TAJIKISTAN: Islamic Party on Hizb-Ut-Tahrir, Islam and Foreign Troops.

Igor Rotar, Keston News Service, 20 February 2002

In a wide-ranging interview, the deputy chairman of Tajikistan's Islamic Revival Party (IRP), Muhhiddin Kabiri, has outlined some of the continuing problems the IRP is experiencing in some areas of Tajikistan, despite the fact that it was re-legalised as part of the 1997 Tehran agreement that ended the country's long-running civil war. Speaking to Keston News Service on 16 February at a conference on religious freedom organised by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in the city of Jalal-abad in southern Kyrgyzstan, Kabiri complained of state control over mosques, maintaining that the position of Muslims in Tajikistan has been "abnormal" since the government abolished the Muslim Spiritual Administration. He was also keen to distance his party - the only legal Islamic political party in Central Asia - from the banned Islamist party Hizb-ut-Tahrir.

When the Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan was founded in 1990, party members declared its main aim to be the creation of an Islamic state in Tajikistan. During the civil war IRP members formed the backbone of the armed forces of the opposition. After the capture of Dushanbe in the autumn of 1992 by National Front fighters, IRP activity was banned in the country (the IRP could function only in isolated inaccessible mountainous regions, which remained under the control of the opposition). The IRP was re-legalised only in 1999 two years after the Tehran agreement. The party programme then underwent fundamental reforms, and now its aim is not the creation of an Islamic state, but the establishment of a civil society in which "Muslims would be accorded a fitting place".

The IRP has proclaimed itself chief defender of Muslim interests in Tajikistan and the success of efforts to overcome the consequences of the civil war depends on the party's relations with the authorities.

Kabiri told Keston that on a national level the party had no problems in its relationship with the authorities, but that it was experiencing difficulties in local areas. He complained that party branches have been refused registration in many regions, with the worst difficulties in Kulyab region in the south-east of the country where the overwhelming majority of inhabitants fought against the Tajik opposition during the civil war. "We have been given to understand that the registration of our party in Kulyab could destabilise the region," Kabiri told Keston, "and we have been asked not to raise the issue in the next few years."

Kabiri denied accusations that many members of the IRP are simultaneously members of the Hizb-ut-Tahrir party, an international organisation, banned across Central Asia as well as in Tajikistan, which campaigns for the unification of Muslims throughout the world under a single caliphate. "We do not share the views of Hizb-ut-Tahrir. However, unlike the authorities we believe that it is useless to repress Hizb-ut-Tahrir. We should enter into a dialogue with members of that organisation and follow the route of persuasion." He said IRP members seek contacts with Hizb-ut-Tahrir members and try to change their minds. "The authorities inaccurately conclude from this that members of our party are supporters of Hizb-ut-Tahrir," Kabiri complained. "We have already participated in the work of a number of law-courts at which unfounded attempts had been made to accuse our supporters of membership of Hizb-ut-Tahrir."

Kabiri believes that Tajikistan's Islamic institutions are today completely dependent on the secular authorities. "After the civil war the Spiritual Administration of Muslims was abolished. The authorities' reasoning is easily explained. One of the leaders of the Tajik opposition was the Tajik Muslims' spiritual leader, Akbar Turajonzoda, and the authorities were simply frightened that when he came back from exile Akbar Turajonzoda would want to take up the same position. As a result there is no longer a single coordinating agency for Muslims in the republic and local mosques are subordinate to the district authorities. Naturally, we believe such a situation to be abnormal."

The deputy head of the IRP also touched on the presence in Tajikistan of foreign forces involved in the anti-terrorist operation. "We do not condemn the United States for launching an anti-terrorist operation - that was a truly necessary step," Kabiri declared. "We look on the current presence of American troops on our soil in exactly the same way. But we believe that it must be purely a temporary phenomenon. In future there should not be any foreign forces on Tajik territory." (END)