False start of a coup in Tajikistan

False start of a coup in Tajikistan

The Tajik Prosecutor General's Office has opened a criminal case against former Deputy Minister of Defense, Major-General Abduhalim Nazarzoda , charging him with ‘treason’, ‘terrorism’ and two other crimes. "The criminal case against Nazarzoda was initiated according to the Articles 179 (terrorism), 305 (treason), 307. 2 (organization of an extremist community / organization) and 309 (sabotage)," a representative of the Prosecutor General's Office noted. The charges against General Nazarzoda were brought in his absence. After a failed revolt he is hiding in the Romit Gorge, located about 45 kilometers from Dushanbe.

On September 4th Nazarzoda together with his supporters (according to various information from 10 to 135 fighters) attacked the department of the Interior Ministry in the small town of Vahdat (the former Kofarnihon and the so-called ‘patrimony’ of the Tajik opposition during the civil war in 1992-1997). As a result of the firefight five policemen and four representatives of the Special Police Force were killed. The militants also suffered losses. After this they hid in the mountains of the Romit Gorge with an arsenal of seized weapons. The reason for the actions of the rebel general remains known. Abduhalim Nazarzoda didn’t plead guilty, accusing the authorities of shooting soldiers.

A message was spread on Sunday evening on the Internet on behalf of the general, in which he accused the authorities of provocation, as if the police department in Vahdat was attacked by the Tajik special services: "The government of Emomali Rakhmon decided to liquidate the former commanders of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), who didn’t approve of a statement regarding the elimination of the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP)." However, there is no confirmation of the authenticity of this statement.

In addition, the IRP quickly distanced itself from the rebels, declaring that Nazarzoda has never joined this party. According to the legislation of Tajikistan, it is forbidden for servicemen to join political parties, especially opposition parties. It was noted that the incident in the IRP was a consequence of "the internal problems of the power structures."

51-year-old Abduhalim Nazarzoda is a graduate of the Frunze Russian Military Academy of the General Staff. He was appointed to the post of Deputy Defense Minister in January 2014. He headed a department in the Defense Ministry on deployment of the armed forces and security. He served in the Tajik army under the quota of the opposition on the basis of the General Peace Agreement signed between the government and the UTO in 1997. Local mass media report that during the Civil War he was known as a field Commander of Hoxha Halima. However, it turned out that his participation in the Tajik civil war on the side of the armed opposition was just a myth. During most of the war Nazarzoda was abroad. Nevertheless, he managed to make a good career in the military department, as well as launch a small business in his native Vahdat district.

The Tajik Prosecutor General's Office has several volumes that acknowledge the rebel general’s guilt. On September 8th the Tajik channels informed that the Prosecutor General's Office started the inventory of Nazarzoda’s property. In particular, according to the investigation team, Nazarzoda owns an individual farm, a horse farm, a poultry farm, three recreation areas in Varzob (10 kilometers north of Dushanbe), as well as a bakery in the capital. 

Now the Tajik authorities say that the whole business was bought by the general illegally. "In addition, Nazarzoda was the owner of the Leader complex, the Zaytun restaurant, the Bakhtiyor coffee bar, a cattle farm in the Rudaki district (adjacent to the south of Dushanbe), five residential buildings in the private sector of the capital, and a floor of a three-storey house on the main avenue of the capital," a local television announcer said. It also noted that the general lived with three families, cohabiting with three women at the same time."

However, this wasn’t a secret to anybody in Dushanbe. Moreover, there were rumors that the general had 12 wives, although polygamy is forbidden by Tajikistani legislation. According to experts, it is illogical to reckon the rebel general to the opposition.

The Tajik political analyst, Doctor of Law Shokir Khakimov, noted for Vestnik Kavkaza that Abduhalim Nazarzoda has never been a dissenter. "He wasn’t an opposition figure. As a part of the system, he behaved very carefully and cautiously. I do not remember any of his statements regarding internal or foreign political events and problems." 
According to him, despite the fact that Nazarzoda was not a public person, many people in the country knew that he had his own business, and that he was a polygamist. "However, the authorities had a loyal attitude to him. He quickly moved up the career ladder," the analyst said.

Khakimov considers that it was a pre-planned operation and Nazarzoda has no relevance to it. "Nazarzoda became the victim of intrigues and backroom fighting among officials of different ranks, not due to disagreements with the government," Khakimov said. According to him, these are the plans of the supreme political elite of Tajikistan. "These actions are beneficial to officials at various levels and departments, as they need to justify their existence and prove their necessity, but they want to attract additional capital to the law enforcement agencies. They are interested in exaggerating the capabilities of terrorist organizations and organized crime, which is particularly intended to destabilize the political situation, or transnational criminal groups. Instead of working in order to improve the socio-economic situation, they create a destabilizing background and earn political points and money, justifying their position and existence,"  Shokir Khakimov noted.

A similar opinion is shared by the leader of the Social Democratic Party of Tajikistan, lawyer of the highest category Rakhmatillo Zoirov. According to him, what is happening around Vahdat was planned by the government in the framework of the celebrations of Independence Day and the upcoming meeting of the leaders of Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and not by the rebels. "However, the government has a plan to get rid of the representatives of the former UTO. This is indicated by many facts. The rebels were provoked, and they could not stand the psychological pressure," Rakhmatillo Zoirov told Vestnik Kavkaza. He noted that Nazarzoda has withdrawn from politics. He wasn't a leader in the political sense, even though he had the authority of a commander. The general is not a threat to the authorities. Even the most radical representatives of Tajik society won't follow him. "He and his circle felt a survival instinct, they were provoked into this. This is a deliberate, negative act that endangers others, and not only his entourage and family. The fact that some people are giving him credit for the attacks, particularly in Vahdat, is nothing more than unproven facts. Rather, he was not involved in them," the Tajik politician thinks.

"But the attack on the Ministry of Defense facility for extraction of weapons and the break towards the Ramit Gorge are his acts, spontaneous and unpromising. Yes, he is a general, but no more. He lost contact with the opposition a few years ago, and he had neither the time nor the opportunity for the resumption of it. No help will come for him. Nazarzoda gave a trump card to the government, which took a series of hasty steps towards the opposition and society in general in the past two years, and not that trump card will prove its correctness," Zoirov believes. The step taken by Nazarzoda and his team shows their instability and spontaneity in making decisions, based on the instinct of self-preservation. "They simply succumbed to pressure from the government, psychological pressure, and provoked themselves in the most destructive form," Rahmatillo Zoyirov stressed.

The head of the Strategic Planning Association of Border Cooperation, Alexander Sobyanin, believes that "the false start of the coup occurred in Tajikistan, its script was written not by the abstract West, but namely by the US," General Nazarzoda was due to become one of the participants in it. "The key players did not coordinate their actions among themselves. Everyone had to stand for their supporters, including former UTO commanders, the IRP, the Social Democratic Party of Tajikistan, radical Muslims of Tajikistan, radical Islamists from Afghanistan. These actions certainly carried a threat to Emomali Rahmon's presidency," Alexander Sobyanin told Vestnik Kavkaza. According to him, if in the possible future presidential elections in 2020, for example, a candidate of the Social Democratic Party would be supported by the supporters of the IRP, then it would be a direct threat to Rahmon. However, according to the expert, General Nazarzoda acted ahead of time, when the other participants were not ready. It is possible that he coordinated his actions with other military men, who are now being identified and arrested by the special services of Tajikistan.

"There was no coordination with the other participants and there was no united management and there could be none. Tajik security officials discussed the fact that such a situation could be possible at the beginning of the summer. And it could be stopped only this way. There were no other options for the authorities to save Tajikistan's statehood," Alexander Sobyanin said.

"What happened in Tajikistan can hardly be called a military coup, as it was presented by the Tajik authorities. In this case, General Nazarzoda, who headed it, was supposed to make a statement about his goals, take responsibility, but he is silent. Therefore, it is nothing more than a failed military rebellion, and by the nature of its organization it could even be called a bandit raid. Many people died and no authority will be gained from it," political scientist, an expert on Central Asia, Arkady Dubnov, told Vestnik Kavkaza. At the same time, he admitted that the rebels could have had more supporters, since there are many people who are dissatisfied with the policy of Rahmon in Tajikistan, among ordinary people and among the nomenclatura and even among the higher ranks of the country. But the behavior and actions of the ex-general look strange.

According to Dubnov, the rebel general could become an instrument in the struggle between two tendencies – the Salafi (of Sunni origin in Islam), which is supported by Saudi Arabia and is being broadcast in Tajikistan through certain sites, and the Shiite – the position of Iran is traditionally strong in Tajikistan. "I think it would not be a mistake to say that today Tajikistan has become the scene of a battle for influence between the Salafis, supported by the Sunni structures of Saudi Arabia (the Sunnis are the main ideological paper clip for Islamic State) and Shiite Iran, various forms of which are presented in many areas of Tajik society.

A few days ago, the Iranian news agency 'Fars' published an interview with an officer close to General Nazarzoda, who suggested that the rebellion could have been caused by "the desire to prevent the possible fall of Rakhmon under the influence of IS." Some circles in Iran fear the threat of transformation of Tajikistan into a fiefdom of Sunni ideology. In this contex, the statements of Rakhmon about the fact that militants of IS were detected in the ranks of the rebels seem interesting," Dubnov noted.

If the confrontation in the Ramit Gorge will be too long, then it is possible that the Tajik authorities will appeal to Russia for help. Especially since in a telephone conversation President Vladimir Putin assessed the events in Dushanbe as an attempt to destabilize the situation in the republic. Still, neither Russia nor the CSTO will interfere in the conflict directly, but they will help with weapons. The Tajik authorities, by the way, have repeatedly expressed their desire to get their hands on weapons stationed in 201st Division of the republic, including 'drone' unmanned aerial vehicles.

According to recent reports of the press service of Tajik Interior Ministry, the confrontation has claimed the lives of 18 security officials and 26 rebels. At least 50 supporters of the general were detained.