Geographically, Tajikistan is the closest country to India in Central Asia. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Tajikistan emerged as an independent nation. It is bordered by Kyrgyzstan to the northeast, China to the east, Uzbekistan to the west, and Afghanistan to the south. The Wakhan Corridor, a small province in Afghanistan, separates Tajikistan from the Northern part of Gilgit-Baltistan, territory falls under Pakistan controlled Kashmir. Tajikistan is the smallest country in Central Asia but surrounded by Pamirs and Altai mountain ranges. 93% of Tajikistan's area covered by mountains. Within nine months of its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the country plunged into civil war.
After the outbreak of the Civil War, everyone initially thought that it to be a fight between communist ideologues and Islamic fundamentalists. But as the war escalated, disputes between ethnic and regional factions began to emerge. The civil war in Tajikistan was the most prominent political crisis of the post-soviet period in Central Asia.
National elections of November 1991 also caused unrest in Tajikistan. In the 1991 elections, Nabiyev won by a narrow margin. The Islamic Renaissance Party and the opposition had called for fresh elections, calling the election a foul. Nabiyev rejected the demand and launched a repressive campaign against the opposition.
However, the civil war in Tajikistan began with a small rumour. Azerbaijan, a country on the Black Sea and part of the former Soviet Union, has control over the region called Nagorno-Karabakh region situated near the Azeri-Armenian border. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Islamic Azerbaijan and Orthodox Christian Armenia became independent. Nagorno-Karabakh is a province of Azerbaijan, but due to the significant presence of Armenians in the region, both countries began to claim the territory and war broke out.
In February 1992, rumours spread in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe that Armenian refugees would be given homes in the city of Dushanbe which further led to uprisings in the Tajik capital. The Islamic Renaissance Party continued to fan the flames against the Communist Party of Tajikistan. IRP was an auxiliary underground movement launched in the Soviet Union for the secret propagation of Islam. Hence, after massive protests by IRP, not only the Tajik government but all the leaders in Central Asia feared the spread of fundamentalist Islam, which would lead to a reversible domino effect in entire Central Asia. Therefore, at first glance, this conflict seemed to be Islamist fundamentalism against communism.
The uprising began in May 1992 in the Garm and Gorono-Badakhshan regions of Tajikistan against the dominance of the Khurd and Kulobi people in the government formed by former Tajik President Rahmon Nabiyev. A curfew was declared in the country following the intensification of the uprising in Dushanbe. Within an hour of the curfew, protesters took control of all government buildings in the capital and surrounded the presidential palace. Within two days, the Nabiyev government signed an agreement announcing an alliance with the opposition.
Even after the agreement, armed conflict continued between Nabiyev and the opposition. The opposition demanded Nabiyev's resignation while his supporters from the Khodjent region threatened they would declare independence if Nabiyev was forced out. Disputes spread across the country, with each province declaring autonomy and threatening to break away from the republic. Despite being a president, Nabiyev's dominance outside the Dushanbe came to an end. Afghan Mujahideen leaders such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Ahmad Shah Massoud started providing armed support to the Islamic Renaissance Party.
Afghan warlords were supplying arms and training factions of the IRP as the struggle for power intensified. Nabiyev was attacked by IRP supporters while attempting to take a plane to Khodjent, after which he resigned. With backing from Central Asian leaders, Russia sent its 201 motorized rifle division to the Nurek Hydroelectric Plant to help keep electricity flowing throughout Central Asia. The plant was initially overseen, but more troops were sent by the Commonwealth of the Independent States, a group of former Soviet Countries, citing the fact that Tajik soldiers are taking sides in the conflict according to their clan origin.
Russian forces took control of the airport and key installations. 2 lakh Russian troops arrived in Tajikistan during that year. Akbarsho Iskandrov, the acting president, expressed support for the Russian forces, while the Islamic Renaissance Party protested against the Russian troops. Along with Russia, the civil war gave other countries, an unprecedented opportunity to establish their influence.
Iran, Afghan Mujahideen, and Jamaat-e-Islami from Pakistan backed fundamentalists with arms training and regular supply of weapons. Iran took the opportunity and played a double game, openly supported Tajik President Iskandrov on the one hand, and provided financial aid and food to the Democratic Party of Tajikistan faction from the United Opposition in Tajikistan on the other. According to many foreign diplomats, IRP was receiving airdropped weapons from Iranian aircrafts. To outdo growing funding from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Afghan Mujahidin, Iran was trying to provide more aid to the fundamentalists.
After the coalition government was ousted from Kuliab and Khodjent provinces, fresh elections were held in the country, and Emomali Rahmon, a communist leader from Kuliab, was elected as the national president and Abduljanov, a leader from Khodjent, was elected as the prime minister. Rahmon's victory in presidential elections served as a wakeup call for the Islamic fundamentalists and the United Opposition. But there was no sign of a ceasefire or a settlement between the active factions of the civil war. Around 70,000 refugees who had fled the communist militia at Shartuz began to gather near the northern bank of the Amu Darya River to escape into Afghanistan. While many died due to lack of proper facilities and spine-chilling winter snows, others were shot by the Kuliabi forces and were swept away by the raging waters. Within a year of the civil war, nearly half a million people were internally displaced in Tajikistan. After Rahmon's victory, with the help of the CIS and Uzbek forces, communist supporters won the capital, Dushanbe. Rahmon's government began to focus more on defeating terrorists infiltrating from northern Afghanistan. To bypass the government's watchdog, militants took help from the Tajik refugees around Afghanistan's Kunduz and Mazar-e-Sharif provinces to continue the supply of weapons to fundamentalists.
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan was born out of a few elements of the United Tajik Opposition. During the civil war, while abrogating their political backup from government and opposition, warlords began to establish their dominance over small regions of Tajikistan. A group of observers from the United Nations was sent to Tajikistan. At the beginning of the war, violence was limited to the northern parts of Tajikistan, but with the help of fundamentalists from Afghanistan, the southern parts of Tajikistan also suffered heavy losses.
In 1997, due to UN intervention Tajik civil war came to an end. Through Track II diplomacy, the United States and Russia encouraged dialogue between the main factions of the Civil War. Tajik President Rahmonov and UTO leader Saeed Nuri met with Russian President Boris Yelstin at the Kremlin in Moscow to discuss the proceedings of the peace deal. Both sides signed a ceasefire
agreement before visiting Kremlin. United Nations issued a resolution calling for enhancing national reconciliation through negotiations in government positions and resolving the issue of prisoner exchanges. Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov met with the foreign ministers of Iran, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to discuss the proposed peace deal, after which civil war of Tajikistan officially came to an end.
The timeframe of the Tajik civil war and Afghan civil war was parallel to each other. But only a handful of people are aware of the Tajik civil war. The main reason behind this is that during the Tajik civil war journalists were the specific targets for assassination, and a significant number of Tajik journalists were killed. Many journalists fled the country, and those who survived the atrocities chose not to speak about it. As a result, the civil war in Tajikistan remained unnoticed for the rest of the world, despite the massive loss of 50,000 lives and the displacement of more than one million people.