Peacebuilding in Tajikistan

July, 2005
This piece was written while the author was completing a Master of Arts degree in Peace Studies at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame.

According to the UN Tajikistan Office of Peacebuilding (UNTOP), Tajikistan is the most successful of five UN peacebuilding efforts, so the reasons for that success deserve investigation. Jonathan Zartman explores the Tajik peace process in his dissertation research and points out the rare success of the Tajik peace agreement since the historical records indicate difficulty in resolving civil wars in general. To confirm this argument, Zartman draws comparisons between similar conflicts in four other former Soviet areas, Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan (Nagorno-Karabakh) and Chechnya. These hostilities only led to military stalemate with de facto secession or continued conflict. "Research shows that of 91 civil wars between 1945 and 1993, only 12 ended by negotiation and of these, only six did not fall back into war in the five years following." Furthermore, currently Tajikistan is an only government in Central Asia where the opposition party is officially represented in the parliament.

However, as Michael Hall, International Conflict Group Analyst in Tajikistan, writes, "on the surface, Tajikistan seems to offer a model of conflict resolution and reconciliation. However, underneath this veneer of stability lurks a host of problems that could seriously threaten the future stability of Tajikistan." One of the main obstacles for complete reconciliation is an almost exclusive concern in the Tajik peace process for institutional reform, and the neglect of social psychological issues. As Randa Slim points out, the 1997 peace agreement touches upon constitutional amendments, governmental reforms, amendments of some laws, such as those on elections; however, it does not address issues of trust and the need to change people's attitudes.

Therefore, the Tajik peace process lacks the relational dimension of peacebuilding that centers on reconciliation, forgiveness, and trust building. As John Paul Lederach suggests, peacebuilding must be undertaken simultaneously at numerous levels, not just at the institutional level. Kimberly Maynard's five phases of community healing illustrates the missing parts of the Tajik peace process, particularly in her third phase, which addresses the relational dimension of peacebuilding, rebuilding of trust and the capacity to trust.

Five phases of Community Healing:

  1. Establishing Safety: The first phase is establishing safety, which is an essential element for the advancement of reconciliation in post conflict zones. According to Maynard, safety can be established and danger eliminated through a sustainable ceasefire, complete demobilization, the restoration of life to normal, pre-conflict conditions, and the realization of certain freedoms.
  2. Communalization and Bereavement: The second phase is communalization and bereavement when victims share traumatic experiences and perceptions, They jointly mourn their losses and admit guilt for their role in others' losses. Communalization also involves establishing a public record of historical events, and an acknowledgment of past circumstances, which is necessary for developing a single national identity.
  3. Rebuilding Trust: The third phase is rebuilding trust and the capacity to trust. The aim is to reestablish mutual confidence and trust among fragmented societies. Maynard suggests that interaction and intensive communication among communities, economic cooperation, trade, mutual assistance, reconstruction, joint decision-making and other methods can help to accomplish this phase.
  4. Reestablishing Morality: The fourth phase is reestablishing personal and social morality. This phase involves developing social standards that would limit inappropriate or offensive behavior that can lead to another conflict.
  5. Reintegration and Restoration of Democratic Discourse: The last phase is a process of advancing a political ideology that will help create a government that is responsive to public needs and interests. This will ensure that population will not seek violent means to express its dissatisfaction with the regime.

All these phases are equally important and essential for the Tajik peace process. Some of these phases have been partially carried out, for instance, government officials under supervision of the president are rewriting their history by adapting the concept of "national unity" (vahdati milli), which seems to rest heavily on the promotion of certain cultural and historical symbols as a way of reminding (or perhaps persuading) Tajiks that they share a common national identity. Thus, the communalization and bereavement phase is beginning to take place. However, other important phases have been totally ignored. For instance, nothing at all has been done to address phase 3, the rebuilding of trust.

Rebuilding trust and the capacity to trust is a crucial phase for Tajik peace processes because one of the main causes that initially led to the war was an identity crisis, which was the result of a highly developed regionalism. As Maynard highlights, "after identity conflict so mercilessly tears the fabric of society, faith in others is fundamentally shaken and suspicion prevails. That's why this specific phase is important, since it involves rebuilding of community cohesion and reintegration and reestablishing of mutual confidence among individuals across identity lines and redeveloping reliance on one another."

Obstacles for Rebuilding Trust and Capacity to Trust

One of the major obstacles for building trust in the Tajik peace process is the lack of interaction among the populations of different regions. This phenomenon is partly the result of geographical circumstances, since the four regions of Tajikistan are divided by mountains and the transportation system is poorly developed. The only way to travel to most of the regions is by plane, which the majority of the population cannot afford. A need for roads connecting the northern and southern regions is particularly acute. Right now (2005), the only safe way to travel from Khujand to the capital of the country, for example, is by air. Consequently, there is little interaction or business relationships between the populations of these two major cities.

As the International Crisis Group reports, not only are roads bad or impassable in winter, but there are many checkpoints that are a serious impediment to internal trade. At each checkpoint passengers and drivers have to show their documents and often have to pay bribes, sometimes for no reason or ridiculous reasons like infringements of nonexistent rules. The interrogation and harassment of people at checkpoints restricts the opportunities for internal economic cooperation and thus, limits the means for rebuilding trust. It increases people's feelings of insecurity and results in greater dissatisfaction with the current regime, increasing the potential for violent expressions of dissatisfaction.

Solutions for Rebuilding Trust and Capacity to Trust

  1. Improving Transportation: Restoring the old roads and building newer, safer ones though the mountains would be a good first step towards building trust, since that would promote economic cooperation and trade among the population. People linked by mutual profit relations are less likely to fight wars with each other since their source of income depends on maintenance of good relations. By undertaking reconstruction of roads, economic security can be enhanced, which is a vital step to establishing a sense of security and the healing process.
  2. Removing Political Barriers to Travel: Secondly, the internal checkpoints need to be removed so that people are able to move between the regions freely for business, tourism and other purposes. The ability to travel can result in the establishment of relationships and networks among the population. Right now, people are locked in their regions with bitter feelings of the war and its consequences with no voice in decision making and limited opportunities to express their problems and concerns. Moreover, Maynard writes that realization of certain freedoms, such as movement around the community and country, are important aspects of security.
  3. Improving the Communication System: A third way to build trust would be the development of a nationwide telecommunication system, According to the EBRD (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development), only four out of every 100 people have a telephone. There are only 36 telephone mainlines per 1000 people, down from 45 in 1990. Without means of communication over large distance, it is very hard to maintain relations, do business, and interact with people in far located regions. If this were improved, the increased communication could lead better knowledge and understanding of common problems. It would also promote improved understanding between people in different regions, and interdependence that can help to rebuild trust.
  4. Rebuilding trust and capacity to trust through interaction: As Harold Saunders suggests, interaction can help to gradually change perceptions and create opportunities for solutions that did not seem to exist before. To set objectives, develop alternative solutions, and select a course of action, which can become an end in itself. Saunders adds that successful cooperation on one issue does not guarantee a positive relationship nor the potential for working on other issues. Nevertheless, continual collaboration on a variety of problems can lead to increased insight and eventual trust. Frequent interactions among the population present an opportunity to counter prevailing stereotypes about people of different regions, which are a substantial barrier for building trust and consequently peace. Restricted movements and other reasons for little interaction within the country result in lack of knowledge about each region. This explains why people often use stereotypes, mostly negative ones (due to bitter memories of the civil wars) when referring to people of different regions.
  5. Solutions for breaking negative stereotypes that are obstacles for building trust: The next step for building trust and capacity to trust is elimination or at least lessening of negative stereotypes. This can be done by introducing educational programs and trainings that would bring children from different regions together and give them an opportunity to learn about each other and to form future networks. Education is one of the major tools for peacebuilding and it is very important to use this tool to bring people who are fragmented by regional identities together. The Ministry of Education and some international and local organizations have undertaken a number of educational projects and reforms to help the peacebuilding effort. For instance, John Paul Lederach has been involved in a training program for university professors in Tajikistan. Also, Lederach and Randa Slim co-edited a curriculum and textbook that will be used to teach conflict studies and peacebuilding at seven Tajik universities. The text will be the first on the subject produced in the Tajik language. These educational reforms and projects are very important for long-term development in the country. There is still a great need educational programs on the culture and traditions of different regions. Such information can help to break down false stereotypes and help new generations to learn about their country mates and to see all the commonalities that they share.

Problem of Building Trust in Identity Conflict

Montville warns that in cases of extreme animosity, such as identity conflicts, the opposing groups tend to be exceptionally fixed in their perceptions. They are therefore unlikely to consider positive change even possible, often viewing adversarial characteristics as genetic givens. It is a challenging task to attempt to build trust between people who killed and made each other suffer few years ago. Many Gharmis remember the times when Gharmi refugees returned to Khalton province and clashed with those who had remained, mostly Kulyobis. Many returning Gharmi men were killed, families were threatened and beaten, and Gharmi women were raped.

Regardless of all these challenges, rebuilding trust and capacity to trust is an achievable goal but it requires time and involvement of vital actors. One of the recommendations Montville makes for bringing communities together and restoring capacity to trust is utilization of rituals or customs that emanate from the shared culture. Tajik culture has unique traditions that can be used for rebuilding trust. For instance, throughout history Tajiks in both rural and urban areas have traditionally been self-organized through councils of citizens called mahallas. These councils would meet to discuss conflicts over dinner in the local mosque or tea houses in a tradition called Friday plov. However, during the Soviet period, these traditions were prohibited in order to force the population to unite under professional associations to serve the needs of the Soviet state and inhibit the development of independent social institutions and networks.

Indigenous method for restoring trust and capacity to trust Restoration of traditions like Friday plov prove that when men get together in tea houses or mosques to cook plov, a traditional dish, this interaction can be a good method for regaining trust. While preparing the dish, men discuss politics, social news, exchange concerns, and think about mutually-satisfying solutions. Reviving this tradition would be a good method for bringing together fragmented societies since as Maynard suggests, the mutual experience of an ability to work together on problems that threaten both parties can be a successful way to build trust.

Utilization of this tradition at a larger scale can led to grander restoration of trust because this method also involves the process, which Volkan calls penetration of people's sense of being. This refers to a process through which an individual and communities acknowledge and pay respect to each other. Receiving an invitation for a Friday plov has a significant implication in Tajik society; such an invitation implies that the person who invites considers his guests to be his friends or has an intention to build friendly relations. Thus, this tradition involves an act of fundamental acknowledgment of the other, considering his or her cultural values, fears, hopes, perceptions, wounds, and historical experience.

Furthermore, methods like Friday plov can enable continued cooperation that can result in elimination of fear and eventual development of trust. The aim is not to come up with a specific list of agreements and solutions but rather to help people get together and discuss their grievances. Maynard explains that such methods help to minimize difference between groups to a level of healthy cross-identity tension. Ultimately, the powerful experience of interaction and paying respect to each other can have a widespread ripple effect throughout the community and even beyond, further expanding the capacity to trust. In order to carry out this method on a larger scale, across the regions and more regularly, infrastructure obstacles, which I have mentioned previously, need to be resolved. It is difficult and expensive to invite people from different regions for Friday plov if the situation with traveling within the country remains arduous. It is also vital to build a telecommunication system, so communities could invite and reach each other for events like Friday plov.

Like any other model, the Healing Community it is not a complete solution to all the problems Tajikistan is currently facing, such as economic collapse, highly developed patronage networks, corruption, etc. Nevertheless, the five phases of the healing community can potentially address gaps in the peace process that are creating strong possibilities for further hostilities in the country. By successfully addressing common grievances, distrust and resentment among people from different regions, the probability of renewed violence is diminished. Stability in the region can then create opportunities for addressing the remaining economic, social and political problems in Tajikistan.


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