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Tajik Government Failed, Civil Society Responded in Avalanche Rescue



To the long-suffering people of the region known as the Pamiris, the avalanche disaster was yet another blow to their community. The Pamiris, who are Ismaili Muslims whose religious leader is the Aga Khan, have been facing relentless attacks by the regime security forces of President Imomali Rahmon. Rahmon launched a brutal campaign in 2022 to suffocate the Pamiris’ dynamic civil society by killing local leaders and peaceful protestors, arresting hundreds, and using torture, rape and religious repression to eliminate what they called “terrorist and criminal elements.”

On February 15, snow avalanches roared down mountainsides and crashed through Tajikistan towns of Khorog, Roshtkala, Shugnan and Vanj located in the Gorno-Badakhshan region. 20 people were killed, including children.Volunteers rushed to launch rescue operations and managed to extract 12 survivors from snow-covered rubble. Unfortunately, they also recovered bodies of persons suffocated and crushed to death. Since the towns are far from main help lines and without any government support, the townspeople used their bare hands to dig through the snow to save the survivors and retrieved the dead bodies.

On February 15, snow avalanches were reported in Tajikistan towns of Khorog, Roshtkala, Shugnan and Vanj located in the Gorno-Badakhshan region. Authorities reported 20 people were killed, including children.

The regime’s top official in the autonomous region, Governor Alisher Mirzanabatov was responsible for coordinating regime repression against the Pamiris. Mirzanabatov engaged in a public relations stunt by visiting Pamiri victims of the avalanche in the local hospital. 

Mirzanabatov has been credibly accused of trafficking Afghan heroin when he served as a Border Troop commander in the Tajik secret police, the GKNB.Witnesses also detailed his attempted sexual assault on a Pamiri woman, who in a desperate attempt to escape his clutches, shot herself.  Before being appointed governor in 2022, Mirzanabatov served as number two in the GKNB, an organization known for its gross violations of human rights and religious repression.

Due to the proximity to the towns, the international Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH) was called for assistance. AKAH mobilized quickly and deployed trained teams to conduct search and rescue operations. With heavy snowfall continuing, the AKAH has continued to relocate people from at risk areas and providing temporary shelter for those displaced.

The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) is also providing fuel to district authorities to support local ambulance services and is clearing roads blocked by the avalanches.  While the AKDN’s Pamir Energy is working to repair damage to power lines and resume energy services in affected towns as soon as possible.

Over 50 devastating avalanches were triggered following heavy snowfall over the last few days in the Badakhshan regions of Tajikistan and Afghanistan. Multiple casualties have been reported in both countries. More than 20 buildings and several homes have been damaged and buried in the provincial capital Khorog as well as the surrounding towns.

On Thursday, February 16, a 14-year-old girl died as a result of an avalanche in the village of Gozhak. She was buried alive under a snow blockage in her own house.

Continued heavy rains threaten new avalanches and rockfalls, which pose a serious danger to the inhabitants of towns and villages across the region. Residents have also reported tremors. Those living in the risk zone have been evacuated to safe places.

According to Pamiri journalist Anora Sarkorova, the Rahmon regime once again failed to respond adequately to a crisis in Gorno-Badakhshan.The region frequently experiences severe weather conditions, including heavy snowfall, extreme cold and the threat of avalanches and rockfalls. The government lacks the preparedness for natural disasters and unable to resolve the resulting problems.

There are a lack of equipment, technical and medical resources and snowplows. As always, it seems that its always the citizens who rose to the occasion to help and work towards a solution.

However, it is strikingly obvious that regime officials are more interested in benefiting from the tragedy than resolving issues and assisting the affected townspeople. Despite dozens of individuals being buried alive, government officials failed to provide timely information on the disaster, while national and regional TV focused on such inane issues as the “the health benefits of buckwheat.”  

Governor and ex-GKNB senior officer, Alisher Mirzonabotov took selfies at the hospital with the affected individuals. However,there is no obvious evidence that he ever visited or step foot in the areas badly affected by the avalanches. This same government that has arrested Pamiris for conducting volunteer work is now openly praising their own security forces for their so-called rescue efforts. It seems that the officials use the tragedy to profit at the expense of the citizens.

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