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A “greeting” from Syria: Emomali Rahmon driving himself to a stalemate

The Independence Day to be celebrated in Tajikistan on September 9 might well become the most uneasy one in recent years. Gulmurod Khalimov, former colonel of Tajik special forces, who fled abroad and later appeared in the ranks of the Islamic State banned in Russia and other countries, promised to congratulate the country in a special way. The way this was conveyed makes everyone believe the congratulation will not be safe. Khalimov’s recent success in the ISIS have become a headache for the Tajik authorities and the region in general.

Since September 6, officers of various security agencies in Tajikistan started receiving threatening short messages from Khalimov. Security forces reported that are taking preventive measures.

Col. Gulmurod Khalimov is a career military man. He was trained in special military units in Russia and the United States. He served at the Tajik presidential guard, participated in military operations against opposition in eastern Tajikistan. Last April, Tajik media reported he disappeared. Soon after that, Khalimov made a video statement saying he joined the ISIS. He explained the move by his protest against actions of Tajik authorities, who, according to him, were pressing believers.

The Tajik government after being assured it was not a fake accused Khalimov of high treason and put him on international wanted list. In September 2015, the U.S. imposed sanctions against Khalimov as international terrorist. Almost a year later, Washington offered a reward of $3bn for information of his whereabouts. However, the generous reward has not been claimed yet, and Khalimov who changed his name to al Tajiki replaced another post-Soviet territory offshoot, Omar al-Shishani from Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge. Practically, he became commander-in-chief of ISIS military units. It is worth mentioning that current Khalimov’s activity coincided with another memory date – a year ago, former deputy defense minister Abuhalim Nazarzoda organized a mutiny that was qualified as a coup attempt and suppressed. Nazarzoda and several his supporters were killed, their property confiscated. Repressions took place also in the politics: the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan was accused of having ties with the rioters, banned by a court verdict, while its leaders apart from its chair Muhiddin Kabiri who managed to flee abroad were arrested and sentenced for long terms. Kabiri was put on international wanted list.

Talking to EADaily, expert in Central Asian countries Alexander Shustov noted that the potential of the threat of destabilization in Tajikistan is quite high, first of all, due to the severe social and economic crisis. The country is facing desperate unemployment. It is an absolute leader in money transactions from its migrants working abroad, despite the fact that they declined dramatically when the economic crisis hit Russia. According to the Russian Central Bank, the amount of foreign money transfers to Tajikistan from Russia fell almost thrice, from $3.8 bn to $1.3 bn. In the first half of 2016, the transactions amount decreased by 22%. There is no way to make up for these losses.

Comprehending the difficulty of the situation, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon could think of nothing better than tell the government to find new countries where Tajik migrants can work.

“The last-year ban of the IRP was caused by concerns about growing protest attitudes, as the party could attach legal Muslim forms to the protests,” Shustov said. The crisis is not turning into coercive phase only because Tajikistan is keeping the memories of the 1992-97 events, but the active phase of the military action took place in early 1990s, and the new generation does not remember them. In the face of Khalimov the protesting segment of the Tajik society may get an active and aggressive leader.

EADaily Central Asian Bureau

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