In this study, one of the yet very rare monographs on the civil war of Tajikistan, the author investigates how peace came to the country. He shows in particular how external actors have contributed to that process, a case still not very explained in the literature on peace-building even if political economy approaches have been highlighting the significance of shadow economy relationships in the spurious privatisations and land reforms which characterise the new order ― among those absent from the essentially English-language bibliography could be mentioned: Stéphane A. Dudoignon, “Une segmentation peut en cacher une autre: régionalismes et clivages politico-économiques au Tadjikistan,” Cahiers d’études sur la Méditerranée orientale et le monde turco-iranien 18 (1994): 73-129. For his research J. Heathershaw has undergone investigation on the multiple formations of identity-based community, gathering sources during fieldwork rather than remotely through archive and web-based material. Implemented between 2003 and 2007 ― i.e., at a relatively late period after many of the events examined in the book ―, this fieldwork has not permitted the author to constitute a personal archive of primary materials related to the 1990s. However, J. Heathershaw’s dual role as international employee and academic researcher has provided him, beside ethical concern, invaluable access and experience.
The book is divided into two halves. In Chapters 2 to 4 the author examines the historical background and basic discourses and practices of post-conflict Tajikistan, with an overview of Tajikistan over the last twenty years, followed by an analysis of global discourses and practices in the ‘international community’ of Tajikistan. The fourth chapter notably exposes the primary dynamic of elite-subordinate relation in the country, the author insisting on how domination is not openly resisted but accommodated and avoided by the poor. In the book’s second half, J. Heathershaw examines the politics of peace-building in terms of the powers and properties of authority (Chapter 5), sovereignty (Chapter 6), and livelihoods (Chapter 7). Having suggested that the re-centring of the patriarchal state is accompanied by the descending practices of patronage and clientele networks, the author explores how the discourses and practices of intervention have contributed to the stimulation of Tajikistani sovereignty. Chapter 7 casts light on the everyday practices of peace building in rural areas. The author finally suggests that “resource capture in terms of re-territorialisation produces the de-territorialisation of livelihoods and the translocation of Tajikistani communities (p. 18).”
In the wake of the wealth of ideas displayed in the introduction, the historical part critically examines several ways of viewing the causes of the conflict: a revolt of poorly integrated migrant populations from the country’s highlands in the distribution of public goods; a battle of ideas and ideologies led by a highly organised intellectual society of journalists and academics; a mere battle for survival and a fight over resources, brought by disagreements over usage of pasture and water during colonisation of the republic’s overpopulated lowlands; or finally an instrumentalist struggle among élites. Introduced as a typical post-Soviet conflict, the war is deprived of its rich prehistory in the mid-1980s ― in the form of the public scandals that have been breaking out since 1987 in connection with ongoing privatisation ― and in the decisive years 1991-2 ― curiously, the short-lived but unique coalition government of spring and summer 1992 is passed over in silence. More developed paragraphs are devoted to the intervention and peace process from 1992 to 1997, in which the author notably insists on the inconsistence of successive peace accords, and on the decisive impact of the international situation around Afghanistan. Several protagonists have been let aside of this period of an essentially Western-centred narrative, beginning with Iran whose role and impact have continued to show extremely significant in the two past decades. Such is also the case, paradoxically, of the OSCE, sometimes an important actor of the Tajikistani inner political arena during the years following the peace accords.
One of the major contributions of the book is its author’s well documented discussion of many features of the international discourse on the Central Asian space since the end of the Soviet period. Criticising for instance the dominant discourse of danger that still prevails nowadays, J. Heathershaw usefully castigates this discourse’s insistence on the primary ‘threats’ of Islamic radicalism, resurgent nationalism, or tribalism. In all, however, the book’s major contribution is its examination of how in Tajikistan an authoritarian order has been emerging over the 2000s without the democratic transformations long awaited, but with the legitimisation of the International Community. The author subtly shows the Tajikistan’s peace is, in fact, built on an inter-subjective process of complex legitimacy. He successively demonstrates that “peace-building must be analysed discursively (as relatively stable, ideologically informed formations by which communities interpret the world), politically (how power is acquired, legitimated, deployed and challenged in these discursively constituted communities) and spatially (how power and authority are differentiated across different scales and sites)” (173-4). Though often tempted by abstraction and characterised by innumerable aporias (up till its very conclusions), the book is a captivating reading thanks to its strong critical dimension.