In landlocked Tajikistan in central Asia, armed Muslim rebels began battling the neocommunist-dominated government in 1992 (pro-democracy groups continued to vie for power). Seeking to make the country an Islamic state, the Tajik rebels at first centered their fighting in the south, notably around Kulyab and Kurgan Tyube. The factional warfare threatened to move to Dushanbe, the capital. By 1996, operating also from northern Afghanistan (on Tajikistan's southern frontier), the rebels began regularly clashing with some 25,000 Russian troops stationed there. Russia had placed troops in Tajikistan to support its president, Imomali Rakhmanov (1952-), who had won office in 1994. The town of Kulyab, Rakhmanov's political stronghold, became a major military resupply base for Afghan forces opposed to the Taliban, the fundamentalist Islamic group that took control of Afghanistan in 1997. After extensive negotiations under United Nations auspices, Rakhmanov signed a cease-fire agreement with his leading opponent, Sayed Abdullah Nuri, in Moscow on December 23, 1996. Though both sides agreed to complete peace talks, clashes continued between Islamic rebels and the hard-line government. About 100,000 people had died in Tajikistan since the war began.
For most of the rest of 1992, opponents of reform worked hard to overturn the coalition and block implementation of measures such as formation of a new legislature in which the opposition would have a voice. In the summer and fall of 1992, vicious battles resulted in many casualties among civilians and combatants. Qurghonteppa bore the brunt of attacks by anti-reformist irregular forces during that period. In August 1992, demonstrators in Dushanbe seized Nabiyev and forced him at gunpoint to resign. The speaker of the Supreme Soviet, Akbarsho Iskandarov--a Pamiri closely associated with Nabiyev--became acting president. Iskandarov advocated a negotiated resolution of the conflict, but he had little influence over either side.
The political and military battles for control continued through the fall of 1992. In November the Iskandarov coalition government resigned in the hope of reconciling the contending factions. Later that month, the Supreme Soviet, still dominated by hard-liners, met in emergency session in Khujand, an anti-reform stronghold, to select a new government favorable to their views. When the office of president was abolished, the speaker of parliament, Imomali Rahmonov, became de facto head of government. A thirty-eight-year-old former collective farm director, Rahmonov had little experience in government. The office of prime minister went to Abdumalik Abdullojanov, a veteran hard-line politician.
Once in possession of Dushanbe, the neo-Soviets stepped up repression. Three leading opposition figures, including Turajonzoda and the deputy prime minister in the coalition government, were charged with treason and forced into exile, and two other prominent opposition supporters were assassinated in December. There were mass arrests on nebulous charges and summary executions of individuals captured without formal arrest. Fighting on a smaller scale between the forces of the old guard and the opposition continued elsewhere in Tajikistan and across the border with Afghanistan into the mid-1990s.
The conflict in Tajikistan often was portrayed in Western news reports as occurring primarily among clans or regional cliques. Many different lines of affiliation shaped the configuration of forces in the conflict, however, and both sides were divided over substantive political issues. The old guard had never reconciled itself to the reforms of the Gorbachev era (1985-91) or to the subsequent demise of the Soviet regime. Above all, the factions in this camp wanted to ensure for themselves a monopoly of the kinds of benefits enjoyed by the ruling elite under the Soviet system. The opposition coalition factions were divided over what form the new regime in Tajikistan ought to take: secular parliamentary democracy, nationalist reformism, or Islamicization. Proponents of the last option were themselves divided over the form and pace of change.
In April 1994, peace talks arranged by the United Nations (UN) began between the post-civil war government in Dushanbe and members of the exiled opposition. Between that time and early 1996, six major rounds of talks were held in several different cities. Several smaller-scale meetings also occurred directly between representatives of both sides or through Russian, UN, or other intermediaries. Observers at the main rounds of talks included representatives of Russia, other Central Asian states, Iran, Pakistan, the United States, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE-- after 1994 the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE--see Glossary), and the Organization of the Islamic Conference. In the first two years, these negotiations produced few positive results. The most significant result was a cease-fire agreement that took effect in October 1994. The initial agreement, scheduled to last only for a few weeks, was renewed repeatedly into 1996, albeit with numerous violations by both sides. As a result of the cease fire, the UN established an observer mission in Tajikistan, which had a staff of forty-three in early 1996...
Before the dissolution of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991, Tajikistan had no army of its own. Administratively, the republic was part of the Soviet Union's Turkestan Military District, which was abolished in June 1992. By the end of the Soviet era, the old military system, which commonly (although not exclusively) assigned draftees from Tajikistan to noncombat units in the Soviet army, had begun to break down, and draft evasion became a common occurrence in Tajikistan. Reform plans for Tajikistan's conscription system were overtaken by the breakup of the union.
Following independence, the Nabiyev government made repeated efforts between December 1991 and June 1992 to organize a national guard. Those efforts met strong opposition from factions fearing that an anti-reformist president would use the guard as a tool of repression. When his national guard plans failed, Nabiyev turned to private armies of his political supporters to kill or intimidate political opponents. In 1992 additional armed bands were organized in Tajikistan, some associated with opposition political groups and others simply reflecting the breakdown of central authority in the country rather than loyalty to a political faction.
The main regular military force in Tajikistan at independence was the former Soviet 201st Motorized Rifle Division, headquartered in Dushanbe. This division, whose personnel are ethnically heterogeneous, came under jurisdiction of the Russian Federation in 1992 and remained under Russian command in early 1996. Officially neutral in the civil war, Russian and Uzbekistani forces, including armored vehicles of the 201st Division and armored vehicles, jets, and helicopters from Uzbekistan, provided significant assistance in anti-reformist assaults on the province of Qurghonteppa and on Dushanbe. The 201st Division failed to warn the inhabitants of Dushanbe that neo-Soviet forces had entered the city, nor did it interfere with the victors' wave of violence against opposition supporters in Dushanbe. In the ensuing months, the 201st Division was involved in some battles against opposition holdouts. Russian troops stationed in Tajikistan were a major source of weapons for various factions in the civil war. Combatants on both sides frequently were able to buy or confiscate Russian military hardware, including armored vehicles.
In January 1993, a Russian, Colonel (later Major General) Aleksandr Shishlyannikov, was appointed minister of defense of Tajikistan (a post he held until 1995, when he was replaced by Major General Sherali Khayrulloyev, a Tajik), and many positions in the Tajikistani high command were assumed by Russians in 1993. Meanwhile, in mid-1993 the joint CIS peacekeeping force was created. The force, which remained by far the largest armed presence in Tajikistan through 1995, included elements of the 201st Division, units of Russian border troops, and some Kazakstani, Kyrgyzstani, and Uzbekistani units. By 1995 the officially stated mission of the 201st Division in Tajikistan included artillery and rocket support for the border troops. Included in the division's weaponry in 1995 were 180 M-72 main battle tanks; 185 pieces of artillery, including sixty-five pieces of towed artillery; fifty self-propelled guns; fifteen rocket launchers; and fifty-five mortars.
Border security is a key part of Russia's continued military role in Tajikistan. In June 1992, the formerly Soviet border guards stationed in Tajikistan came under the direct authority of Russia; in 1993 a reorganization put all Russian border troops under the Russian Federal Border Service. By 1995 an estimated 16,500 troops of that force were in Tajikistan, but about 12,500 of the rank-and-file and non-commissioned officers were drawn from the inhabitants of Tajikistan.