Tajikistan's top clerical body says Iran is fueling extremism in Central Asian country

By Ahmad Majidyar | Fellow and Director of IranObserved Project - The Middle East Institute | May 25, 2018
Tajikistan's top clerical body says Iran is fueling extremism in Central Asian country

The Council of Ulemmas of Tajikistan, an association of the country’s religious leaders, today accused Tehran of attempts to destabilize the Central Asian country. “Iran participated in destabilization of the situation in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and now it wants to disturb peace in Tajikistan using provocateurs,” a statement published on the website of the council said. According to members of the council, Iran provides funding for Muhiddin Kabiri, head of the Party of Islamic Renaissance, a group designated as a terrorist entity by the Tajik government. The allegations by the religious leaders came just days after a number of Tajik citizens staged a protest rally in front of the Iranian embassy in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe, accusing Tehran of meddling in Tajikistan’s internal affairs. The protesters claimed the Iranian government aids extremist groups in Tajikistan and plots assassination of secular personalities. Videos from the demonstration showed protesters also clashed with riot police protecting the Iranian embassy. Protesters also carried placards which read: “There is no place for religious wars in Tajikistan” and “Return our children to our country” – referring to Tajik criticizes who study at the Iranian seminaries. 

Comment: The statement by Tajikistan’s religious body and anti-Iranian demonstrations followed a speech by Emomali Rahmon days ago had criticized foreign countries for supporting the outlawed Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan. 

The protests in Dushanbe drew attention in Tehran. Tasnim News Agency, an outlet affiliated with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), claimed that the demonstration was “fake” and “staged” to defame Iran. It described the Islamic Renaissance Party as “moderate” and quoted the organization’s official as refuting allegations that the group has converted to Shiism. 

Relations between Tajikistan and Iran have deteriorated over Iran’s links with the outlawed Tajik group. 

Last June, the Iranian embassy in Tajikistan shut down its economic and cultural offices in northern parts of the country after Tajik authorities ordered the directors of Iranian government organizations in Khujand, the second-largest city in Tajikistan, to suspend their activities in the north. Over the past two years, several Iranian government organizations and charities have also been forced to suspend their activities in Dushanbe – including the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee, the Cultural Center of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and a hospital jointly run by the Tajik government and the Red Crescent Society of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Relations between the two countries took a nosedive in December 2015 when the Iranian government invited Kabiri, who lives in exile, to attend the annual “International Islamic Unity Conference” in Tehran as a “special guest.” In a rather provocative act, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei met with Kabiri and the state-run media publicized the meeting. 

By doing so, Tehran perhaps wanted to send a veiled threat to the Tajik government, which was seeking closer ties with Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia. 

Multiple bilateral diplomatic engagements yielded not tangible results, and Tehran did not respond positively to Dushanbe’s request to designate the Islamic Renaissance Party as a terrorist organization. According to the Russian press, Tajikistan has opposed Iran’s accession to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), where Iran has an observer status while Tajikistan holds veto rights as a founding member. Last April, Russian President Putin’s special envoy to SCO said while Moscow supports Iran becoming a full-fledged SCO member, some other members of the organization oppose Iran’s accession – without naming a specific country.

Tajikistan has accused Iran of having played a subversive role in the country’s civil war in the 1990s by sending terrorists to the Central Asian republic. Tajikistan’s state-run TV last year aired a documentary that included confessions of three Tajik citizens who had been involved in the assassinations of Tajik politicians and an attack against a Russian military base in the country. The individuals alleged that Tehran had provided funding and training for their terrorist actions. The Iranian embassy in Dushanbe was quick to reject the allegations. “The Iranian ambassador is outside Tajikistan now. But the embassy will soon probe the case. We want to know where these lies and allegations came from and what are their motives,” a statement by the Iranian embassy said. 

Last November, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif visited Tajikistan to repair ties between the two countries, but the latest developments indicate that his efforts have not yielded much result.

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