Former U.S. Ambassador to Tajikistan Breaks Down the Situation in Gorno-Badakhshan
May 27, 2022
With reports of violence and conflict in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast in Tajikistan, the Caspian Policy Center asked our Senior Fellow, Ambassador (ret.) Susan Elliott to provide context for the situation and look at possible paths towards de-escalation. Ambassador Elliott previously served as the U.S. Ambassador to Tajikistan from 2012-2015.
1. What is happening in Tajikistan right now, why is it in the news?
According to witnesses, several hundred residents of Khorogh, the capital of Gorno- Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO), gathered last week to demand the dismissal of the GBAO governor and the release of demonstrators arrested for participation in a protest in November 2021, when three men were killed and 17 wounded by security forces. The protesters clashed with security forces and the security forces allegedly started firing rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas at the protesters, killing at least 25 people.
2. This is not the first time there have been clashes in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast, what is the context behind the government’s current crackdown on protesters?
Tensions between the government and residents of the region have been present since Tajikistan’s civil war which took place soon after the country’s independence (1992-97). Since the end of the civil war, the region has seen many protests. The most deadly occurred in July 2012, just before I arrived in Dushanbe to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to Tajikistan. Other serious conflicts occurred in 2014 and 2018.
Media reports that the current protests began when residents were upset by the lack of investigations into excessive use of force by security forces on many incidents. The most recent incident involved the 2021 death of an activist while in police custody and the refusal by regional authorities to consider the resignations of regional Governor and the mayor of Khorogh. Government sources indicate the need for intervention in the region is partially related to the illegal activities of criminal gangs. The long and porous border with Afghanistan provides opportunities for drug trafficking and other types of criminal activity.
3. Can the United States help to deescalate and resolve the situation?
The U.S. can help by actively engaging with Tajik government officials and residents of the region to determine the facts and help find solutions to the issues. The U.S. government can call on the authorities to engage in constructive and open dialogue with the residents of the region to stop the current violence and prevent future outbreaks.
4. You were the U.S. Ambassador to Tajikistan for 3 years and currently serve as the President and CEO of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy what advice would you give to civil society, governments, and international organizations attempting to prevent clashes in the future?
The key to resolving conflicts or disputes is communication among the parties involved. This official communication can be an effective way to prevent or stop violence. I am President and CEO of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy (NCAFP), a non-government, non-profit organization that conducts informal non-government (Track II) discussions among experts and members of civil society who are parties to both sides of a conflict. These types of engagements are most effective in situations where there are few or no official lines of communication between government officials. The recommendations and outcomes of the informal dialogues can be a way to assist governments to begin or enhance official communication which can result in reducing or preventing violence and finding peaceful solutions to complex problems.