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Armory Maker: What Prompted the Tajik General to Challenge the Country’s Authorities

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On September 4, residents of Dushanbe and Vakhdat woke up to multiple gunshots, as the two cities came under under alleged coordinated militant attacks on police and defense department offices. At least 17 people were killed and dozens were injured. The raid by the militants was successful in seizing possession of a large weapons cache. According to The Tajik Ministry of Interior, the attack was implemented by former deputy defense minister Abduhalim Nazarov, aka ‘Hoji Halim.’ Nazarov was appointed deputy defense minister in 2014 and on September 4, 2015 was officially fired for “committing militant crimes,” the ministry said.

Armory Maker: What Prompted the Tajik General to Challenge the Country's Authorities

This article originally appeared at Lenta, translated by Olga Seletskaia exclusively for SouthFront

As we predicted, nearly a week of active hostilities between opposition rebels and security forces in Tajikistan in the vicinity of Dushanbe did not end. Press service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs periodically publishes reports on the elimination of rebels, and local security services tell about the operation to detain supporters of former deputy minister of defense Abduhalim Nazarov who is on the run now (original Nazarov’s last name is Nazarzod. He was a field commander of the United Tajik Opposition forces Hoxha Halima during the Civil War) .

The security forces have promised to eliminate as soon as possible the rebel group, which has, according to some estimates, about 135 trained commandos. The security forces are simultaneously putting forward a number of charges against the rebels. General Nazarov told his version of events. “Lenta.ru” tried to investigate the causes of the conflict that led to the fighting .

According to Tajikistan officials, Nazarzoda’s supporters early in the morning on Friday, September 4, attacked the Interior Ministry building in Vahdat and the central office of the Ministry of Defense, and then they disappeared into the Romit Valley, 50 kilometers from Dushanbe. On the same day, the general himself was dismissed from the military. Four days later, the Tajik Prosecutor General’s Office initiated a criminal case against Major General Abduhalimov Nazarov and the Ministry of Defence Colonel Dzhunaydullo Umarov. They are charged for terrorism, treason, organizing extremist groups and for sabotage.

A senior military managed to phone his supporters, and they posted Nazarov’s open letter in Internet on September 7. In his letter Nazarzoda says that on September 4, he was informed that former commanders of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO ) and the people close to them would be arrested within the next day. The general said that he invited several former warlords to a meeting at his home. After having found out that all exits from Dushanbe were blocked, they decided to take weapons from one of the units and to break through the cordon at one of the exits. Nazarov said that the government of President Emomali Rakhmon plans to eliminate many of the former UTO commanders, since not all of them signed the liquidation of the Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan.

Inconsistency in Biography

At first glance, the version of events, expressed by the general, fits the context of the political crisis in the country. The State News Agency “Khovar” reported on August 31 about the prohibition of the Islamic Revival Party – the largest opposition political force in the country (its number is about 50 thousand people), which actually was connected with the United Tajik Opposition in the early 1990s. The problem is that this version does not quite fit into Nazarov’s biography. Yes, during the Civil War, he was a field commander and he fought against supporters and the clan of the future President Emomali Rakhmonov.

Armory Maker: What Prompted the Tajik General to Challenge the Country's Authorities

Supporters of Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan Photo:Nozim Kalandarov / Reuters

However, even in peacetime, Nazarov worked in the Ministry of Defense, and he was in charge for military supplies including arms and military equipment. His position allowed him to control the supply and distribution of weapons in the country. After the conclusion of the peace agreement in 1997 the other warlords gradually but consistently were dismissed from their official posts, but Nazarzoda was promoted to deputy minister last year. The reason for such Rakhmon’s trust to the new deputy minister of defense could be that the latter showed loyalty and discipline. We can assume that by controlling the flow of weapons into the country and generally in the region (keep in mind the proximity of Afghanistan and traditionally loyal to corruption Central Asia), the general was well aware of what kind of weapons and what quantities were distributed within at least three states.

Former “kurbashi ” reforged so much, that Nazarov’s former combat allies who fought against the central government during the civil war, openly accused him in the persecution of the opposition. In particular, Iskandarov, one of the warlords and former leader of the Democratic Party of Tajikistan, said that it was Nazarov who was responsible for his kidnapping in Tajikistan. A well-known dissident and highly respected journalist with extensive connections in politics Dododzhon Atovulloev argued that the Government of Tajikistan allocated million dollars for general Nazarzoda to eliminate opposition leaders abroad. We emphasize once again: General Nazarzoda, by all accounts, completely fits the existing elite. In these circumstances, to assume that the general could be persecuted for the dubious pleasure to be never seen again as a representative of the opposition in power, is at least naive.
For the same reason the official version, which is presented in the bunch of criminal charges against the rebel, is not sustainable either. It seems that the authorities are building an accusatory line in the same paradigm as the disgraced General: resentment in response to the closing of the UTO, the violation of the agreements with the opposition by the authorities and the persecution of dissidents.

Relations with radicals

And here we come to the most important. Events of what scale could push a man to a complete loss of control and to sliding to the methods of civil war of the beginning of the 1990s? To understand this, we must remember that the tough crackdown in the political and religious spheres (up to the informal ban on the wearing of beards and hijabs) in traditionally Islamic country has led in recent years to a dramatic surge in the popularity of radical Islamic movements that are deployed not only on the territory of neighboring Afghanistan but in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. It’s not just about the notorious “Islamic state” (IS is prohibited on the territory of the Russian Federation) .

In recent times, Tajik authorities have been receiving respective messages. In particular, in late May, the scandal shook the republic: a video message to the nation from an IS rookie, was made by….the former commander of the Tajik OMON colonel Gulmurod Halimov . He said he did not want to stay in Tajikistan, where “men are not free to wear beards , and women – the hijab ,” and he urged others in the region to follow him. Official statistics indicates the growing problems in this sensitive area: according to official Ministry of Internal Affairs of Tajikistan, 386 people left the country , all of them are going to fight on the side of the IS.

Armory Maker: What Prompted the Tajik General to Challenge the Country's Authorities

A place of firefight in Dushanbe, Photo:Peter Leonard / AP

A general’s revolt seems to fit the same context. Immediately after the attack of Nazarov’s supporters on the Interior Ministry department in Vahdat, a suggestion that the first firefight could be linked to the murder of 23-year-old student of Petersburg university Umar Bobojonov was made. It was reported that he arrived in a small town near the Tajik capital to visit his parents during his summer break, and on August 29 he was beaten (presumably by police) for allegedly wearing a beard. A few days later Bobojonov died. Initially the attack was linked to the student’s family revenge, but later the Interior Ministry officially denied this version. Then, in the information fever, everyone forgot about this incident. It turns out, we should not have.

A farewell to Arms

According to “Lenta.ru”’s official informed sources of Russia, Umar Bobojonov had for some time been the object of close monitoring by Russian security in St. Petersburg. Bobojonov was not an important figure of Islamist underground – otherwise he would have been detained on the territory of Russia. However, he did play a certain role in Islamic circles, and Russian security officials shared their operational information with Tajik colleagues. At the end of August the suspect was detained in Vahdat, a few days later the media reported his death. The sources of “Lenta.ru” expressed astonishment over the methods of the investigation: according to the Russian experts, it was not necessary to carry out an “active” anti-terrorism interrogation, because there was no any data about upcoming terrorist actions, and information from the student could have been obtained in a more civilized way.

At the same time, as far as it can be judged from the events that followed the interrogation, the suspect had shared some information with the Tajik security services. Judging by the strong reaction of the General, the data given by the beaten to death student-messenger, could directly relate to the involvement of the Ministry of Defense (and therefore, Nazarov) to a regional arms trade – at least two experts in Tajikistan internal politics, residing in the territory of Tajikistan, suggested this. They wished to remain anonymous for obvious reasons. They advised to take seriously the message of the law enforcement agencies about an impressive arsenal of weapons found at Nazarov’s home. According to the experts, Nazarov may have close connections with the terrorist underground in Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan (the latter is generally considered by regional security the base for active terrorists of wide variety of radical movements). Given Nazarov’s position in the government and him being in charge for the distribution of weapons, his activity raises many questions.

Well, the most important thing – back in 2010, Dododzhon Atovulloev, the Tajik leader of the opposition movement “Vatandor” told about the connections of the Tajik authorities with terrorist organizations. According to him, Tajik special services did not disdain to cooperate with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) when the interstate relations between Dushanbe and Tashkent were especially tense. He emphasized that in 1998 the IMU fighters were trained and armed at special bases under the roof of the Tajik National Security Committee.

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