Building Trust in the Inter-Tajik Dialogue

Ron Fisher

Professor of International Peace and Conflict Resolution, School of International Service, American University

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

...Just to give you one example looking at the work of Hal Sanders and Randa Slim and their other American and Russian colleagues on the civil war in Tajikistan, starting the inter Tajik dialogue before the negotiations were even there before the parties would even talk to each other so they are working unofficially outside of the country bringing together unofficial representatives of the government and the opposition parties and factions, and paving the way toward negotiation.

Q: these are fairly influential people?

A: These are quite high-level people, in fact as the situation progressed and the negotiation started some of the people in the informal dialogue actually became negotiators. Some were already advisors to the president and to the leader of the opposition and so on. So that you know you are going to get transfer in a number of ways. Again, Hal and his colleagues have documented that work adequately enough to demonstrate the power of contingency, thinking at least in a pre-negotiation way.

Q: I feel like the terms dialogue and negotiation get confused. The purpose of this dialogue was to not come to any formal agreement or to start negotiating tactics or strategies that would lead to the end of the conflict?

A: It wasn't at all for those purposes, although it was dialogue in the deeper sense of conflict analysis. It starts to raise options that would be useful for the official track and the over all peace process. Dialogue and problem solving workshops are not to be confused with negotiating sessions where official people sit down and hammer out the nuts and bolts of "what is our agreement" and "what are the domains that it has to be done." As Hal points out, and everyone knows, only official policy makers, decision makers, representatives can and will do that.

What they were able to do is first of all build some understanding between the two sides, and to start to build a bit of working trust that they could actually work together. Have each of them realize that there was a legitimate and reasonable negotiating partner on the other side. Out of that they produced a memorandum on negotiation, which identified what they thought were the major issues. One big one was being the return of refugees. That time gave a lot of direction to the official negotiating process. So it is setting the stage, but it is not walking on the stage and doing the deal. That's not our business, it never has been. It shouldn't be, then we are confusing things. We are getting into roles where we don't have the mandate or the responsibility to do it.

Q: What about the questioning of sequencing and coordination? That's a great example in a sort of linear sense where first their was the pre-negotiation dialogues, the negotiation dialogues, and then the actual Track I work.