Tajikistan was still facing a deadly and embarrassing mutiny crisis just as the presidents of Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan arrived on Monday in the capital Dushanbe prior to a Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) summit.
The localized insurrection began on September 4, when armed groups led by General Abduhalim Nazarzoda (now the ex-deputy defense minister) attacked police posts and military bases around Dushanbe. The interior ministry said 8 policemen and 9 of the attackers were killed in those clashes. Nazarzoda and his rebels then raided the arms store of a defense ministry building before fleeing into the Ramit Gorge, about 30 miles outside of the capital. By September 9 around 70 of them had been captured and a total of 18 killed, according to Russian news agency TASS. And as of Sunday, the general and “a few dozen” of his armed supporters were reportedly “surrounded” by government forces.
Nazarzoda’s motives aren’t clear. He may be trying to avoid an investigation into his role in the country’s 1992-97 civil war, which could lead to a politically-motivated prosecution (and possibly torture upon conviction) in this country notorious for human rights violations. Or his armed escape could be related to his membership in the Islamic Rebirth Party, which the government banned on August 28. Meanwhile, Russia, with a military base in Tajikistan, is concerned about what it sees as the growing Islamist threat in Central Asia— all the more so given the Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan and the expansion of ISIS within and outside of the Middle East.
The CSTO presidents are holding separate meetings on Monday to discuss ties, and the CSTO summit is scheduled for Tuesday. The Nazarzoda uprising and how to crush it will certainly be discussed by President Vladimir Putin of Russia and his Tajik counterpart Imomali Rakhmon. Yuri Ushakov, the Kremlin’s top foreign policy aide, stated on Friday that “We are ready to provide assistance one way or another, as well as political support, and I think this matter will be one of the key ones during talks.” Asked if Russia could offer military assistance to Rakhmon, Ushakov replied: “I don’t know in what way the discussion will develop.” And in an article published on Saturday, Russian news agency Interfax quoted one unnamed source as saying “I assure you that by the end of the CSTO summit, the operation will be completely finished.”
Nazarzoda’s rebellion isn’t the first since the civil war ended, and there will likely be other isolated insurrections. But with Moscow fully backing Dushanbe, there won’t be any safe havens welcoming ISIS in Russia’s backyard.