Fight in Mountainous Badakhshan
By the end of July the situation in the Mountaneous Badakhshan (Gorno-Badakhshan) autonomous region abruptly exacerbated. Gordo-Badakhshan is a highland area in the south-eastern part of Tajikistan, making up almost a half (45%) of the territory. The region was a stronghold of the Tajikistan opposition in 1992-1997. In response to the killing of Abdullo Nazarbaev, special services General, the authorities launched a military operation to eliminate the criminal organization responsible for the crime.
The Eastern Pamir mountains cover the major part of Gordo-Badakhshan. The population is scarce; it’s only around 220 thousand – a bit more than 3% of the 7 million. Its administrative center is Khorugh (Khorog) situated over 500 km from Dushanbe. The ethnic and confessional composition of population significantly differs from other regions of Tajikistan. The Eastern Iranian (Pamir) languages are spoken, the religion is Ismailism. The Tajiks speak Western Tajik languages, they are Sunni Muslims. Actually the Yazgulamis, the Shughnis, the Rushansand ethnic groups are separate peoples becoming part of Tajikistan as a result of drawing lines of national states in the times of the Soviet Union.
The head of Mountainous Badakhshan’s regional branch of the Tajikistan’s State Committee for National Security Abdullo Nazarov was killed in the evening on July 21 in a Khorugh suburb. According to ITAR-TASS the General was returning from Ishkashim in a government owned vehicle. He was stopped by a group of unknown men who heaved him out of the car, hit the General a few times with a knife and disappeared. On July 23 the Tajikistan’s Prosecutor’s Office launched legal proceedings on three charges according to the criminal code. An investigative group was sent to Khorugh headed by Deputy Chief State Prosecutor and Chief of Military Prosecutors Office.
The next day a special operation against the militant perpetrators was launched. As the official sources say the militants group was led by Tolib Aiembekov, resident of Khorugh, who served as chief of the border outpost in Ishkashim. He was officially charged with drug trafficking, tobacco and jewels smuggling as well as other hard crimes including brigandage. Aiembekov himself told the Tajik information agency Asia Plus the General died in an “accident” (he fell and broke his head against a stone). The officials use the situation to return the Gordo-Badakhshan “under their control”. The interview corroborated the fact the forces ready to take arms and resist the central State power in the region have intensified their activities.
On July 24 heavy fighting started. The Tajik media reported around thousand troops entered the Gorno-Badakhshan area. The information was denied by the Ministry of Defense. Panic stroke the city. Cable and wire communications went out of order, state offices, shops and central market were closed. It’s worth to mention the international organizations, that had offices in Khorugh, had left the city before the events started. According to unconfirmed information T. Aiembekov went to neighboring Afghanistan; one of his sons was killed in the operation. As Tajik sources report around 200 militants were concentrated in the bordering areas of Afghanistan. By the evening on July 24 the BBC reported the death toll was 100 servicemen, there were even more civilian deaths. The shooting in Khorugh lasted all day. The Tajik Avesta internet outlet said the fighting was mainly concentrated around Khlebzavod and UPD local areas, the government troops used combat helicopters and armor.
In the evening on July 24 Nozirjon Buriev, a spokesman for the State Committee for National Security, summed up the results of the operation. According to him the death toll was 42 including 12 servicemen and 30 militants. 23 men were wounded, no damage to civilians reported . There were 40 members of unlawful armed groups detained, including 8 citizens of Afghanistan. The fact that there were armed people from Afghanistan taking part in hostilities evokes special concern. Around 100 firearms were confiscated. According to Buriev the active phase of operation was over. But the BBC persistently overstated the figures insisting the death toll was around 200 including civilians.
It looks like the government forces failed to quell the activities of armed militants who unexpectedly appeared at the “top of the world”. A ceasefire was declared on July 25 at 1400. The Tajik branch of Radio Liberty or Radio Svoboda (the Western reporters are very active in the Gorno-Badakhshan district) reported snipers killed seven locals. The talks started between the government forces and illegal armed formations. Avesta said Tajikistan Defense Minister Sherali Khairulloev demanded the Pamirians give over the four men suspected to be perpetrators of the A. Nazarov murder . He promised amnesty for those who would voluntarily give up arms.
On July 25 Emomali Rahmon said the ceasefire in Khorugh was permanent not temporary. The very same day the government held an emergency meeting. Rahmon demanded the militants lay down all arms and face the legal responsibility. He suggested that those who lived in the Gorno – Badakhshan autonomous region cooperate with power structures in searching for criminals. Alexander Knyazev, a well known expert, said referring to the Pamirian opposition sources the talks failed. The government put forward a condition to lay down arms by 1200 local time on July 26, but there is no confidence the condition is fulfilled. Combat actions may start again.
The events make remember that the dividing of Tajikistan along ethnic and religious lines after the 1997 peace accords still tells, the existing divisions may be rather easily be used to destabilize the country. The people from Kulob and Gissar districts fought those coming from Pamir and Karategin in internal conflict that took place in the 1990s. The Kulob-Gissar alliance won all top state positions were occupied by those who came from Kulob. But tensions between Gorno – Badakhshan and Karategin (Garm) remains. By and large the very same way tensions got high in Rasht District (Garm till 2001) – another stronghold of the opposition. The both areas are far from being stable. The further conflict escalation is not excluded.