Tajikistan: New arrest threatens stability in the Pamirs

Demonstrators outside a police station in Khorog reportedly set fire to tires in a show of protest.

Jan 4, 2019

Authorities in Tajikistan have hazarded fomenting fresh tensions in the country’s Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region by arresting the younger brother of an influential local powerbroker.

RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, on January 4 cited Interior Ministry sources as saying that Tokhir Mamadbokirov, 54, was taken into custody in connection with charges of hooliganism dating back to 2014.

The Pamiri region has been in a state of unease since mid-September, when President Emomali Rahmon vowed to round up a group of figures that he said were responsible for a climate of unbridled criminality in the area. One of the unnamed targets was Mamadbokir Mamadbokirov, also known simply as Bokir.

Following the younger Mamadbokirov’s arrest, a group of protesters reportedly gathered outside the police precinct in Khorog, the capital of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region, or GBAO, to demand his release. Radio Ozodi has published photographs from the scene appearing to show burning tires.

Although there is no immediate indication of any serious unrest, residents have reported restrictions on access to social media websites. Similar blocks were implemented in early November in response to a surge of public anger in the wake of an incident in which a police officer fired from his car into a group of local men with a traumatic pistol, a type of firearm that discharges powerful but typically non-lethal rounds.

That episode sparked calls from GBAO residents for a deescalation in the intensified security regime that had been in place since Rahmon’s remarks in September.

In an apparent bid to defuse the standoff between the government and the so-called informal leaders of GBAO singled out for criticism by Rahmon, a group of the Pamiri powerbrokers in October traveled to the capital, Dushanbe, for negotiations. It is not known with certainty whom they met. Mamadbokirov was reportedly one of a group of holdouts, however, and declined to make the trip to the capital.

Although the government describes the Pamiri leaders as little more than gangsters engaged in the smuggling of tobacco, drugs and jewels, the issue is in reality overtly political. The central government has spent the two decades that have elapsed since the end of the civil war in the 1990s trying to reassert total dominance over all the country’s regions. GBAO, which is geographically remote and largely inhabited by the ethnically and religiously distinct Pamiris, has managed in many ways to resist those efforts, however.

It is not the crime but the lack of control that worries Dushanbe.