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Muhiddin Kabiri: Is the Kremlin waiting for a new Boko Haram to appear in Central Asia?

Muhiddin Kabiri. Photo: svoboda.org

Tension in Tajikistan is growing. The Tajiks are a neighbor to Afghanistan, a country that can cause them lots of troubles. The Tajik authorities are really harsh in their fight against religious extremism and are persecuting both political parties and NGOs. One of them is the popular Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT). During the last elections it failed to get into the parliament. Its leader Muhiddin Kabiri was forced to flee from criminal charges abroad. Experts say that if the Tajik authorities root out the IRPT, they will lose their best protector against radical Islamists. A few days ago Kabiri visited Moscow and gave an exclusive interview to EADaily.

 Are you actually facing criminal charges in Tajikistan?

 - I was surprised to know that right before the holy month of Ramadan and the National Unity Day, the pro-government mass media, particularly, Jumhuriyat, announced that I was facing a criminal charge because some 17 years before I broke some laws when selling my property. What criminal case are they talking about if it was my property? They just found a pretext – something to begin with. In any case, if they had questions, they might have asked them after the holiday, especially that I have been elected into the parliament twice over the last 17 years. Earlier the same mass media accused the IRPT of having relation to terrorism.

 What are you going to do? Are you planning to go back to Dushanbe?

 - I will fight. I will prove that I am innocent. In present-day Tajikistan it will be hard to do but the most important thing to me is people. I am accountable only to them, to God and to my conscience. I am no the first and hardly the last who finds himself under the gun of the regime.

 What is going on in Tajikistan?

 - It’s like 1937 there. Power is in the hands of neo-Bolsheviks. Now they are getting rid of their opponents. Both Russian and western experts say that the country is facing a crisis. The pressure the ruling regime is exerting on my party is not good for stability, on the contrary, it is giving rise to radical ideas. More and more young people in our country are showing support for the ISIL. People are disappointed with the government’s economic and social programs and its relations with religion. They don’t like the way they conduct elections.

 The opposition is giving empty promises that very soon there will be democracy and reforms, while radical organizations are recruiting those displeased. The ruling regime seems to be unaware of this or maybe they pretend to be unaware. The escape of the chief of the special police force Gulmurod Halilov should have become an alarm signal for the authorities. Today our youths are facing a choice: either to listen to us and to be patient or to find some other way. It is becoming increasingly difficult for me to control my party and the emotions of my people. There may well be forces wishing to cause a split. Perhaps, the authorities need some splendid little controlled war. At least, this is what their actions suggest.

 Why do the authorities need chaos – to increase their pressure?

 - They don’t need chaos but they would be happy to have a chance to increase their pressure. It is good time for them to do it. The world is now busy with Iraq, Syria, the ISIL and Ukraine. Everybody is now fighting Islamic extremism. So, this is a great chance for the regime to get rid of all oppositionists – both secular and religious. They hope they will be able to use it but they are mistaken. They will not be able to avoid chaos if they start a little war against the IRPT just to prove that it is a radical force.

 Your party has asked President Emomali Rahmon to stop the pressure. What an effect had this response have?

 - Yes, on June 16 we were forced to inform the President about the pressure we have been suffering from since 2010, when we won parliamentary elections. It was then the ruling regime stopped regarding us as partners and began pressuring us. As a result, in 2015 we were not let into the parliament. Even more, they told us that we had polled just 1.6% of votes. It was a real insult for us as the second biggest party in Tajikistan. We decided not to fuel tension but after the elections the pressure increased. We have one more opportunity left – to appeal to the UN and the mediators in the inter-Tajik talks of 1992-1997, the OSCE, Russia and Iran.

 What is the regime doing to liquidate the party if it actually has such plans?

 - They are forcing people to break away from us. They warn them that if they refuse they would lose their businesses, jobs and so on. A few days ago they came to my house and switched off the light and forced my brother to withdraw from my party. They detained one of my comrades and kept him in jail for ten days but he did not yield. The plan of the regime is to make us too small for being a party. They can do it on paper but what will they do with people and ideas?

 Do you mean that your party may go underground?

 - It may be dangerous for them to do it but perhaps they are confident of their strengths. Both Russian and western experts warn that the situation in Tajikistan is highly explosive. By the way, for some reason, the views of western experts reach their decision-making centers more quickly than the views of Russian experts get to the Kremlin.

 Perhaps, because the Kremlin’s key concern today is Ukraine?

 - But are they waiting for a new Boko Haram to appear in Central Asia (Nigerian radical Islamic organization - EADaily)? Of course, it is the Muslim world’s business to fight radical Islamists. But moderate Muslims do not have enough resources to fight radical Islamists and secular authoritarian regimes at one and the same time. In fact, they are between the Devil and the deep sea. I think that though fighting each other radical Islamists and secular authoritarian regimes are strategic partners. They both do not like moderate religious figures.

 Should the ruling regime in Syria be change, should the ISIL leave that country, will the war stop?

 - Of course, it won’t. Today lots of nations are forced to stick to authoritarian regimes, like the one of Bashar al Assad. Their key argument is that authoritarian regimes are stable. But the problem is that when they collapse, stability comes to an end. One example is Libya. Things were bad under Qaddafi but today they are even worse. When in power Qaddafi destroyed everybody just to be the only idol. He even forbade football players to use their names lest people might create another idol.

 Is it time for a change of elites in Central Asia?

 - This is what I am afraid of – what will there be after the current rulers? In Kazakhstan the change may be calm. Even though there are lots of things I don’t like in that country, Nursultan Nazarbayev is worth of respect - he is wise enough to realize that his country needs a system that will live after him. In the other Central Asian states, I expect wars of clans.

 Is Tajikistan going to join the Eurasian Economic Union?

 - The authorities are considering this possibility. This project offers lots of advantages - at least, to our labor migrants.

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