Tajikistan puts squeeze on AKDN entities in GBAO

AKDN in Tajikistan

The pressure comes months after a crackdown in the Pamirs against followers of the Europe-based religious leader

Tajik authorities are putting the squeeze on the organizations and companies controlled by the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of Ismailis. 

The move is proceeding on multiple fronts.

Pamir Daily News, a telegram-based outlet focusing on events in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region, or GBAO, reported last weekend that the education ministry is poised to revoke the licence of a high school affiliated with the University of Central Asia (UCA), an institute in the GBAO capital of Khorog. The school is funded by the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN).

A children’s school has been pressured to wind up their activities. Summer camps for schoolchildren funded by an AKDN organization have been cancelled. Employees at a kindergarten run by the UCA are concerned that their institution is being nationalised.

Neither the AKDN nor the Tajik government has commented on any of these developments.

Commercial entities linked to the Aga Khan are feeling the heat too.

The First Microfinance Bank, a lender, and the TCell mobile telecommunications company have been subjected to surprise audits, according to employees at the companies who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The appropriations of companies by figures within or close to the family of President Emomali Rahmon have taken place frequently over the past decades.

The University of Central Asia in Khorog was built with funding from the AKDN. (Photo: UCA)

Insiders at these companies worry that an audit may be intended to reveal purportedly compromising information to prepare the ground for a repeat of the scenario.

The move against the companies is linked to the recent efforts by the Rahmon regime to consolidate its control over the restive GBAO region where most of the Aga Khan’s Tajik followers live.

In a crackdown in May, the government forces killed at least 25 ethnic Pamiri members during a protest in the autonomous region of Gorno-Badakhshan (GBAO).

Hundreds of Khorog natives took to the streets calling for the dismissal of the governor and the release of those arrested for participation in a protest in November last year when three men were killed and 17 wounded by security forces during a protest.

The government in a statement had claimed “members of an organized criminal group” had blocked a highway “in order to destabilize the social and political situation”.

The authorities had arrested dozens and the killing of a group of local leaders including Mamadbokir Mamadbokirov, Khursand Mazorov and Zoir Rajabov. Another well-known local Pamiri leader, Tolib Ayombekov, was arrested in June.

The AKDN began its operations in Tajikistan shortly after the country gained independence in 1991.

The Badakhshan residents described it as worse than the humanitarian catastrophe that occurred during the civil war of the 1990s when the main road to the region was closed.  

Following the crackdown earlier this year, the authorities have removed paraphernalia invoking the Aga Khan in Badakhshan. An arrangement of stones laid out on a mountainside bearing Ismaili symbols and a welcome greeting for the Aga Khan was recently removed.

Since that time, the AKDN has extended its activities in Tajikistan well beyond just emergency humanitarian efforts to education, health, energy, agriculture, banking and telecommunications. It is the largest employer in GBAO, a region lacking in economic opportunities.

The Aga Khan visited the Tajik Pamirs in May 1995.

The last time the Aga Khan visited Tajikistan was in April 2012. Pamiris had hoped to see him since then for the official opening of one of several institutions built with his money including the UCA in Khorog but it appears that the Tajik authorities are resisting it.—euroasianet

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