Riyadh Has Cajoled Dushanbe into Breaking Ties with Iran: Scholar

TEHRAN (Tasnim) - An American researcher at the Columbia University said Saudi Arabia has encouraged Tajikistan to break its ties with Iran in an attempt to undermine the Islamic Republic's position in the region.

"Saudi Arabia has benefited from and encouraged Tajikistan to break relations with Iran. Tensions emerged after Kabiri went to Tehran shortly after the IRPT was declared a terrorist organization in 2015. And Saudi has stoked the tensions, boasting that it had "kicked" Iran out of Tajikistan. Whether or not they are behind it, the Saudis will certainly be pleased that the Tajik government blamed Iran, in part, for the attack," Edward Lemon, a Postdoctoral Research Scholar at the Harriman Institute in Columbia, told Tasnim. 

Lemon is a Postdoctoral Research Scholar at the Harriman Institute. In his research, Dr. Lemon examines counter-extremism in the post-Soviet republic of Tajikistan. He is particularly interested in how counter-extremism has become transnational, targeting opponents living outside of the country. Opposition activists living outside of Tajikistan has been subjected to intimidation, been kidnapped, physically attacked and assassinated. Dr. Lemon is currently working on a monograph examining how these measures affect the lives of those targeted and how these practices shape our understanding of international security.

Edward has spent almost three years living and working in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan. During this time, he worked as supported a local non-profit develop new programs in the fields of civic education, poverty alleviation and local governance. He also worked as a journalist and blogger reporting on local issues.

Dr. Lemon received a PhD in political science from the University of Exeter in 2016. He holds an MLitt from the University of St Andrews and a bachelor's degree from Kings College London. 

Following is the full text of the interview: 

Tasnim: Last week on Sunday, four Western cyclists were killed when a car plowed into them on a rural road in Tajikistan. After the crash, the attackers also stabbed their victims. On Tuesday, the ISIS terror group claimed responsibility the attack. The terror group released a video showing the five men who carried out the attack pledging allegiance to its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. What's your take on this? 

Lemon: Given that the attack was unsophisticated, using cars, knives and an ax, it was hard to prevent. But the involvement of 10 people in the attacks and its pre-meditated nature indicates that the security services failed to detect and stop it.

Tasnim: Some opposition groups inside Tajikistan have accused the government of being behind the attack? What do you think?  

Lemon: It is certainly a distraction and that will play into the government's hands. They can portray the country as in danger of attack and continue to receive security assistance despite their human rights violations. But obviously, the attack has also damaged the country's reputation and will decrease the number of tourists. So it is not only beneficial for Rahmon.

Tasnim: How do you see the role of Saudi Arabia in the terror attack as Riyadh and Dushanbe enjoy close ties? 

Lemon: Saudi Arabia has benefited from and encouraged Tajikistan to break relations with Iran. Tensions emerged after Kabiri went to Tehran shortly after the IRPT was declared a terrorist organization in 2015. And Saudi has stoked the tensions, boasting that it had "kicked" Iran out of Tajikistan. Whether or not they are behind it, the Saudis will certainly be pleased that the Tajik government blamed Iran, in part, for the attack.

The data on those who have been recruited to terrorist organizations indicates religion played a limited role in most of their lives. Most did not embrace Islam until they came into contact with extremist narratives. Given their limited knowledge, the simplistic interpretations offered by takfiri groups like ISIS (ISIL or Daesh) appear more appealing and easy to understand. These groups have taken advantage of repression, discrimination and disillusionment among young people and channeled their negative energies into jihad.

Tasnim: Do you believe that the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT)  was behind the attack?

Lemon: We have not seen a direct link, i.e members of the IRPT turning to violence. But the removal of a party that offered different interpretations to the state imams and ulema has certainly stymied religious debate in the country. Islamic restrictions have certainly been picked up by ISIS messaging and could have played a role in recruitment in some cases.

Related news
Most Visited in Politics
Top Politics stories
Top Stories