THE SPECTRE OF VIOLENCE and instability has haunted the Central Asian republics since the break-up of the Soviet Union. It is an unsettling prospect with grave implications for an already volatile Middle East. If civil and inter-republican warfare were to break out, Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan and Russia could all become involved. Recent events in Tajikistan may be a portent of things to come.
Pro-Communist forces in Tajikistan have now consolidated their position in the capital, Dushanbe, and elsewhere at the expense of their Islamic rivals. The civil war in the republic seems to be over, if only for the time being. Given the long Tajik border with Afghanistan, ruled by the Islamists, and the age-old feuds between the Tajik clans based in different regions, a revival of the civil strife cannot be ruled out.
The success of the former Tajik Communists owes more to military intervention by Uzbekistan (itself ruled firmly by a reconstituted Communist party) to bolster them than any upsurge in their domestic support. Until Uzbekistan, the region's most populous and strategic site, entered the Tajik military equation, the pro-Communists and the Islamists fought one another as ill-organised militias bearing small arms. The Uzbek intervention with aircraft and tanks altered the situation radically, putting not only the Islamic fighters on the run but also encouraging the pro-Communist militia to force more than 100,000 Tajiks to seek refuge in Afghanistan.
The presence of so many Tajik refugees in Afghanistan augurs ill for the pro-Communist government in Dushanbe. Afghanistan is currently ruled by President Burhaneddin Rabbani, an ethnic Tajik, whose defence minister, Ahmad Shah Masoud, is also a...