The poorest ex-Soviet nation with a long and porous border with Afghanistan announced recently the results of a constitutional referendum that makes the heavy-handed rule of President Emomali Rahmon virtually unlimited, paves the way for his son's presidency, and outlaws "faith-based" parties. The Central Election Committee said 94.5 percent of eligible voters approved 41 constitutional amendments at Sunday's vote with a 92 percent turnout. The referendum ballots to approve the amendments only allowed a "yes" or "no" option without a chance to vote on each amendment separately. We asked Rasoul Mousavi, Iran’s former Ambassador of Iran to Tajikistan during the Civil War and senior expert at IRAS, the latest developments in this country, in particular the consequences of the recent referendum for Iran’s national security.
Do you believe this notion that Iran has no influence on Tajikistan? Another question is why Iran’s assistance (in any kind) to this country does not help to improve the status of The Islamic Renaissance Party, neither Iran’s growing influence in Tajikistan? What Tajiks expect Iran that not yet fulfilled?
“I do not accept that we do not have the power to influence Tajikistan. We have good contracts with this country. We also have a good relationship. Tajikistan is our ally in Central Asia. Regarding ample issues such as Afghanistan and war with the Taliban, Iran and Tajikistan are on a similar line. We have good relationships in various fields but maybe Rahmon Government has too many expectations of us regarding the relationship between the government and The Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan. Except for the local engagement between the Tajik government and the Islamic Renaissance Party, there is no disagreement between Iran and Tajikistan. There are a series of cases of discontent and criticism, for example, about implementation of contracts which is due to the failure of both sides and the disagreement is merely due to different analyses. Tajikistan and Iran governments have their own considerations of Islamic Renaissance Party.”
“Rahmon Government has expected Iran to comply with their bizarre decisions –for example sudden decision to announce a party which has a member in the Parliament as terrorist. During the Civil War, they also expected us to deliver the members of Islamic Renaissance Party to them but we said that the Civil War will not be resolved by the policy of extradition.”
“However, analyzing prominent diplomatic travels between the two countries, we can understand that we have always had good relationships. I do not remember Tajikistan have voted against Iran in any organizations.”
On latest referendum in Tajikistan, could we expect any serious change to its political arena?
“One of the changes is that Emomali Rahmon is a life-long president according to the constitution. This phenomenon is observed in all Central Asian countries. The second phenomenon is that ground is prepared for his son to be his successor. I cannot comment based on my own opinion if I like these changes or not! But apparently, this system is not welcomed in the world. The world believes in power transition and changes that occur through people's authentic participation.”
“But another change based on recent referendum is that other political parties with religious tendencies are not allowed. This law existed before the Peace Agreement too, but it changed after the agreement; thus, ways that contributed to national reconciliation are closed. It seems that countries that increase participation of people are more stable and countries that prevent the participation of people are less instable. If the Syrian government, for example, knew what would happen, it would certainly take some measures to prevent such conditions. It is wise that countries welcome participation of their own people and political forces. The less we see the participation of political forces, the more unstable would be the country. The experience of politics proves it.”
Some in Iran believe that the latest developments in Tajikistan, eventually, lead to chaos, to the detriment of Iran’s national security. What’s your point on that?
“Since the independence of the Central Asian countries, Iran has put cooperation on its political agenda for the stability, development and growth of these countries in the region. Certainly, governments with more social-political participation will have better foreign relations. On the other hand, when countries move against the political development, they will surely affect the neighbors and the region. Definitely, we prefer to have rich countries around us. History shows that Iran has always been attacked by primitive and poor communities.”
Another disputed point is that while giving financial assistance to Tajikistan, Russia and the U.S. do not concern the latest developments in this central Asian country. Quite contrary, these developments really matter to Iran. How do you describe this picture?
“Naturally, everyone is interested in his family and relatives more. We are more interested in Tajiks and Tajikistan in comparison to other countries. For the U.S., there is no difference between Tajikistan, Jordan and Mauritania. Russia looks at the region from the perspective of security and does not consider people. China looks at Tajikistan as a region where it has economic activity. China constructs roads for Tajikistan by sending its prisoners to Tajikistan. In other words, China does not pay for its prisoners. But for Iran and Tajikistan, when we talk of Saadi
, it shows a commonality between us. We, both nations, understand the music, poetry and language of each other. Iran is being certainly affected the most by every development in Tajikistan. Therefore, we do not want that a security look to cause disagreement between the government and people of this country. Imagine if, like Syria, the monuments in the main square of Uzbekistan, i.e., Samarkand Square are destroyed, we will certainly suffer, because it is in the 'territory of the civilization' of Iran.”
Which power is more attractive to Tajik Government?
“For now, Russia is the superior power of the region and controls the conditions of the region; but regarding economy, the Chinese are active and the Americans make efforts to change the existing conditions to from a new structure in the region. Generally speaking, the region involves numerous competitions.”
Some suggest Iran-Russian collaboration in Tajikistan. Is that likely?
“If we achieve a common definition of threats and opportunities in Tajikistan, this method would be right; if you cannot achieve this common definition and merely follow the Russian approach, this method would be definitely wrong. We would welcome the idea if Russia states that a balanced government should be formed with the participation of most social forces. It depends on the nature of the field of cooperation.”
Could the simultaneity of Iran’s probable joining to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) with Tajikistan’s latest developments result in Tajik nay vote to Iran’s membership?
“The discussion on joining Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is complex. Tajikistan has supported the membership of Iran in SCO and it seems that when a country like Uzbekistan to be disagreed, Tajik Government would not be the country which enthusiastically to vote against Iran.”