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International Mediation in Tajikistan: A United Nations Case Study
Neil Hilton PSPA 315A Professor Timur Goksel June 9, 2009 International Mediation in Tajikistan: A United Nations Case Study By nature of their relative unimportance to Western interests compared to states like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran, the most Central Asian republics get little attention in American university systems. The rest of the “-stan” states have valuable natural resources, but do not trade as heavily with the West as some other countries with stronger economies or larger supplies of petroleum and natural gas. Despite the presence of radical Islam in many of these states, involvement with international terrorism seems relatively scarce. American business investment is also fairly uncommon in the region, as it falls much more heavily under the Russian sphere of influence. While the -stans may have high levels of poverty and unemployment, they do not suffer as badly as places like Southeast Asia or sub-Saharan Africa, so do not garner as much attention in the media or academia. For these reasons, these states are often forgotten about by Westerners, and their problems ignored. Tajikistan is one of these countries. Between 1992 and 1997, the newly independent Republic of Tajikistan was embroiled in a bloody civil war that killed 50,000-100,000 people, created 1.2 million refugees, and left the economy, infrastructure, and government in complete disarray. Evidence of ethnic cleansing exists, as well. The war was extremely violent, with both sides receiving aid from external sources in the traditional proxy fashion, and peace was not achieved for years until the efforts of international mediators finally resulted in an accord. This paper seeks to give an overview of the conflict, and then examine the role of the United Nations as a third-party mediator in the civil war in Tajikistan, as well as evaluate its efficacy and methods based on I. William Zartman and Saadia Touval’s prescriptions for international mediation. Tajikistan’s history as a divided nation goes back to the 1920s, as it was incorporated into the Soviet Union. It became a Socialist Republic in 1929, after a series of shifts and divisions in administration. The majority of ethnic Tajiks actually lived in what became Uzbekistan, and large cities and cultural centers like Bukhara and Samarkand fell under Uzbek territory. The result of
this was a people that lacked an intellectual elite, strong infrastructure, or clear cultural identity, and who struggled to build a strong state (Slim and Hodiza). Furthermore, the country developed unevenly, as the northern area of the country became much more industrialized and enjoyed stronger relations with the central Soviet government. This trend continued through the decades until the early 1990s, and was a major contributing factor in the conflict. Though it is the smallest state geographically in Central Asia, Tajikistan had a wide variety of minority populations, in addition to the predominant Tajik ethnicity and Sunni Islam religious adherence. The political monopoly inherent in the relationship between a rising Northern elite and Moscow led to a great deal of resentment amongst other communities, and several opposition groups emerged as perestroika gave more opportunities for open dissent. The most vocal anti-government groups were the Islamic clergy, who sought a larger role in the cultural and political life of the country, liberal democrats that sought capitalism and stronger ties with the West, and nationalists whose primary goal was Tajik independence. Forming a popular coalition, these groups faced off against the Soviet-backed forces, composed mainly of individuals from the northern Leninabad region and their allies in the southeastern Kolabi region, who lacked much representation but were adept at forming strong militias to back the government (Akiner and Barnes). Though conflict between the two coalitions was at first limited to nonviolent protests, the situation quickly devolved as political pressures on both sides rose. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the new Republic of Tajikistan found itself in a precarious position. Infighting amongst the former Communist leadership over proper succession during the transitional period led to widespread protests, forcing the government to hold multiparty elections. Nine candidates ran, but the winner was Rahmon Nabiyev, a former leader of the Communist Party who had seized power for a month earlier in the year through political manipulation. Tension rose as many questioned the legitimacy of Nabiyev’s ascension, and the conflict escalated. A war based on political, ethnic, religious, economic, and ideological differences broke out in May 1992 (Akiner and Barnes). The first year of that war was the worst, but it took four more years after that for international mediators to finally bring it to a close. Though the United States and Russia were involved as well, the mediation primarily took the form of a United Nations effort. The United Nations Mission of Observers to Tajikistan (UNMOT) was created in 1994 and found considerable success in mediating negotiations between the government and opposition coalitions on issues like prisoner trading, temporary
cease fires, and the status of refugees both in and out of the country. It would go on to orchestrate a lasting peace accord that has occasionally been violated by both sides since but has succeeded in giving relative stability to a new state that knew only war for the first five years of its existence. UNMOT’s efforts are largely lauded as one of the best examples of successful international mediation in modern warfare, so they make a good case study to examine, and serve as a positive example of what the UN mediators are capable of achieving in domestic conflicts like the Tajik civil war. Zartman and Touval give a very thorough examination of how international mediation works in “politico-security” conflicts, which they explain are those that take place within power politics and that usually result in violence. They also make a clear distinction between mediation and other forms of intervention, in that it requires a commitment to not use force and specifically seeks a settlement that does not favor one side or the other. The authors go on to lay out several key points regarding the motivation of the mediator(s), the motivation of the parties, timing, modes of mediation, the concept of leverage, and various ethical dilemmas that arise with the use of international mediation. These points will serve as a framework for analyzing the actions of the United Nations in the Tajik civil war. Peacemaking during the Cold War was extremely difficult for the United Nations because of the inherent struggle of being subject to the interests of member states, including the United States and Soviet Union. Mediation requires the agreement of influential members, especially those with seats in the United Nations Security Council. However, Zartman and Touval point out that the end of that era “freed international organizations from their bipolar constraints, and they rushed into mediation and conflict management.” Though many of those efforts, such as intervention in the Rwandan Genocide, met with unanticipated difficulty and ultimately were regarded as failures, they at the very least had much more freedom to attempt. As peacemaking and mediation are integral to the UN’s global mission, the organization clearly had strong motivation to intervene in any and all conflicts, especially after so long of being stifled by external obligations. Indeed, its goals are made clear in the very first line of its charter. The organization is designed to
maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace; (emphasis added) (UN General Assembly) The civil war in Tajikistan was one such situation, and offered a simpler conflict to manage in comparison to nightmares occurring at the same time like the Somali Civil War or the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia. Furthermore, the organization has additional commitments to promoting democracy and equality. Since ethnic and religious considerations seem to enter into the Tajik distribution of power that precipitated the civil war, Article 1.3 of the UN charter applies as well. It expresses commitment to solving problems “of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.” UN intervention was clearly necessary to defuse the conflict and ensure equal rights to the citizens of Tajikistan. The organization does not appear to have had any ulterior motives in its action beside basic fulfillment of its mission and upholding its commitments to justice, peace, and human rights for all people. The parties to the conflict additionally had ample reason to accept a peace process, and for the United Nations specifically to be the mediator. The opposition kept heavy pressure on the legal authorities until they gave them a solid amount of representation in a May 1992 coalition government agreement, but this did little to alleviate the growing tensions. The conflict instead shifted to the southern part of the country, where a UN fact-finding mission in the following months confirmed that a civil war was in full effect. Observers were sent to the bloodiest regions and found alarmingly escalated levels of conflict, with evidence of ethnically-motivated killings by Kolabi forces of opposition supporters in September of that year (Slim and Hodizoda). Shortly afterwards, the coalition government created in May was dissolved and replaced by a government led entirely by Kolabis and Leninabadi Communist Party members. Its president, Imomali Rahmonov, used authoritarian measures to oppress members of the opposition. The war was getting worse, and as the two sides traded power back and forth it became clear that there would be no quick winner. It was in the best interests of both coalitions to have an impartial third
party step in and deescalate the warfare. Both sides acted rationally by opting for a way out rather than an endless guerilla war that would wear heavily on both sides. Furthermore, accepting an offer of mediation from a highly-recognized and respected intergovernmental organization lends legitimacy to talks that could be influenced unfairly by other potential actors that could have more partisan interests of their own (the United States and Russia being clear examples). In the wake of the protracted Cold War, fears of being used as a proxy for larger ideological conflicts continued, despite the dissolution of the Soviet Union. By selecting the United Nations as the chief mediator, both the government alliance and the opposition coalition ensured a higher degree of validity in their negotiations and eventual peace treaty. This legitimacy would prove important, as it was noted in an extensive analysis of international involvement in the Tajik peace process that
(all) parties to the conflict, foreign governments and international organizations recognized the UN as the coordinator of the peace process. UN mediators, with support from the Security Council, were able to build consensus among countries in the region and ensure their sustained support for the peace process. This also prevented the multiplication of peace initiatives and their unhealthy competition, which could have been detrimental to the peace process. (Goryayev)
Clearly, it was in the best interests of everyone involved that the United Nations be the mediating actor. Zartman and Touval note that timing is an important factor of international mediation, as mediators (who are rational actors themselves) are motivated by their own self-interest and will not intervene automatically—only when a conflict threatens their interests, or if intervention can advance their interests. Generally, this occurs after the conflict has escalated and the warring parties have committed to confrontational policies that are very difficult to change without being perceived as losers in the struggle. This usually makes mediation much more difficult. However, the same analysis as above noted that in the case of the Tajik civil war, the United Nations was so successful in part because it “was involved in Tajikistan practically from the beginning of the conflict, interacting with all factions and external players. Acting together with a high-level mediation team of the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] countries, in autumn 1992 the UN helped to prevent the escalation of inter-ethnic clashes.” The common conflict management concepts of plateau and precipice also factor into the consideration of timing in UN intervention here. Between September 1992 and April 1993, the organization gradually expanded and institutionalized its effort in Tajikistan, evolving from a
small observational mission to a full-fledged political mission with a permanent and fulltime envoy. However, at this point the UN mandate only extended as far as monitoring the situation and providing humanitarian aid as best it could. The first round of inter-Tajik negotiations did not occur until April 1994, when the two parties met in Moscow to discuss their differences. At this point, the degree of fighting had lowered to and stabilized at a “plateau,” or mutually hurting stalemate. The coalition of Islamists, democrats, and nationalists was widely supported, especially in rural areas where the government had little control. They would not be defeated easily, and certainly would not give up. The newly-instated Kolabi government had no intention of giving representation to its enemies, but lacked the ability to crush them and continued to suffer gradual losses to their guerilla attacks. Neither side had the capacity to escalate the conflict. In such an environment, the only opportunity for progress came from international mediation, which the UN was happy to provide immediately. The mediators also had the additional advantage of a so-called “precipice,” or a crisis bounded by a deadline. This emerged in 1995-96 as the Taliban quickly rose to power in bordering Afghanistan. Both sides in the Tajik conflict feared influence from the Afghani organization, if not direct military action against their homeland. In other words, “pragmatic awareness that continued warfare could threaten the future independence of the country they aspired to control; a power-sharing compromise to govern a unified country was preferable by far to losing the country entirely” (Akiner and Barnes). The UN used this fear to its advantage, encouraging the Tajik government alliance and opposition coalition to act sooner rather than later in order to safeguard their country from Taliban manipulation. The authors of the framework article go on to distinguish three modes of mediation: communication, formulation, and manipulation. They explain that these are three common tools used by mediators to accomplish what the parties themselves cannot accomplish alone, though only one of the three was utilized by the UN to great extent in this particular conflict. As a communicator, the mediator serves as a conduit between the two parties, especially if direct contact between the two is impossible. This happens frequently, as neither side wants to appear weak. Additionally, the mediator will help all parties understand the realities of each other’s messages, rather than being distracted by rhetoric and mixed messages. Zartman and Touval make it clear that when a mediator is acting in this way, they are serving only in a procedural function, and are not adding anything substantive to the discussion. In the case of that Tajik civil
war, the United Nations was blessed with participants that were relatively willing to speak to each other, even if they agreed on little. They met face to face in April 1994 for the first time since conflict broke out. As the two sides spoke the same language and were the same type of communicators, the UN played a relatively small role in communication. Zartman and Touval also cover the use of manipulation by international mediators, but this does not appear to have been present on the part of the UN in Tajikistan—it implies a much more interventionist policy which often is more favorable to one party in the conflict than the other, which was not the case in this situation. The third mode of international mediation, however, was much more important to the UNMOT. “Formulation” requires tactful and subtle intervention into the discussion to help the parties find common ground. A mediator must contribute to the substance of the debate by suggesting common solutions based on mutual understanding and compatible goals. This sort of persuasion requires the mediator to wield influence and legitimacy, of which the UN fortunately has plenty. Using these tactics, they were able to unblock the management of the conflict and encourage more substantive dialogue between the sides. In Tajikistan, this involved both traditional as well as Track II diplomacy. Primarily, the UN Special Envoys/Representatives led peace negotiations with the main players separately, staying very involved rather than just as observers. Simultaneously, civilian representatives of both sides engaged in a series of internationally-mediated talks known as the Inter-Tajik Dialogue, which quickly concluded that
higher-level meetings were possible and strongly desirable (Slim and Hodizoda). The two produced a joint memorandum, urging the government and opposition leaders to meet, which they did afterwards. Even after this, the Dialogue continued throughout the remainder of the conflict. Their input, convincing the leaders of both sides to meet, directly contributed to a long process of short cease fire agreements and attempts at temporary power-sharing, which lasted until a real peace accord was signed by the parties in June of 1997.
The authors go one to examine the concept of leverage in depth, and how it affects international mediation. Generally, warring parties do not “hire” a mediator, and much the opposite takes place. A potential third party must “sell” itself, as it is trying to enter into a relationship that fulfills its interests as well. This generally puts it in a somewhat subservient role to the players themselves, at least to begin with. The mediator’s leverage is determined by the parties’ interest in its presence. Thus, the mediator must actively work to increase its leverage if it wants to remain relevant to the conflict. It does so by the use of several tactics. The first is
persuasion, which represents the “ability to portray an alternative future as more favorable than the continuing conflict.” The Inter-Tajik Dialogue provided this incentive, as it proved that discussion was possible and could yield positive results. It represented the work of individual citizens from opposing backgrounds who could find common ground, if first put in a room with UN negotiators and plentiful international observers. This gave credibility to UN calls for reconciliation and peace. The mediators also used a tactic known as “extraction,” which requires obtaining proposals from each party that will be acceptable to the other. In drafting what would eventually become the General Agreement on the Establishment of Peace and National Accord in
Tajikistan, UN Special Envoys/Representatives managed to secure impressive concessions from both sides, including guaranteed 30% United Tajik Opposition representation in the government and the disbanding and disarmament of opposition forces. Only by convincing the participants to reach agreements that they would otherwise not be able to reach alone was the UN able to maintain the leverage required to keep talks progressing at all times.
Finally, Zartman and Touval explore one of the myriad of ethical dilemmas that surround conflict management and mediation. This is the paradoxical potential need to choose between seeking order and seeking justice. According to the authors, mediators often pursue the double goal of stopping a war and settling the issues in dispute…However, in trying to achieve these goals, mediators are often confronted with the realization that settling the conflict in a matter that is considered fair by the disputants is likely to take a long time. Mediators may therefore face a dilemma of whether or not to give priority to a cease-fire and postpone the settlement of the conflict for later. (Zartman and Touval 451) In the case of Tajikistan, mediators seem to have found a dual path of pursuing both goals at the same time. As UN military observers and envoys worked to create and maintain ceasefires between the combatants, the above-mentioned Track II diplomacy represented by the Inter-Tajik Dialogue laid the groundwork for more permanent solutions based on power-sharing and problem-solving. By keeping continually pressure on the peace process, many casualties were avoided—indeed, most commentators estimate that about 50,000 were killed between May and December 1992, but 50,000-100,000 lives were lost in total over the course of the five-year conflict (Akiner and Barnes). The fact that the conflict de-escalated quickly was very important, even though fighting continued at a lower level for several years. Simultaneously, progress was being made on long-term diplomacy in the background. This is another reason that the UN
mediation in the civil war has been judged to be so effective—for the most part, they managed to avoid this common predicament. There are many reasons behind the general consensus that international mediation in Tajikistan was an effective response and solution to the conflict. In addition to those listed above, it has also been noted that a high level of coordination between diplomatic efforts and humanitarian aid was maintained, and that observer countries were very supportive of the peace process (Goryayev). Overall, the UN did remarkably well in containing the conflict after it got involved, and stopping the bloodshed from spiraling any further out of control. Their methods were effective and acceptable to all parties, in a definite contrast to the much more interventionist mediation often carried out by superpowers like the United States. For this reason, the civil war in Tajikistan remains an excellent example of proper third-party mediation. Unfortunately, many thousands lost their lives before the conflict was ended, but this case study can serve as a model for future conflict management efforts by it or any other body.
Works Cited Akiner, Shirin and Catherine Barnes. "The Tajik civil war: causes and dynamics." Conciliation Resources March 2001. 6 Jun 2009. <http://www.c-r.org/ourwork/accord/tajikistan/causes-dynamics.php>. Goryayev, Vladimir. "Architecture of international involvement in the Tajik peace process." Conciliation Resources March 2001. 7 Jun 2009. <http://www.c-r.org/ourwork/accord/tajikistan/international-involvement.php>. Slim, Randa and Faredon Hodizoda. " Tajikistan: From Civil War to Peacebuilding." Searching for Peace in Europe and Eurasia 2002. 6 Jun 2009. <http://www.conflictprevention.net/page.php?id=40&formid=73&action=show&surveyid=46#author>. UN General Assembly. Charter of the United Nations. San Francisco: 1945. <http://www.un.org/en/documents/charter/>. Zartman, William and Saadia Touval. "International Mediation." Leashing the Dogs of War: Conflict Management in a Divided World. Ed. Chester Crocker, Fen Hampson, Pamela Aall. Washington DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2007. Pg 437-454.