The formation of the anti-government opposition in the early 1990s was largely the result of the search for a national identity, the strengthening of regional elites with unrealised political ambitions, the general weakening of the central power and the experience of the War in Afghanistan, which confronted the Tajiks with political Islam. The search for identity went hand in hand with the revival of traditions and above all of Islam. It was no coincidence that the core of the Tajik opposition was the Islamic opposition movement, which positioned itself not only as a religious but also as a socio-political movement. The emergence of the Islamist movement was preceded by complex relations between Islam and the state during the Soviet period. The Soviet authorities were characterised by a double attitude towards Islam: on the one hand, the fight against Islam within the framework of a common atheist policy and, on the other, the recognition of the role of Islam as the main regulator of social relations in the East. The Soviet leadership, which fought against high Islam and Islamic scholarship, patronised official Islam – the state-controlled Islamic-conformist clergy. The struggle against the Islamist religious authorities, which were not subject to total control, became particularly intense, leading to a widespread atheism among the inhabitants of Gorno-Badakhshan in the history of Tajikistan between 1991-1996 (together with the expansion of the education system and the high dependence of the Pamir population on the state).
This type of religious policy contributed to the emergence of so-called popular Islam. It represents a controversial but internally stable set of Islamic and pre-Islamic norms and customs that determined the privacy of the inhabitants of Tajikistan. The “popular” Islam with its semi-educated mullahs made it possible to be communists in public and political life, but to remain Muslims in private life. It was he who proved to be the least resistant to the preaching of Islamic radicals and to the flow of Islamic literature from abroad. As early as the 1970s and 1980s, underground groups in southern Tajikistan began their activities to research and disseminate Islam. The best known is the youth organisation (founded in 1978). Its chairman was Said Abdullo Nuri.
The Third Congress of People’s Deputies of the USSR in March 1990 repealed Article 6 of the Constitution of the Soviet Union. The Democratic Party of Tajikistan (DPT) was founded in August 1990. In June 1990, the Congress of Muslims of the Soviet Union was held in Astrakhan, attended by delegates from Tajikistan. At the Congress, the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan was founded. Delegates to the Congress, Davlat Usmon and Saidibrokhim Gadoev, on their return to Tajikistan, approached the Supreme Soviet of the Tajik SSR with a request to allow a regional founding conference of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan to be held. However, the meeting of the Supreme Council banned the activities of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan on the territory of the Republic, as it was contrary to the Constitution and the Law “On Freedom of Conscience in the Tajik SSR“, which prohibits religious organisations from participating in political activities.
Despite the ban, the initiative group held a constituent conference on 6 October 1990 at the Chortut Mosque in the Leninsky district. In accordance with the decision of the Supreme Soviet “On repression of activities of political parties and socio-political associations prohibited by the legislation of the Tajik SSR” of 14 December 1990, the organisers of the conference were fined. In November 1990, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Tajikistan issued a statement “On the attitude towards the attempt to establish the Tajik branch of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan against the decision of the third session of the Supreme Soviet of the Republic and its ban”. The regime thus demonstrated the loss of control over political and religious processes.
Tajikistan declared independence on 9 September 1991. Under the conditions of political chaos in Tajikistan’s history between 1991-1996, the regional elites began a struggle for power and turned to the parties as a means of political mobilisation and struggle. During this period, the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan received the support of part of the regional elite as well as the clergy and the strata associated with trade and mediation. Rallies lasting several days were a sign of the beginning of the conflict. Following pressure from the demonstrators, the Supreme Council adopted on 22 October 1991 a law abolishing certain acts of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Tajikistan in matters concerning parties of a religious nature and authorising the registration of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, thereby legalising the Islamic movement in Tajikistan.
The first Congress of the Independent Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan was held on 26 October 1991. M. Khimmatzoda was elected party leader and D. Usmon and S. Gadoev were elected members of parliament.
The armed conflict which began in May 1992 in southern Tajikistan developed into a civil war which divided the Republic into two camps: government supporters and the demo-Islamic opposition. The Political Union of Democrats and Islamists is unique in the post-Soviet history of Central Asia and Tajikistan between 1991-1996.
On 25 August 1991, following a failed coup attempt in Moscow, the Supreme Soviet of Tajikistan voted to nationalise the assets of the CPSU. The Communist Party of Tajikistan announced its withdrawal from the CPSU on 29 August. Communist leader Kakhar Makhkamov resigned on 1 September in favour of Soviet Supreme Chairman Kadriddin Aslonov as First Secretary. The Republic of Tajikistan declared independence on 9 September 1991. On 22 September Aslonov issued a decree banning the Communist Party’s activities in the country, although it had been renamed the Tajik Socialist Party the day before. But on 23 September the decree was repealed and Aslonov resigned. His successor was the former First Secretary of the CPT, Rahmon Nabiyev. When the opposition – the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, the Democratic Party of Tajikistan, the nationalist movement Rastokhez (Renaissance) and the regional movement La’li Badakhshon (Independent Badakhshan) – continued their demonstrations, Nabiyev resigned on 6 October and set a date for the presidential elections. The election took place on 24 November 1991, with Nabiyev receiving 58% of the votes. His main rival, Davlat Khudonazarov of the DPT, officially received 31% of the votes. After losing the election, the leaders of the demo-Islamic bloc declared themselves in opposition.
Tajikistan joined the Commonwealth of Independent States on 21 December 1991.
In January 1992, Nabiyev appointed Akbar Mirzoyev as Prime Minister.
In March 1992, Maxud Ikramov, one of the DPT leaders and mayor of Dushanbe, was arrested on charges of bribery. This act by the authorities triggered mass protests by the opposition, which organised rallies in Shahidon Square in Dushanbe from 26 March to 23 April and from 25 to 26 April to 5 May 1992. In parallel, pro-government forces held a rally lasting several days in Ozodi Square. Nabiyev, concerned about the escalating confrontation, obtained the Supreme Soviet’s approval for a six-month direct presidential term and supported the creation of the Tajik “National Guard”. In response, the leader of the Democratic Party of Tajikistan, Shodmon Yusuf, accused Mr Nabiyev of seeking to extend totalitarian rule and called for the creation of a provisional Council of State.
On 22 April 1992, Safarali Kenjayev, known for his adherence to harsh political methods of struggle, resigned from his post as Chairman of the Supreme Soviet. His reinstatement on 3 May 1992 triggered a new wave of protests, including a demonstration on 5 May attended by up to 100,000 people.
The situation was clearly unfavourable to the authorities, who were forced to agree to the formation of a government with national approval involving opposition representatives. The Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan and the DPT received 8 out of 24 ministerial posts. This was the first time in the post-Soviet space that an Islamic party entered the official structures. A representative of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, D. Usmon, was appointed Deputy Prime Minister. It was also decided to establish an interim legislative body (Majlis), followed by elections to the permanent parliament based on the principle of multi-party rule.
The local elites in Leninabad and Kulob refused to recognise the agreement. Armed clashes, which had started in Kulob and Kurgan Tyube, soon spread throughout the country. On 30 August Prime Minister Mirzoev was forced to resign. On 7 September, President Nabiyev was also forced to resign after opposition forces captured him in an armed clash at Dushanbe airport. Nabiyev was subsequently placed under de facto house arrest. On 24 September, Akbarsho Iskandarov, Acting Head of State and Chairman of the Supreme Soviet, offered the post of Prime Minister to Abdumalik Abdullayanov, a native of Khujand, but the conflict had already taken on an uncontrollable character.
In Kulob, which was under the greatest pressure from the opposition, a popular militia led by Saigak Safarov, the People’s Front, was formed. At the beginning of October, the forces of the Popular Front tried to take over the capital under communist slogans, which was then controlled by the forces of the demo-Islamic opposition. It should be noted that with the victory of the Popular Front, many people placed their hopes in a return to a calm and stable existence. Not all people in Tajikistan felt sympathy for the opposition. Islamists saw the majority of the urban secular population as a factor in the archaisation of society, a desire to push Tajikistan into the territory of less developed Muslim states. The ideology of the Tajik democrats, who were in fact nationalists, not only displaced non-Tajik ethnic groups, but also many Tajiks who invoked the slogans of internationalism. And finally, it was the forces of the opposition who were blamed by the population for unleashing the bloody massacre. Opposition actions even greatly reduced public resistance to violence against political opponents and representatives of “foreign” regions.
With the support of the Russian 201st Motorised Firearms Unit stationed in Tajikistan and the Uzbek community, and with the help of Uzbekistan, the Popular Front launched attacks on armed opposition groups. The opposition forces were mainly forced to move to the Afghan border and their activities were limited to areas that the Popular Front could never conquer: Karategin, Garm, Pripyrimirye and the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region. Under these conditions, some local residents fled to neighbouring Afghanistan.
In November 1992, the only remaining legitimate body in the republic, the Supreme Soviet, held a meeting in Khujand. On 19 November, the Chairman of the Supreme Soviet, A. Iskandarov, resigned from his post and handed it over to the leader of the pro-Nabian forces in Kulob, Emomali Rakhmonov (from 22 March 2007 – Emomali Rakhmon). The presidential form of government was replaced by a parliamentary one, in which the head of the legislative body was also the head of state. Prime Minister Abdulladzhanov retained his post, but all opposition members were removed from the cabinet. On 3 April 1993, the President of the DPT, Mr Maxud Ikramov, was again removed from his post as Mayor of Dushanbe, to which he was appointed for the second time at the end of 1992. On 11 April 1993, former President Nabiyev died of a heart attack. On 27 April, the Supreme Soviet of Russia voted to send Russian peacekeepers to Tajikistan in the context of a CIS-mandated peacekeeping operation. The base of the Collective Peacekeeping Force (CMC) was formed by the soldiers of the 201th FFM. They were joined by symbolic contingents from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.
On 21 June 1993 the Supreme Soviet banned the activities of four opposition political associations: Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, DPT, Rastokhez and La’li Badakhshon, accusing them of involvement in political assassinations, kidnappings and rebellion. By that time, pro-government forces had regained control over most of the country, and many opposition leaders, especially Islamists, were forced to emigrate to Afghanistan and other Muslim states. The conflict continued in the border areas as pro-Islamic forces received support from Afghan fighters.
In June 1993, the United Opposition was formed in Afghanistan, including the DPT and the Renaissance Islamic Movement of Tajikistan, which replaced the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan in emigration. Training camps for the Tajik opposition were established on Afghan territory. Opposition forces were formed on four fronts, with up to 9,000 people in total. On Tajik territory, the main opposition forces were located in the Karategin Valley with up to 3,000 people.
Prime Minister Abdullayanov resigned on 19 December 1993. He was succeeded by his deputy – Abduljalil Samadov. As a result, peace talks between the Government and the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) began in Moscow (5-19 April 1994) under the auspices of the UN, despite the assassination in March 1994 of Deputy Prime Minister Moensho Nazarshoyev, who was supposed to head the Government delegation. During the talks it was decided to cooperate on refugee assistance and to fight only with “political measures”. Nevertheless, military confrontations continued in the areas bordering Afghanistan. Subsequent UN negotiations in Tehran (Iran) led to the signing of a cease-fire agreement on 18 September 1994, but without any concessions from the opposition government. The agreement did little to end the fighting. Meanwhile, on 20 July 1994, the draft of the new “presidential” constitution was approved by the Supreme Soviet, which called for the adoption of the Basic Law through a national referendum and the holding of presidential elections in the autumn.
On 6 November 1994 Tajikistan voted on the draft constitution and held presidential elections. Both rounds of elections were boycotted by Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan and DPT, although some secular opposition parties supported the candidacy of former Prime Minister Abdulladzjanov. According to official figures, more than 90% of voters who went to the polls voted in favour of the Constitution, with President Rakhmonov receiving 58% of the vote, while Abdullayanov received 35%. The opposition openly claimed that the results were falsified. On 3 December 1994, Jamshed Karimov (after 1992) was re-appointed Prime Minister.
On 26 February and 12 March 1995, 181 MPs were elected to the new Supreme Assembly, but they were boycotted by the majority of the opposition parties.
Despite the presence of the UN Observer Mission in Tajikistan since December 1994, whose task was to monitor compliance with the cease-fire agreement, clashes between the government and opposition forces continued. In April 1995, there was a major clash in the Gorno-Badakhshan region between government and Russian peacekeeping forces on the one hand and Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan units operating jointly with the Badakhshan separatists on the other. The escalation of the conflict in early 1996 led President Rakhmonov to reorganise his cabinet: in early February, Yahya Azimov replaced Karimov as Prime Minister, while Mahmadsaid Ubaidullayev was removed as First Deputy Prime Minister.
The capture of Kabul by the Taliban in September 1996 was an opportunity to intensify peacekeeping efforts. New talks between the government and the opposition began in October 1996. A meeting between Rakhmonov and Nuri on 10-11 December led to a cease-fire agreement and the decision to continue negotiations later in Moscow. Rakhmonov and Nuri signed an agreement in Moscow on 23 December 1996 to establish an Interim Commission for National Reconciliation (CNR), to be headed by a representative of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO). The task of the CNR was to integrate the opposition into peaceful life and reform the electoral legislation. The agreements signed provided that representatives of the opposition should be involved in the executive branch of government, both at national and local level, and in the structures of law enforcement. The Commission was to cease its work once the new Parliament was formed.