Politics of compromise: The Tajikistan peace process

( Note on how to cite this journal: Author, Date of the post, WMO Conflict Insight, Title of the post,  ISSN: 2628-6998, https://worldmediation.org/conflict-insight )

In comparison with many of the current intra-state conflicts, the inter-Tajik violence is notable both for its rapid escalation to war in 1992, less than a year after formal independence, and for its relatively quick conclusion through a negotiated settlement signed in June 1997. The peace process was a good example of multi-track diplomacy: the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, neighbouring governments in particular Russia, Iran, Pakistan, Afghan factions, and other Central Asian republics born from the USSR, the Tajik government, the United Tajik Opposition (more opposition than united), non-governmental organizations, and individuals with prestige most notably Prince Karim Aga Khan (as part of the Tajiks are Ismaili) were all involved. The merit of this study is to keep this multi-tack, multi-layered effort clear with useful profiles of the main actors, their interests and their base of support. There is also a good chronology of events and the key texts in the process.

The inter-Tajik negotiations were conducted under UN auspices. The UN staff conducted more than a year of preparatory consultations and then facilitated three years of difficult negotiations between the delegations of the government and the United Tajik Opposition. The Secretary-General of the UN sent top-level and experienced administrators as Special Envoys or Special Representatives backed by a staff from the UN Department of Political Affairs. As Elena Hay points out in the section “Methodology of the inter-Tajik negotiation process” “The UN mediators never substituted themselves for the two sides in the negotiations. At all levels they stressed that the responsibility for settling the inter-Tajik conflict rested with the Tajikistanis. For their part, the Tajik delegations worked diligently to reach a negotiated agreement…The UN negotiating team always drafted the initial texts of agreements. This task required the mediators to develop a deep understanding of the positions advocated by the Tajik parties on each issue on the agenda and to sense the possible margin of each party’s flexibility. They also needed expertise in preparing legal documents. In the course of preparing the draft agreements, the mediators introduced compromise options to address disputed issues. This proved to be a highly pragmatic approach. Because the UN team presented a draft text, it helped to avoid the pitfall of lengthy and heated debates by the Tajik parties on their own drafts – documents that would understandably have promoted the interests of one party over the other.”

However, the negotiations did not take place in a vacuum. “Most rounds of the inter-Tajik negotiations took place against the background of continued civil war or major violations of the ceasefire agreement. The negotiations were therefore an extension of the battleground. The two parties tried to use the negotiating process when it was to their advantage and interrupted it when developments on the battlefield made it advantageous.”

Thus, the UN Special Representatives had to provide good offices in a proactive manner. They led, rather than simply followed the peace negotiations. The UN peacemaking efforts were supported at a critical juncture by the quick deployment of UN military observers and the humanitarian action of UN specialised agencies and NGOs. These well-coordinated efforts demonstrated the UN’s commitment to the Tajikstanis and strengthened the position of the UN mediators. The UN involvement in Tajikistan stands as an example of effective UN peacemaking.

One of the important factors in the Tajik peace process was the important role played by NGOs and civil society in developing a framework for compromise. As Parviz Mullojanov of the Public Committee for Promoting Democratic Processes in Dushanbe writes “ There are many definitions of ‘civil society’ but most are based on the concept of a public space between the individual and the state where a variety of actors seek to mediate relations Between citizens and state authorities. It is a space for communication that creates opportunities for broad public involvement and therefore has a potentially important role in preventing and resolving conflict and making post-conflict reconciliation more sustainable. A peace process that involves only elite decision-makers can be disrupted by political events, leaders’ pursuit of self-interest, or external interference. It is therefore important to assess the contribution of civil society actors to the Tajik peace process and to the process of reconciliation.”

Harold Saunders, a former US Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs who was co-moderator with Yevgeny Primakov of the Inter-Tajik Dialogue stresses in his book A Public Peace Process (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1999, 325pp.) the same theme: Sustained dialogue is part of a multilevel process for ending violence, changing relationships and building communities with the capacity to resolve differences peacefully.

“The method of sustained dialogue presented here goes beyond traditional approaches to conflict. Formal negotiations and mediation will remain important in the eventual resolution of conflict at official levels, but a larger political approach often needs to precede, undergird or follow these traditional methods. People in the many conflicts that proliferate today, who are often not ready for formal negotiations and mediation can, however,, talk about their differences in systematic dialogue, even with adversaries. When they do, they are acting as human beings – citizens- working together in the political arena outside government to determine whether destructive relationships can be changed…Now we are beginning to see the possibility of adding to governmental channels non-official dialogues that can broaden the range of interaction, sharpen understanding, deepen communication and partly replace adversarial interaction and contests of force as a means of resolving differences.”

Saunders uses the word “public” in the sense of non-governmental and distinguishes it from forms of formal diplomacy and negotiations. A “sustained dialogue” however, does not take place in public nor is it reported in the press. What he proposes are private meetings of about 12 people representing major but not necessarily all factions of the population in a conflict area. As Saunders notes “The human dimension of conflict must become central to peacemaking and building peaceful societies. Only governments can write peace treaties, but only human beings – citizens outside government – can transform conflictual relationships between people into peaceful relationships.” These discussions are carried out among the same people over a period of time – several years – with an aim of better understanding the situation and of seeing if there are ways to improve the situation. Suggestions can be passed on to those able to carry out more formal negotiations such as those between government and structured opposition groups.

Thus, the first step is to find and bring together individuals who in some way represent major social currents of the society but who have made a judgement that a current conflictual situation hurts personal and group interests intolerably and who have a feeling that it may be possible to change the situation.

In Tajikistan, relatively quickly both government and the opposition saw that there was an irreversible depletion of supplies and financial resources and that there was some danger of the destruction of the country as a separate entity. Moreover, there was a convergence of Russian and Iranian interests to promote peace and stability in Tajikistan. Each wanted to keep the USA at a distance from the peace process and to minimise Taliban, Pakistani or Saudi involvement.

The NGO-sponsored Inter—Tajik Dialogue was difficult. For reasons of personal security, the early discussions could not be held in Tajikistan. However, the practice of such sustained dialogue slowly develops two crucial skills which Saunders describes: “First, learning to talk with rather than at others enables participants in a dialogue to begin experiencing the mutual respect that comes from listening carefully and talking together with increasing openness. Feeling mutual respect gradually opens the door to insights into relationships.

Second, learning a different, more disciplined and purposeful way of thinking and talking together makes it possible for members of a group to find shared interests and shared concern about where a situation is heading. It permits participants to assess the costs of inaction against the costs of trying to change; it permits them to design together steps to change relationships; it permits them to act together…Dialogue is a process of genuine interaction through which human beings listen to each other deeply enough to be changed by what they learn. Each makes a serious effort to take others’ concerns into her or his identity, but each recognises enough of the other’s valid human claims that he or she will act differently toward the other… As each party takes others’ interests as what they can live with – not their optimal interests – in order to reach the cooperation with others necessary to achieve what all parties absolutely need.”

The non-official Inter-Tajik Dialogue began in March 1993 just one year before the first round of the UN-sponsored Inter-Tajik negotiations that started in April 1994. Some of the same people were members of both groups so that ideas could pass between the groups which led to the 1997 “General Agreement on the Establishment of Peace and National Accord in Tajikistan.”

Today, the need is to make peace sustainable. For, as Saunders notes “Peace agreements will not produce peace until they are embedded in a political process for transforming a broadening range of relationships over time – a process planted in the practice of a healthy civil society.” In Tajikistan, the developing civil society has not replaced tribal-regional loyalties. Many political figures continue to have a “winner take all” attitude. Moreover, Central Asia as a whole is an area of tensions spilling over into armed violence. In both Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan there has been sporadic fighting with a shadowy rebel group known as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Afghanistan continues to send shock waves across the area. Thus, the analysis of the Tajik peace process is crucial for the wider area. This study merits to be widely known.

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