WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 683, August 27, 2012

ANOTHER BLOW TO FRAGILE STABILITY IN TAJIK EAST  In Badakhshan, many
believe local strongman was killed by special forces, though
government denies involvement.  By Lola Olimova

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ANOTHER BLOW TO FRAGILE STABILITY IN TAJIK EAST

In Badakhshan, many believe local strongman was killed by special
forces, though government denies involvement.

By Lola Olimova

Khorog, the main town in Tajikistan’s remote southeastern Badakhshan
region, remained tense on August 23 as protests entered a second day
following the death of an influential local leader.

Many demonstrators stayed outside the local government offices
overnight, after more than 3,000 gathered the previous day demanding
that officials account for the death of Imomnazar Imomnazarov in an
attack on his home earlier on August 22.

Neighbours told local media that they heard the sound of a grenade
blast followed by automatic gunfire. Imomnazarov’s brother and members
of his entourage were reported to have been wounded in the attack and
taken to hospital.

Khorog has been tense since July, when it was left badly scarred by
gun battles between government troops and supporters of a rebellious
local frontier guards officer, Talib Ayombekov. When Ayombekov refused
to surrender suspects in the killing of a top regional security
official, central government ordered thousands of soldiers into the
region to capture him and his men.

The ensuing fighting left 48 people dead. Ayombekov’s group was not
defeated outright despited being massively outnumbered by government
troops, and instead a ceasefire was reached in late July and a process
of negotiations started. (See Tajik Rebels Lay Down Arms in
Badakhshan.)

Imomnazarov’s role in all this is unclear. Like Ayombekov, he was part
of the anti-government guerrilla force during the 1992-97 civil war,
before returning to civilian life. As violence broke out this July,
the authorities named Imomnazarov as well as Ayombekov and others as
leading figures in organised crime in Badakhshan, involved in
smuggling narcotics and other items across the nearby Afghan border.

The attack on Imomazarov raised suspicions amongst locals who believed
government special forces were responsible, although officials have
denied this.

An unnamed security source told the Russian news agency Interfax that
it was not in the Tajik authorities’ interest to kill Imomnazarov, as
they were trying to restore peace and stability in Badakhshan. Ikrom
Umarov, an interior ministry official, dismissed the allegations as
entirely unfounded in an interview with RFE/RL radio’s Tajik service.

The attack also caused outrage as Imomnazarov had earlier sustained
serious injuries and had difficulty walking, suggesting he did not
pose a serious threat at that point. The authorities say Imomnazarov’s
sustained these injuries during separate turf wars between local
criminals, rather than in the fighting with government forces.

The interior ministry has launched an investigation into his death.

Imomnazarov’s killing is a setback to efforts to restore peace to this
isolated region, whose population differs from the rest of the country
in language, culture and faith – people here are Ismaili Muslims, not
Sunnis like most Tajiks.

The ceasefire and subsequent talks were arranged by a mediating team
consisting of local officials, residents and Ismaili figures including
local clerics and representatives of the Aga Khan Foundation, which
has worked to develop the region over the past two decades. The Aga
Khan himself, who wields considerable influence as the spiritual
leader of Ismailis worldwide, played a key role in persuading the
rebels to accept the truce and urging the wider community to support
peace efforts.

The community had responded to this, posting volunteers to help
maintain security. Most importantly, Ayombekov and another local
strongman Mamadbokir Mamadbokirov, surrendered and began cooperating
with the police.

A high-ranking official who recently returned to the capital Dushanbe
after visiting Khorog said it had been difficult to agree the
ceasefire because local residents were so angry with the government.
The negotiations would be even harder following Imomnazarov’s death,
he said.

“It took a great deal for us to get them on our side. It’s hard to
predict what will happen next,” he said, speaking on condition of
anonymity.

Since Imomnazarov’s death, there have been reports of local residents
putting back some of the road blocks removed when the July fighting
died down.

Negotiations have also resulted in a disarmament process in which over
500 weapons have been turned over to the authorities.

A supporter of Imomnazarov, speaking on condition of anonymity, told
IWPR he believed this might have been premature, noting, “The guys
have surrendered almost all their weapons, and we’re left with no
firearms."

One local resident who gave his name as Alimardon told IWPR how the
latest demonstration unfolded. On hearing news of Imomnazarov’s death,
crowds gathered in Khorog on August 22 to demand that authorities end
the use of force and withdraw troops from Badakhshan.

When no one came out to speak to the protesters, they attempted to
enter the local government building but were halted by warning shots
from police guards. Two people were shot in the legs, local media
reported.

The crowd swelled as residents of nearby villages arrived to attend
the Imomnazarov’s funeral, which took place later the same day.

Provincial governor Qodir Qosim and Interior Minister Sherali
Khairullaev subsequently met with protesters, and agreed to withdraw
troops deployed in and around Khorog and ultimately to shift them out
of the region altogether.

The withdrawal seems to have been set in motion, with 200 troops
reported to have moved out, while the number of police checkpoints
erected during the fighting has been reduced.

Alimardon said the protest would continue until government troops left
Badakhshan.

In Khorog, residents are worried that things could take another turn
for the worse. A 55-year-old woman from the town said Imomnazarov had
many allies in neighbouring Afghanistan who might wish to avenge his
death.

“God forbid we get people shooting from the Afghan side of the
border,” she said.

Lola Olimova is IWPR’s editor in Tajikistan.

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REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA provides the international community with a
unique insiders' perspective on the region. Using our network of local
journalists, the service publishes news and analysis from across
Central Asia on a weekly basis.

The service forms part of IWPR's Central Asia Project based in Almaty,
Bishkek, Tashkent and London, which supports media development and
encourages better local and international understanding of the region.

IWPR's Reporting Central Asia is supported by the UK Community Fund.
The service is published online in English and Russian.

The opinions expressed in Reporting Central Asia are those of the
authors and do not necessarily represent those of the publication or
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