The UN response to the Tajik civil war began in September 1992, when the first fact-finding mission led by Raymond Sommereyns, Director of the West Asia Division of the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) of the UN Secretariat, was dispatched to the country by Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. The mission travelled to the areas where fighting was most intense and met all the principal political and military leaders on both sides. It subsequently reported that Tajikistan was engulfed in civil war. On 2 October 1992, the Secretary-General conveyed the mission's findings to the Security Council. From 1 to 14 November 1992, a second mission visited Tajikistan, initiating the active involvement of key UN humanitarian agencies – the UNHCR, the World Food Programme (WFP), UNICEF, and the World Health organisation (WHO). This mission also interacted closely with a high-level mediation team from four CIS countries, led by Felix Kulov, at that time Vice-President of the Kyrgyz Republic, and included the Deputy Foreign Ministers of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and the Russian Ambassador to Tajikistan. Their cooperation in November 1992 mutually reinforced the UN and CIS missions. It demonstrated the potential of an intervention that combined the involvement of the UN – perceived as an impartial third party with moral authority and expertise in multilateral negotiations – with that of Tajikistan's close neighbours who could exert political, economic and military leverage. This first positive experience was the catalyst for a partnership used to the fullest extent during the negotiations and the implementation of the 1997 General Agreement.
The first two UN missions revealed that the Secretary-General and the Security Council lacked the detailed information needed to design an effective strategy. To address this problem, in late December 1992 the Secretary-General decided to establish a small political mission in Dushanbe, with the agreement of the Tajik Government. Liviu Bota of Romania was appointed to head this United Nations Mission of Observers in Tajikistan (UNMOT), which started work on 21 January 1993. The mission was charged with the following tasks:
a) to monitor the situation on the ground and provide the Secretary-General with up-to-date information;
b) to ascertain the positions of all concerned parties on various aspects of the conflict and to encourage regional peacemaking efforts or, where no such efforts are in place, to encourage regional states or groups of states to undertake them;
c) to assess the military situation in Tajikistan and explore how assistance could be provided to regional peacekeeping efforts;
d) to provide liaison and coordination services to facilitate prompt humanitarian assistance by the international community.
Information from UNMOT soon led the Secretary-General to appoint a full-time Envoy mandated to concentrate on achieving a ceasefire and establishing the process of negotiations for a political solution. On 26 April 1993, Ambassador Ismat Kittani of Iraq was appointed the Secretary-General's Special Envoy. In January 1994, he was succeeded by Ambassador Ramiro Piriz-Ballon of Uruguay. The efforts of Ambassadors Kittani and Piriz-Ballon, as well as those of UNMOT, began to produce results when the two Tajik parties held the first round of inter-Tajik negotiations in Moscow on 5-19 April 1994. These Special Envoys were later succeeded by Special Representatives resident in Tajikistan: Gerd Merrem of Germany (May 1996-April 1998), Ambassador Jan Kubics of Slovakia (July 1998-August 1999) and Ambassador Ivo Petrov of Bulgaria (from September 1999). Each in turn led the negotiation process that resulted in the General Agreement of 17 June 1997 and its eventual implementation. Although the Special Envoys/ Representatives acted during different phases of the conflict and peace process, their contributions to the restoration of peace in Tajikistan were equally valuable. Over a period of almost seven years, the Special Envoys/Representatives and their staff were responsible for designing the negotiation process, maintaining contacts with all parties to the conflict and integrating the efforts of other countries and organisations. They served as mediators and worked with the Tajik parties to organise the negotiations and numerous high-level consultations between rounds. With the input of the Tajik negotiators, they drafted the protocols that made up the General Agreement.
Another important function of the Special Envoys/ Representatives was to report through the Secretary-General to the Security Council and stimulate its active interest and involvement in the Tajikistan conflict. The Secretary-General reported regularly to the Security Council, helping to ensure that key member states remained politically committed to the process. This in turn helped to strengthen the hand of the Special Envoys/Representatives in performing their functions. Security Council backing was important not only in their work with the warring Tajik parties, but also for their contacts with states that directly or indirectly supported one of the Tajik sides.
In designing the negotiating strategy, the first Special Envoys, Ambassadors Kittani and Piriz-Ballon, paid special attention to the need for constructive integration of countries in the region into UN peacemaking efforts. The Special Envoys gave as much attention to their contacts with the governments of these countries as they gave to direct consultations with the parties to the conflict. Following consultations in the capitals of Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, these countries became observers in the inter-Tajik negotiations, with the explicit agreement of both the Tajik government and the leaders of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO). In September 1995, Turkmenistan joined the group of observer countries. (The important role played by these countries in the peace process is discussed in more detail in the chapter on the inter-Tajik negotiations.) In the years after the General Agreement was concluded, it became clear that it would have been impossible to reach an agreement without ensuring the synergy of efforts of the United Nations negotiating team and the governments of the observer countries.