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By Rukhshona Ibragimova
DUSHANBE – In view of a drastic deterioration of security in Tajikistan, the government has started to reform its law enforcement system.
The escape of 25 extremists from pre-trial detention, the bombings of a Khudzhand police station and a Dushanbe disco, and tensions on the eve of Ramadan have all pointed to deficiencies in the country’s security system.
The government is moving to rectify the situation.
The first steps to reform national security began after 25 inmates escaped from the State National Security Committee’s (GKNB) pre-trial detention facility August 23. The Justice Ministry’s Penal Department, on whose territory the detention centre is located, accused the GKNB leadership of negligence.
“The bulk of the blame for the prisoners’ flight lies with the management of GKNB pre-trial detention centre No.1,” Justice Ministry spokesman Parvin Alizoda said. “There are no protective bars on the windows, and there are no toilets in the cells, which is why inmates have to be led outside."
President Emomali Rakhmon sacked the entire GKNB management, including Chairman Khairiddin Abdurakhimov, September 2, except for Saimuddin Yatimov, whom Rakhmon named to replace Abdukrahimov.
Later that day, a special operation personally overseen by Interior Minister Abdurakhim Kakhkhorov resulted in the arrest of one of the escape ringleaders, Ibrokhim Nasreddinov, who had received special training in insurgent camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Police have had recaptured six of the fugitives as of September 13.
“The special operation is continuing,” Interior Ministry spokesman Khokim Yalchinov said. “According to our sources, the escapees are in Romit Ravine in eastern Tajikistan. They are under a blockade there.”
A suicide driver crashed his bomb-laden car into the Interior Ministry headquarters in Khudzhand September 3. Another device exploded in a disco in Dushanbe September 6. The police are still not certain whether to call the second an act of terrorism.
“That can hardly be called a coincidence,” a high-ranking GKNB official admitted. “But you can’t link the two incidents together, either. It looks like some illicit groups, playing on the general destabilisation in the country, are trying to attain their own goals.”
The jailbreak was his greatest concern, he said. “That was a big error on our part," he said. "But, frankly, the state security system had long been declining because of its previous management’s policy. What I still can’t understand is why some of the detention centre’s security guards had been dismissed – only two guards remained instead of the six to ten who were supposed to be on duty. I don’t think (plotting by) secret services was involved in any way – this was sheer negligence, as additionally proved by the absence of an elementary alarm system.”
“Ever since Saimuddin Yatimov, a renowned professional, was appointed GKNB chief September 2, some positive changes have already resulted,” a secret service officer said. “I think many retired law enforcement officers will return to active service.”
“The firing of the former GKNB head despite his being a distant relative of the president shows that the government puts national security above family ties,” he concluded.
Political scientist Rustam Samiyev agreed that rehiring former law enforcement officials would be one way to remedy the [national security] situation.
Military analyst Shakhobiddin Ziyoyev, while not directly linking the jailbreak with the Khudzhand and Dushanbe bombings, did not rule out that local extremist groups might be behind both incidents.
“But then, even if the escape had been planned in advance, the detainees were hardly after anything other than saving their own lives,” he said. “I am sure they were simply driven by self-preservation.”
Interior Ministry press spokesman Mukhammadzhon Nazriyev does not describe the cases as interrelated. Still, the chain of events signals the need to take additional security measures, he said.
Political scientist Abdugani Mamadazimov disagreed, linking the 25 prisoners’ flight with the bomb blast near the Interior Ministry headquarters in Khudzhand. The escape provoked the Khudzhand and Dushanbe bombings, he said.
“I’m afraid that wasn’t the last link in that chain,” he said. “And it’s the first time that the so-called ‘Iraqi method’ (suicide bombing) was used in Tajikistan ... Its unmistakably foreign nature is really alarming.”
“After a relative stabilisation, the number of people waiting for change is again growing, and society’s stratification is becoming ever more pronounced,” Mamadazimov said. “Some are dissatisfied with the slowness of reform, others reject law enforcement's methods of investigation and interrogation, and still others feel frustrated by the stagnant system of power.”
Ziyoyev expressed confidence Tajikistan’s security agencies can resist growing extremist trends inside the country. Having been trained in combat, they are more efficient than the armies of other Central Asian nations, he said.
“Of course, our troops are barely 100,000 strong — about a tenth of what Uzbekistan has," he conceded. "But the Tajik army went through the 1992-1997 civil war learning to fight well on mountainous terrain and mastering the tactics of crushing (militant) groups in areas that are difficult to traverse.”
Besides, even if extremism is on the rise in Tajikistan, it is unlikely ever to boil over, he predicted: “Most Tajik adhere to moderate Islam and are alien to any radical excesses.”
“Three to four days prior to the explosion in Khudzhand, the president gave several persistent anti-extremist warnings,” Islamic Renaissance Party leader Mukhiddin Kabiri recalled. “Either he received some information about a terrorist act being prepared, or he was a good enough leader to feel something of the kind might be pending. Before that, terrorism had been discussed … as something theoretical – now it’s a fact of life.”
At the same time, the entire nation, not just the security forces, will be capable of resisting extremist evil, because the moderately minded Islamic majority will reject extremism, Kabiri said.
“We won’t let the escapees get away with it, ever,” the GKNB official said firmly. “We won’t allow a repetition of those terrorist acts.”
Reform of security will only continue and expand, Sorkhon Farkhadov of the Interior Ministry said.
“It won’t be confined to a personnel reshuffle — training courses for our officers will be organised within and outside Tajikistan," he said. "Besides, we will take additional security measures in large cities, at airports, railway stations and all along the border.”