Crossroads Asia

Tajikistan Sinks Further Into Autocracy

As Dushanbe consolidates a de facto one-party state, the West remains largely silent.

Tajikistan Sinks Further Into Autocracy
Credit: Dushanbe via Nikita Maykov /

All things considered, there is perhaps little surprising in the Tajikistan government’s recent campaign against the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT). Mirroring his neighboring autocratic examples, President Emomali Rahmon’s move to erode and sideline the country’s most prominent political opposition – and the only mainstream Islamic party in Central Asia – seems, in hindsight, as inevitable as it is unfortunate. Given the economic rumblings coursing through the country, the moves against the IRPT belie Dushanbe’s nervousness about blowback from declining remittances and persecution of pious, bearded Muslims.

Dushanbe has continued raiding IRPT property and pinning recent violence on IRPT members – namely in response to Deputy Defense Minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda’s recent assault, and the dozens left dead in its wake – and Tajikistan has marched firmly toward joining Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan as a one-party state. While Rahmon may be unable to compile the loyalties and power vertical seen in Astana or Tashkent, Dushanbe’s opposition has morphed from beleaguered to nearly nonexistent. Autocracy has taken a purer form in Tajikistan over the past few weeks.

All the while, the silence from the West on Tajikistan’s transformation into one-party statehood grows more obvious by the day. Certain rights groups and non-governmental organizations – Human Rights Watch, for instance – have called out Rahmon’s crackdown. But Western states, and the United States specifically, have remained disconcertingly silent on the matter.

Certainly, this wouldn’t be the United States’ first gross oversight of democratic backslide in the region; see Washington’s willingness to furnish the same Uzbekistani regime responsible for the Andijan massacre with hundreds of Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles. And it’s possible Washington remains sufficiently embarrassed that Tajikistan’s Col. Gulmorod Khalimov, the Tajik special forces chief trained in the United States, opted to join ISIS instead of staying in Dushanbe. Nonetheless, the silence on Tajikistan’s backslide from U.S. officials – who did not respond to requests for comment – has been noticeable.

Until recently, the United Kingdom had joined the U.S. in avoiding criticism of Dushanbe’s actions. A statement obtained from the British Embassy in Dushanbe, however, helps shed light on London’s views. According to Ambassador Hugh Philpott:

To maintain lasting internal stability it is [imperative] for the Tajik government to engage in continued political dialogue with all political parties and movements in the country, including the IRPT. This will allow a de-escalation of the situation and settle political differences peacefully. … We hope and expect the cases relating to members of the IRPT to be dealt with in a transparent and fair manner and also use every opportunity to remind the Government of Tajikistan of its human rights obligations.

It remains to be seen whether or not Dushanbe will heed London’s words. But given the United States’ conspicuous silence, there seems little likelihood of a change from what we’ve seen over the past few months. And so Tajikistan marches on to the one-party statehood it had long avoided, becoming another Central Asian state in which the political opposition has been demolished and autocracy entrenched.