was accepted by the primary parties to the conflict and (b) the painstaking and continuing process of consultation and information sharing by the UN Special Envoys and Special Representatives responsible for the negotiations. This exceptionally well-coordinated process deserves careful study to learn lessons that could be applicable in peace processes elsewhere.
Internal and international dimensions
Although the Tajikistanis and the foreign governments participating in the peace process were motivated to reach agreement for a number of reasons, the changing circumstances in neighbouring states – Afghanistan in particular – were a significant catalyst. As the Taliban gained increasing control over Afghan territory, the decision-making calculus of the Tajik parties and the governments in the region was radically transformed. Most believed that their best option lay in a negotiated end to the war in Tajikistan. Many of the Tajikistani authors highlight the concern that continued fighting threatened Tajikistan’s independent statehood. This awareness helped to keep them at the negotiating table and motivated them to reach agreement.
Governance and the peace agreement
In their article on constitutional and legislative reform, Zoir and Newton argue that the General Agreement gave insufficient emphasis to the reform of constitutional and governance structures that would be capable of sustaining a democratic transition. The Commission on National Reconciliation (CNR) was responsible for overseeing implementation of the agreement and recommending constitutional amendments and post-war legislation with the technical assistance of the UN and the OSCE. Zoir and Newton maintain that this CNR mechanism contributed to a ‘democratic deficit’ both through its working methods – which were neither participatory nor transparent – and through its outcomes, which contributed to the consolidation of a highly centralized state structure with few constitutional ‘checks and balances’ to promote the rule of law.
Creating a politics of dialogue
Yet the article by Abdullo points to the more political and less formal accomplishments of the peace process. He shows how the process as a whole helped to establish a normative pattern of dialogue and negotiation as the basis for politics. This was underpinned by the design of the negotiation process, which was based on rounds of talks, each aiming to reach agreement on a particular aspect of the entire negotiating agenda. Through the long series of talks, the Tajikistani negotiators developed the habits and skills of political dialogue to discuss their differences and to reach agreements. The fact that the negotiations were initiated while fighting continued (rather than making a ceasefire a precondition for talks) meant that the warring parties could ‘come to the table’ with confidence that talking did not mean defeat. The early use of Joint Commissions involving representatives of the different factions to oversee the implementation of interim agreements – for example on refugee return and the ceasefire – contributed to shared responsibility for outcomes and provided opportunities for joint problem solving. It also reveals how mechanisms for implementing interim agreements support the development of cooperation and dialogue that can later assist implementation of a ‘final’ agreement. As Abdullo points out, the Joint Commission monitoring implementation of the ceasefire also provided opportunities for direct negotiations among military field commanders, which brought them into the peace process.
Another reason why agreement could be reached was that the leaders of the different factions proved willing to take certain political risks. They were willing to talk to each other (for example, when President Rakhmonov flew to Afghanistan to meet with opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri), to make difficult concessions (over power-sharing or troop withdrawals, for instance). Furthermore, it seems that the leaders negotiating the agreement had the trust of many of their supporters, who were in turn willing to comply with the agreements reached.
Civil society and unofficial peace initiatives
Although Tajikistan witnessed mass protest and wide public involvement in the creation of a new political order in the early 1990s, the official peace process was dominated by the leaders of only a few parties and political movements. Decades of Soviet rule meant that very few independent social institutions were capable of demanding a place in the process or of addressing the consequences of war. Yet as the article by Mullojanov indicates, Tajikistanis – sometimes with the support of international organizations – have begun to develop a civil society infrastructure composed of both traditional social institutions and newer non-governmental organizations. They have mobilized to facilitate reintegration and settle local disputes, and seek to address a range of other social needs.
The article by Slim and Saunders describes the ‘second track’ Inter-Tajik Dialogue project, which began in spring 1993 and continued through the post-agreement transitional period and beyond. It brought together, in their personal capacity, people from opposing factions to discuss the conflict and ways to end it. This initiative provided a channel of communication, helped to address misperceptions about opponents, and created a forum to explore and generate ideas and proposals. It helped to develop relationships between participants – including government officials and people who were later appointed to the CNR – and strengthened their problem-solving skills. Dialogue participants have also participated in post-conflict peacebuilding and undertaken initiatives to involve the wider public in developing approaches to address sources of tension. Thus the Dialogue provided a unique bridge between the official process and civil society and complemented the more overtly political approaches to ending the war.
Managing ideological difference
One of the more difficult issues for the government was overcoming the reluctance to negotiate with the Islamicist opposition. In so doing, it inevitably signalled that Islamicist parties would have some type of status in future. This jeopardized its ideological commitment to uphold the secularist principles enshrined in the constitution, which was the basis of its own legitimacy. Since the General Agreement was signed, this dilemma has been addressed through the co-existence of Islamicist politics and an officially secular state. Yet Islamicists continue to debate whether Islam should be institutionalized in a non-partisan way within the state itself, be promoted through the political platform of Islamicist political parties, or be achieved through activism that falls outside constitutionally sanctioned methods.
These and other issues are likely to remain a source of tension for Tajikistanis. Yet the crucial question for the future is how these problems will be addressed. The war and the peace process have become a defining event in the long process of state-building in Tajikistan. It may be that memories of the horror of war, combined with the mechanisms and experience of reaching negotiated settlements, will mean that the art of political compromise will prevail as the method for managing conflicts peacefully.
London March 2001
Politics of compromise
The Tajikistan peace process
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Issue editors Kamoludin Abdullaev and Catherine Barnes