chapter  3
Political power networks
Pages 32

In view of the problematic nature of the approaches examined in the previous section for an understanding of the civil war in Tajikistan, this book explores the insights that may be gained from applying bargaining theories of war from the literature on International Relations. According to this approach, since war is costly and risky, an explanation of war should include what prevents leaders from reaching ex ante (pre-war) bargains that would avoid the costs and risks of war. In this theory, war is conceptualized as a bargaining failure (Fearon 1995; Powell 1999; Filson and Werner 2002; Lake 2003). For example, according to Powell, the most important factor is the disparity between the distribution of power and distribution of benefits: the greater the disparity, the greater the likelihood of war. In Filson and Werner’s model, wars begin when an attacker underestimates the defender’s military ability and thus overestimates the defender’s willingness to make concessions, and makes demands that the defender refuses to accept. It is important therefore to study the adversaries’ perceptions of power in relation to the actions that led to the civil war. Evaluating the other side’s ability is often difficult and there is always the possibility of misperception. The decision on whether to fight or negotiate, to compromise or not to compromise, arises from such considerations. Elite perceptions of the distribution of power are influenced by structural,

process-related, and network-related variables. In Tajikistan, the ruling elite perceived its own power to be high. Structurally they were the dominant elite network, and process-related factors, such as being undisturbed by the purges of the Soviet period and having no strong intra-Party challengers, also supported this perception. The opposition leaders in Tajikistan also had reason to perceive themselves as powerful because of their election success, unity, and ability to mobilize a large number of people. Governing elites overestimated their own power and underestimated the

opposition’s ability to resist; their efforts to eliminate this opposition, which perceived its power to be high enough to resist the governing elites, triggered a civil war in Tajikistan. A disparity between the distribution of power and the distribution of benefits was an important factor in the eruption of civil war in Tajikistan. Bargaining failure and civil war became more likely since

hardliners were stronger than the softliners within the government, and the opposition’s perception of its own power was also high. As more groups joined together in opposition against the incumbents, the opposition was able to mobilize a large segment of the population, and its members’ perceptions of their own power increased. In this way network relations played a key role in building the opposition. In contrast, in Uzbekistan, power was more evenly divided among three

factions. After purges and ethnic clashes, Islam Karimov became the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan with the agreement of prominent political actors in the republic, and his tenure in power depended on how well he satisfied their expectations. When he first came to power, he perceived his power to be low, so he did not immediately attack his opponents. He bargained, negotiated, and made concessions to other political elites. He co-opted some members of the opposition and convinced some of them to attempt to work within the system. Through such policies, Karimov was able to divide the opposition, gradually consolidate his power and eliminate his rivals. As a result, the opposition in Uzbekistan was not united, its members’ ability to mobilize large segments of the population decreased, and they could not emerge as a strong power against the government. One by one they became targets of the Karimov regime. Elite perceptions of the distribution of power in both countries were influenced

by structural, process-related, and network-related variables. Structural variables included the influence of the Soviet legacy of policies and institutions. Although these produced quite similar structures in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, one important difference was that regional policies in Tajikistan left one elite group more dominant relative to others, whereas three more or less equally powerful elite networks emerged in Uzbekistan. This structural legacy provided governing elites with the perception that their degree of power was high in Tajikistan. In Uzbekistan there was more than one powerful elite group, so no elite group had a clear perception of their own power being higher than that of others. Moreover, perceptions of power are not determined by structural factors

alone, but can be changed by political processes made up of the interactions between and within governing and opposition groups. While in Tajikistan such processes both strengthened the perceptions that the ruling elite already had of the strength of its power, and increased the opposition’s perception of its own strength, in Uzbekistan political processes lowered the opposition’s perceptions of its power and increased those of the ruling elite. The ruling elite in Tajikistan, unlike the elite in Uzbekistan, did not have strong intra-Party challengers, and did not experience significant purges and major ethnic clashes. These factors made the ruling elite in Tajikistan unwilling to negotiate with the opposition, but encouraged its members to attack the entire opposition at once. This, in turn encouraged the opposition in Tajikistan to unite. This uncompromising attitude played a role in uniting the opposition and, along with the elites’ overconfidence and refusal to negotiate, led to a polarization

of the political environment and eventually to civil war. The perception the opposition had of its own power was also high, and its members showed their electoral potential during presidential elections and were able to mobilize a large number of people. The unity of the opposition in Tajikistan made it a strong force against the government and contributed to the violent conflict in that country. As will be suggested below, an important factor in establishing the unity of the opposition was the role of a mediator who established links between formerly unrelated groups. This mechanism of network establishment was absent in Uzbekistan (Tunçer-Kılavuz 2011). This chapter focuses on the structural aspect and discusses the role of elite

networks in the politics of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. In both countries, these networks are regionally based. Regional identities were not Soviet-era creations, but had been important to both the people and the political elites in these territories during the pre-Soviet period. However, they acquired the meaning and the structure they have today as a result of Soviet policies. Soviet state policies of collectivization, cadre management, and recruitment

reinforced and politicized regional identities, leading to the continuation and strengthening of regionally based political power networks in both republics (Roy 2000; Luong 2002). However, different regional policies in the two republics created different elite structures. Soviet policies in Tajikistan allowed cadres from one region to dominate. In Uzbekistan, by contrast, three more or less equally powerful elite networks emerged. This would later become an important factor which influenced elite behaviors in the two countries differently and contributed to the different outcomes in terms of the presence or absence of violent conflict. This chapter will also argue that regional identities and loyalties, while

important, are not the only factor in the formation of elite networks. Furthermore, it is critical to distinguish these political power networks from what the scholarly and journalistic literature often refers to as “clans.”