The Socioeconomic Ramifications of Tajikistan Civil War and Foreign Intervention


Civil war is an interstate war that happens within a territory of a state. Civil war leads to absolute chaos and instability. The article will enlighten on Tajikistan civil war and on the events and the triggering factors that led to the war. It enlightens on different phases of the battle. The foreign powers’ intervention is also discussed in detail. What role was played by the foreign countries in the Civil war of Tajikistan will give a wider perspective to understanding the civil war. The socio-economic ramifications of the war also give deeper insight into the war. The conclusion completes the research.



Tajikistan is a land-locked country located in Central Asia bordering China, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan. The Republic of Tajikistan is a mountainous region, endowed with vast deposits of natural resources like gold, uranium, coal, mercury, antimony as well as hydropower. The total area is 143, 100 sq km with a population of 9 million. Almost 98% of the total population is Muslim with a small proportion of non-Muslims up to 2 %. The largest ethnic group is Tajik, constituting 85 % of the total population, with 12 % Uzbeks and 2 % others (Russians, Kyrgyz, etc).

The country is situated on the ancient Silk Road The country officially came into existence on 9 Sep 1991 following its disintegration from USSR. Dushanbe is the state Capital. Tajikistan’s society is agrarian and the country is amongst the largest cotton producers in the world. Tajikistan is divided into four zones. The largest Gorno – Badakhshan province is situated in the east, mainly comprising of “Pamiris” which have strong cultural cohesion and affinity with people living in Northern Badakhshan province (Afghanistan) and the Hindu Kush region of Pakistan.  The second region is Karategin (Rasht Valley) – Hissar region situated in the center of the country. The third region is Kulyab and Kurgan – Tyube situated in South – West, while the fourth zone is the Northern Region encompassing low lands.

The collapse of the USSR ushered Tajikistan into a new era of political turmoil and social turbulence. Tajikistan gained independence from USSR but got embroiled in 5 years long devastating and catastrophic civil war (1992 – 1997) resulting in a loss of 1,00,000 lives, with huge internal displacement and economic crisis.


The cultural and religious identity of Tajiks was subjected to long subversion under communist rule. When the collapse of the USSR was imminent, deteriorating conditions prompted political mobilization and new political and religious factions were formed like Democratic Party, Islamic Renaissance party, RashtoKhez, Ru – ba – bu. These parties comprised of intellects, intelligentsia and religious clerics who emphatically advocated democratization, cultural norms, and religious values and traditions.

Besides constraints on national and ethnic culture, Tajiks enjoyed the same privileges and social services as did other citizens in the USSR. They never experienced a feeling of colonization and considered themselves full citizens of the USSR. Tajik USSR had economic benefits and was greatly subsidized. Hence naturally, no conspicuous aspiration or fascination for independence existed

The exacerbating social and economic conditions in the late 1980s and the eventual collapse of the USSR in 1991 culminated in the emergence of 15 new states. Tajikistan was amongst the newly formed states. The sudden flight of the Soviets proved calamitous for Tajikistan. Tajikistan lacked government institutions and security agencies to execute the affairs of the state and enforce law and order. The country was highly vulnerable to chaos and mayhem, which subsequently erupted and laid hold of the country for five years.

Resettlement of Armenian refugees in Dushanbe enraged and rankled local Tajiks. Demonstrations took place and unfortunately turned into riots, which were quelled by Soviet KGB and military killing 22 people. This incident spurred contempt and acrimony against the Soviets. Following the dissolution of the USSR first elections of newly independent elections took place in 1991. Former Tajik Communist leader RahmonNabivey, came into power obtaining 57% of the vote against DavlatKhudonazarov (From Badakshan) who gained 35 % votes – backed by the Islamic Renaissance Party and the Democratic Party. The election results provoked public outcry and furor. Protests pervaded the entire country and prompted the emergence of pro-government and anti-government forces.

The Nov 1991 election results were the root cause of the bloody civil war (1992 – 1997), which prompted social disorder, political turbulence, economic disruption and impoverishment. The opposition spurned the results as unfair and rigged. The installation of the Communist elite again into power eliminated the hopes and aspirations of ethno – religious groups – which demanded the preservation of socio-cultural and religious values and fostering of democracy. RahmonNabivey, formed a government dominated mainly by people of Northern Khujand and southern Kulaybi regions.

The people of Khujand (Leninabad), Northern Tajikistan and Kulob regions, southwestern Tajikistan strongly backed President Rahmon Nabivey, while the Gharmis – belonging to the Rasht valley or Karotegin, Central Tajikistan – andPamiris – inhabitants of the southeastern Gorno – Badakhshan region – formed core of opposition forces. Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) and Democratic Party were chief opposition groups. In March 1992, opposition to President Nabivey gained momentum, and anti-government protestors (highlanders) coming from the countryside began assembling at Shahidonsquare, Dushanbe while pro-government forces (Kulyabis, Historic, Leninabadis) who were largely low landers occupied Ozodi Square, asserting their support for the government. Lowlanders were the supporter’s government whereas the highlanders mostly were the patrons of opposition forces.



Violence and fighting between government supporters and opposition groups (Islamic Renaissance Party and Democratic Party) broke out in April and May 1992. Both sides emergently mobilized their forces and equipped them to fight the battle. The conflict turned into an ethnic and tribal war. The first episode of the major killing took place in June when Islamists of opposition forces decimated the Kulyabis dwelling in areas of Kurgan – Tyube and Vaksh districts. Thousands were killed and 1, 40,000 fled the massacre and became IDPs. Islamists perpetrated a massacre of Uzbeks living in the Kurgan – Tyube area on suspicion of their support for the government. The Russian forces suffered a heavy death toll while attempting to protect Uzbeks fleeing violence. By the summer of 1992, the situation was out of hand. The country plunged into a quagmire of insecurity and instability. The involvement of criminal gangs exacerbated the scenario; they formed their own militias, rampaged, and went berserk posing a serious threat to the situation.


  1. Police and security agencies support opposition groups.

The police supported the opposition forces and defied government orders. Police equipped the armed militias of opposition groups with the ministry of Interior weapons.


  1. Russian Military Restricted Role

The Russian military in the initial phase of civil war protected government buildings, servicemen families living in barracks and officials from assaults. Russian 201 Motor Rifle Division played a significant role and saved the life of President Nabivey from criminal gangs, besides protecting civilians at times from violence. However, the Russian military observed neutrality throughout the year 1992.


  1. Government Recruitment of civilian supporters

Government forces were isolated, as Police and other security agencies sided with the opposition militants, honoring their ethnic affinities. Eventually, the government recruited its supporters mainly from the Khujand and Kulob regions. The government equipped them with arms and weapons to resist the fierce opposition of Islamists and Democracy proponents.


  1. Cross Border support for Islamic Renaissance Party

At the same time, in April 1992 Soviet backed government of Najeeb Ullah collapsed. Following, withdrawal of Soviets border security management got weakened and debilitated. The Afghanistan – Tajikistan border became porous. This led to cross border movement of weapons and militants into Tajikistan, in order to strengthen the Islamists groups. Taliban and Tajik Islamists forged ties and resulted in further militarization of the conflict.

By summers 1992, government has lost all the control beyond the capital and opposition forces had seized most of the capital area. By July, 1992 government lost control over all security forces who regarded their ethnic loyalties prior to the duty to the state. It was complete anarchy and disorder. Security forces individuals joined the opposition forces, and some batalllions operated independently, under their local commanders. President Nabivey armed criminal gangs against the growing authority and power of opposition forces. In september 1992, President Nabivey was compelled to resign at gunpoint by Youth Criminal Groups. He resigned; however, Russian Motor Rifle Division saved his life.


  1. Pronouncement of New Government and Warlordism

Amidst uncertainty and lawlessness, Emomali Rahmon was elected the Chairman of the Supreme Council at an extraordinary session of the parliament held in Khujand, dominated by the northerners and Kulyabis. In the absence of an effective and agile government, warlords like FaiziSaidov and Sangak Safarov emerged and wielded their power and influence. Soviet warlords, such as SafaraliKenjaev and Safarov merged their groups and formed Popular Front (PF). Gruesome and horrific acts were committed; ethnic cleansing, rape, genocide, mass shootings, civilian killings, and retribution were committed by all factions which created an ambiance of utter disorder and mayhem.


The forces of PF charged the capital city of Dushanbe and eliminated the opposition forces bastion. The opposition forces suffered a calamitous defeat at the hands of Warlords and evacuated their strongholds throughout the country. The Warlords’ assaults and incursions enervated the opposition elements. The last stronghold was eradicated on 27 Dec, 1992 and active phase of civil war came to end. However, infrequent fighting and skirmishes continued in North-Eastern mountainous region. The Gharmis and Pamiris were executed and brutally murdered by pro-government warlords (FaiziSaidov, SangakSafarov) and were banished to Afghanistan. After the ousting of opposition forces, government structure was reinstated and Communist northern elite, which didn’t actively involve itself in the conflict, was intact. The Government after temporary disengagement from Islamists, quelled the powers of Warlords and their elimination began in Mar 1993. Faizi and Safarov got killed in an armed fight, leading to the disbandment of Popular Front. Given, the threat posed by Warlords, government-orchestrated their killings. FaiziSaidov militia brutally executed Gharmis and Pamiris inhabitants of Kurgan – Tyupe. In Hissar province, following the ethnic cleansing of Gharmis and Pamiris, Uzbekistan closed its borders – adding to their troubles – prevening the influx of migrants and Gharmis and Pamirishad no placeof security and protection. Over 778,000 Tajik citizens fled violence and migrated to Afghanitsan. Warlords’ activities resulted into failure of two ceasefire agreements in 1992 signed between government and opposition forces.



The government regained control over the territory and enforced its writ. By early 1993, the tide of the conflict had turned in favor of the government – composed of the communist elite -. The government attaining its authority executed the opposition forces. Most of the pro-opposition fighters fled persecution and genocide, taking refuge largely in Afghanistan and other neighboring countries. The Supreme Court of Tajikistan declared all political groups as illegitimate and banned all political parties. Hence, the Communist party of Tajikistan became the sole political party in the country. This consolidated the government hold over the entire country, while inhibiting any effectual and baleful opposition. The Government strictly controlled the media. Media lacked adequate access to battlefields in southern Tajikistan, which was the epicenter of the conflict. In 1994, a constitution was drafted and approved by a referendum. Presidential elections were held and EmamolRehman got elected as the President of country. The international agencies and west deemed elections as rigged and unfair, however, Russia accepted the newly formed Government. Following year, the victory of President Rehman supporters in parliamentarian elections consolidated his ruling grip over country.


  1. Reassembled of islamists (irp) and opposition elements

The opposition elements (IRP and Democracy proponents) after experiencing vanquishment, relocated and agglomerated them in the northern Afghanistan – which served as their main base and safe haven for launching cross border attacks at Tajik Government forces in future. After, a devastating defeat in lowlands the opposition, however still had supporters in mountainous region of Tajikistan. By 1993, the Islamists formed core and major part of opposition forces. The opposition forces waged cross – border Guerilla Warfare against the Tajik Government forces from their bases in Northern Afghanistan, using hit and run tactics.

From Spring 1993, they conducted a series of attacks on Tajik government forces from Northern Afghanistan; shooting down a Sukhoi 24 Jet fighter using stinger missile in May and a raid at border post in Kulyab, killing 200 people. Opposition forces attacks and power was solidified by mujahedeen commanders in Afghanistan who also supervised their operations. In 1994 opposition elements comprising of Islamists and anti-Rehman forces united under a new platform United Tajik Opposition (UTO), in order to launch fierce offensive against government forces.

Afghan Mujahedeen backed by Pakistan and Arab states arm the Islamists. Islamic Renaissance Party trained and recruited 3000-5000 Tajik refugees – who fled violence in Tajikistan – with support of Supervisory Council of North (SCN), led by Ahmed Shah Massod and radical Hizb e Islami led by Gulbudin Hikmatyar, with financial assistance coming from Pakistan and Arab states. UNHCR withdrew its financial aid for Tajik refugees in Afghanistan, as it objected to the UNHCR camps being used as training camps for militant recruitment by Islamists.

To utter surprise, UNHCR never objected to this practice, which had been carried out for over a decade by mujahedeen in Afghanistan.

Islamists inhibited the repatriation of Tajik Refugees Some of Islamists and Tajiks of Afghanistan like Jamiat – e – Islami thwarted the return of Tajik refugees and exhorted them to fight for an Islamic Tajikistan. However, SibghatullahMujadidi and General dostum, Afghan Ismailis leader Syed Mansour Nadiri ensured their return.



The Afghan civil war and Tajikistan civil war erupted simultaneously. However, after the emergence of Taliban and their capture of Kabul in Sep 1996, and their northern conquests created apprehensions and foreboding in Opposition forces – who were based in Afghanistan – and Tajikistan government who became cautious and wary of rapid and fierce advance of Pashtun Islamist group. The first face-to-face meeting between President EmamolRehman and Abdullah Nuri (Opposition forces Chief) took place in Kabul in May 1995, orchestrated by President Rabbani. In their second meeting in Dec 1996, – under the auspices of President Rabbani – both men signed a Ceasefire agreement and decided to form a “National Commission of Reconciliation”. The Taliban northern advance compelled all Tajik refugees to return back home. President Rabbani greatly contributed to the arbitration and mediation process.

By the end of 1996, United Tajik Opposition (UTO) gained control of most of the Central and Southern Tajikistan. They made considerable advances in Karategin Valley and in the central region. By the end of 1996, UTO had taken Gharm, Tavildara and Komsomolabad, at one point advancing as far as 60km from Dushanbe and threatening the city itself.  But opposition resorted to peace talks to avoid more bloodshed.



Under pressure of Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Uzbek President and UN, President Rehman initiated a peace negotiation process. In 1994, first round of talks between Tajik Government and UTO began, in April 1994 in Moscow, under Russian and UN mediation. Russia brokered a Ceasefire agreement between government and UTO in Jul 1994 and Oct 1994. In December 1994 the UN Mission of Observers in Tajikistan (UNMOT) was established to monitor the implementation of the ceasefire.

By virtue of Russian persistent diplomatic efforts and UN endeavors, in June 1997 the “General Agreement on the Establishment of Peace and National Accord in Tajikistan” was signed, formally ending the civil war. The Agreement provided for 30 % representation in government executive bodies, the safe return of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), disarmament and the reintegration of opposition forces into government power structures, constitutional and electoral amendments, general amnesty, the establishment of a date for new parliamentary elections, and reform of the government. The immediate issues were the establishment of a joint Central Election Commission, the reform of national and local government on the basis of a 30 per cent UTO quota, the lifting of restrictions on opposition parties, and the release of prisoners.



Russia military stationed in Tajikistan remained distant from any physical involvement in the conflict. However, pro – government forces procured weapons from them and occasional support was provided to government supporters in their counter attacks in the south by Russian 191 battalion. Russia played a significant role in mediation and conflict settlement process. It pressurized President Rehman to negotiate with opposition forces. It brokered ceasefire agreements between the two belligerents. Russian diplomacy orchestrated the most important talks between President Rehman and Nouri, which brought an end to hostilities and established peace.

Besides, playing a mediatory role, Russian adopted a pre-empted approached and reached “CIS Joint Border” agreement, in 1993 under which Russian military guarded the Tajikistan’s border with China and Afghanistan (Russian military withdrew from Tajikistan in 2005). The Collective peace keeping force comprised of 25000 Russian soldiers – from 201 Motor Rifle Battalion and Russian border guards – 350 Uzbek soldiers and 286 personnel of Kyrgyz military. Russian diplomacy also approached the opposition leadership in exile in Iran and Afghanistan for a peace dialogue. Russia played a commendable role in conflict settlement and establishment of peace and stability. Owing to concerns and threats regarding Taliban’s advance towards North, it supported Northern alliance (Ahmed Shah Masood, Dostum) led by Rabbani to act as a buffer between Taliban and CIS states.


Uzbekistan provided air support to government forces bombarding opposition bases and sites. Uzbek troops also fought alongside government supporters in armed conflict in Gharm region. Uzbekistan air power greatly assisted the Popular Front advances.  More importantly, Uzbekistan initiated UN involvement for conflict resolution. President Karimonov held two meetings with Abdullah Nouri in Dushanbe, 1995 for peaceful solution to the conflict. Although, following Uzbeks banishment Uzbekistan grew hostile towards Tajikistan government and frequently interrupted gas supply to south Tajikistan.

Despite lacking any sectarian kinship with Tajiks – who were Sunnis – provided military support to Opposition elements (UTO). Iran air supplied weapons and equipment to UTO forces. The main purpose was to offset Sunni funding and support from Pakistan and Arab states. Iran also made significant diplomatic endeavors and hosted several rounds of talks between President EnamolRehman and Abdullah Nouri.

UN Secretary General appointed a special envoy for Tajikistan and formation of UN Mission of Observers in Tajikistan (UNMOT) were the key diplomatic efforts of UN to ameliorate the prevailing conditions of the conflict. UNMOT earnestly monitored the combat situation, maintaining regular contacts with Russian led CIS Peace keeping forces. It effectively monitored peaceful repatriation of UTO units to Tajikistan. Protocol on Military issues signed by rival factions in 1997 which led to further reduction of violence was accomplishment of UN.





The war resulted in internal displacement of 700,000 Tajiks. 778,000 Tajiks migrated to Afghanistan and almost 350,000 Slavs migrated to Russia. The refugees experienced obnoxious conditions in Afghanistan; underwent harassment and expropriation of house and lands; were killed infrequently on their way back to home. They suffered unbearable troubles: lack of food, medical services, shelter and insecurity.



War proved highly detrimental for economy. Tajikistan suffered economic loss of $ 7 billion loss. There occurred a scarcity of food supplies, water and gas, primarily because of influx of IDPs.

Output spiraled down to 65 % during 1992 – 1997. They’re erupted frequent power breakdown of electricity and gas. Agriculture was the worst hit sector, experiencing huge losses.



There occurred a scarcity of food, water and commodities. War adversely affected growth of crops, which eventually stimulated shortage of basic necessities of life, which added to the miseries of people.The most affected areas were the strongholds of opposition. Gorno-Badakshan, the least populated province had highest concentration (39 %) of poorpeople.




7 % of citizens’ homes were damaged by the war. Many roads, bridges, hospitals, communication centers were destroyed. This greatly obstructed the mobility and thwarted the food supplies all across the country.



Pillage and depredation were committed by the locals. The rogue criminal gangs marauded the assets and wealth of vulnerable people in absence of law enforcing authorities.



The government has constrained the freedom of action and expression of religious elements since the cessation of war. Subversion of Islamic traditions and values continues to date. In 2016, more than 13000 people’s beards were forcibly shaved. Women are disallowed to wear headscarf. Discouragement of parents keeping Arabic names of their children’s and censorship of publication of religious books highlights the severe restrictions enforced on religion freedom. Religious persecution is still pervasive. In 2015, Islamic Renaissance Party was banned – an act contrary to provisions of 1997 Peace Agreement -. The recent attacks claimed by ISKhorasan Chapter linked with Islamic Renaissance Party, are backlash of government discriminatory policies and bigotry, since more than two decades. Government unfair and harsh treatment of religious authorities can foment radical tendencies, which would endanger stability and peace.



The war brought devastating social and economic consequences to newly formed countries.  It wrecked the infrastructure and government structure. The war caused a great loss of human life, resources, and capital. Economic losses ranged to $ 7 billion, with 30,000 deaths, and almost a million migrated – though almost all returned. The civil war exacerbated the situation in Afghanistan. Although nonstates fomented the conflict, foreign countries played a significant and vital role in the settlement of the strife. The mediatory role exercised by Russia is commendable, which averted more bloodshed in the war.  Russian consistent engagement of both sides (government and UTO), led to the easement of tensions. Ultimately, a diplomatic thaw was reached due to earnest and dedicated diplomatic efforts of Russia and the UN. Russia remained neutral during the conflict urging both sides to exercise self-restraint. It is a war where foreign interference proved beneficial in terms of peace and security, instead of being pernicious and inimical. However, Arab funding of radical Sunni groups prolonged the conflict by promoting extremism and militancy, which augmented the conflict. The peace was eventually established, but the suppression of religious freedom and liberty continues to date. The authoritarian government is quick at quelling public dissent. The resentment and indignation exist and are mildly simmering, which has the potential to embroil Tajikistan into a state of social disorder and mayhem. The government needs to grant due freedom to the people, and end its policy of marginalization of religious elements to sustain peace and stability in the country.



Eeman Fatima is an International Relations student at Kinnaird College for Women University Lahore.

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