The likely successor to Emomali Rahmon as president is his son, Dushanbe Mayor Rustam Emomali. Nevertheless, the transit of power in Tajikistan is being delayed, and the internal political balance of power in the republic is complicated by negative foreign policy factors. Andrey Grozin, head of the department for Central Asia and Kazakhstan at the Institute of CIS Countries, told Ia-centr.ru about the problems of the transit of power in Tajikistan.
– Is there a “separation of duties” that has taken shape between father and son, which would be the starting point for the transfer of power?
- Such data does not exist. If you rely on the Tajik officialdom, you will not see such a division – there is only a lot of speculation along the lines of the Tajik expert community.
At the same time, the majority of citizens of the republic, with all the managerial shortcomings, pin their hopes on the incumbent president to overcome the socio-economic impasse in which the country has found itself. The incumbent President Emomali Rahmon suits many people both inside and outside the country, he is perceived as the main consolidating figure.
In this sense, his son and probable successor cannot yet fully replace the president, he is still in his shadow.
Rahmon needs to govern Tajikistan for as long as his health lasts. I do not see the need to change the current president to Rustam Emomali. He needs years to reach the level of authority of his parent. Minimum two to five years.
When I was in Dushanbe, I heard from different people completely different assessments of the pros and cons of his mayorship (Rustam Emomali has been the mayor of the capital of Tajikistan since the beginning of 2017 – approx. Ia-centr.ru). People doubt how ready he is to take the crown of the Samanids and solve the problems of the republic. Rustam Emomali is young, emotional in many matters, he would have to go through a more serious school of life in order to govern the country later. This is not my opinion – I convey what I heard in Tajikistan.
- It turns out that the transit of power has been postponed indefinitely?
– Of course, the transfer of power in Tajikistan will happen sooner or later. It is likely that when transiting in Tajikistan, the experience of neighbors will be taken into account – for example, the January events in Kazakhstan with the subsequent “scrapping” of the previous political discourse. After the departure of Nursultan Nazarbayev, Emomali Rahmon remains the oldest of the current post-Soviet presidents.
There is a Turkmen experience that is much more acceptable for Dushanbe (Serdar Berdimuhamedov became President of Turkmenistan in 2022 – approx. Ia-centr.ru). But Turkmenistan differs from Tajikistan in a host of parameters – from intra-elite alignments to orientation in foreign policy. In Turkmenistan, the transit has passed, but everyone is well aware that this change has not changed anything – everything is still decided by the eldest of the Berdimuhamedovs. And in Tajikistan, even if a nominal replacement comes to replace the current leader, moods in the spirit of “not a real king” may warm up.
A country that has gone through a civil war, bloody and very severe (the approximate number of victims is estimated at 150 thousand people), cannot easily and simply approach the issues of transferring power. Therefore, Rahmon is not in a hurry with this topic – I think this will continue in the future.
The figure of Rahmon is still a factor holding back the country from repeating the civil war. His regime is undeniably authoritarian. It is much tougher than, say, in today’s Tashkent, which in the West is customarily classified as an autocracy by inertia. The degree of toughness and influence on political opponents among Tajiks is comparable to the level of Turkmenistan.
But here it is not necessary to go to the level of value judgments from the Russian or Western bell tower. The reluctance to repeat the hard experience of the 1990s, when people were sawn up with hand saws, justifies any kind of harshness of the political regime. Tajiks look back not at world standards, but at their own.
– Does the foreign policy conjuncture, for example, from Afghanistan, influence the prospects for transit?
- Hard to tell. Now there are many alarmist forecasts about the possible influence of the Afghan factor on the loosening of the situation in Tajikistan. Over the past year, I have seen many such scenarios among Western, Central Asian colleagues and experts from Russia. But I do not think that there is a real threat coming from Afghanistan, which threatens Tajikistan with a serious internal disorder.
In terms of foreign policy, Dushanbe is in a difficult situation. On the one hand, there is a consolidation of the Central Asian region along the lines of Ankara’s Turkic projects, leaving the Tajiks behind. On the other hand, they do not have very good relations with fraternal Iran.
On the third hand, in relation to the new Afghan regime, Tajikistan takes the most irreconcilable position among the countries of Central Asia. Statements are often heard in Kabul in which all separatist and subversive activities in Afghanistan are attributed to Dushanbe. I’m not sure that this is actually the case, but the accusations sound.
When viewed from the point of view of Russian interests, Tajikistan is located at the turn of our southern frontier. Moscow may gradually build good relations with official Kabul, but so far these prospects are under serious question.
Do not forget that the largest Russian military facility abroad is located on the territory of Tajikistan – our 201st base, the basis of Russia’s military presence in the south. It is from her that issues related to the projection of Moscow’s military influence throughout Central Asia, as well as in the Near and Middle East, are resolved.
Our military base can solve a huge number of issues, if there are necessary circumstances for this. Therefore, Tajikistan is an unconditional and undeniable military-political partner of Russia.
This is noticeable even in the socio-political field of the country. Kazakhstan – a strategic ally of Russia – periodically throws us questions related to the fact – is he a friend to us or not? And Tajikistan never does that.
- Can the Tajik opposition, which is currently fighting in Afghanistan, become a threat to Tajikistan itself in the future?
– Most of my colleagues who deal with the Afghan issue do not consider the various Tajik, Hazara or Uzbek insurgents to be some serious challenge for the central government in Kabul. These are not the kind of people who can question the undeniable influence of the Taliban* and vie for absolute control of Afghanistan.
Can Afghan Tajiks create any problems in Tajikistan? Purely theoretically, this option is possible if the Taliban * clean up Panjshir. If Kabul somehow magically pushes all Tajiks out of Afghan territory and they run across the border – which has never happened and most likely will not – then there may be difficulties in managing the southern regions – with Bokhtar or GBAO.
But so far, since the flight of the Americans from Afghanistan, we have not seen serious challenges that would be extrapolated to Tajikistan from Afghan territory. Yes, there were problems at the border, but they were, to put it mildly, not serious. In any case, it is clear that the Afghan Tajiks are not a factor that could endanger the national security of Tajikistan in the future.
It is unlikely that the Taliban* themselves will begin to rock ethnic themes. I am absolutely sure that the Kabul regime will try to avoid actions that look like “ethnic cleansing”. The Taliban * and so sit, to put it mildly, not very firmly in the Kabul offices of power.
And starting an intra-Afghan campaign that would pit the Pashtuns against the Tajiks, Khazars or Uzbeks would be suicidal for the current Afghan government.
Rahmon and the official authorities in Kabul are, of course, interested in periodically voicing grievances against each other. There is talk from Dushanbe about the need to create an inclusive government. It is said from Kabul that subversive Afghan separatist elements are finding a resting place in Dushanbe. But all this is talk, which so far does not lead to a serious interstate confrontation. I hope they don’t in the future.