The first stage of the dialogue process is when participants decide whether to risk talking with the adversary. The initiating team contacted over a hundred Tajikistanis to determine their willingness to engage in dialogue and their capacity to listen to different views. An essential principle guiding the selection of participants was to ensure broad representation from the different factions of the conflict. Participants were typically from the second or third level of decision-making authority, as people at this level are often able to explore ideas more freely.
The second stage of the process – when participants map problems and relationships – began with the first three-day meeting in March 1993. It was facilitated by one American and one Russian who were members of the Regional Conflicts Task Force. During the three meetings between March and August 1993, participants in the Dialogue were absorbed with unloading their feelings about the origins and conduct of the civil war. In the third meeting, someone commented: "What we really need to focus on is how to start a negotiation between the government and the opposition about creating conditions for refugees to go home." Most participants acknowledged that no other steps toward normalisation could happen until citizens were back home. With this observation, the Dialogue progressed into the third stage of probing problems and relationships. In this stage, the participants explore approaches to each key issue and come to broad conclusions about desirable ways to address problems.
At the fourth meeting in October 1993, participants had a straightforward discussion about how to start a negotiation. The immediate problem was that the opposition was ideologically diverse and geographically dispersed. This created a dilemma over who would represent the opposition. Within two months, the leaders of different opposition factions had met in Tehran, developed a common platform, and formed the Moscow-based Coordination Centre of Democratic Forces of Tajikistan in the CIS. Two participants in the Dialogue signed this document and four became members of the steering committee for the Coordination Centre. At the fifth meeting in January 1994, participants from the opposition groups presented this new platform – which was to become the basis for the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) alliance. Pro-government participants questioned them intensively about it over the next two days. Some of the main points in that exchange were put in writing. The pro-government participants left the meeting with the belief that the basis for negotiation now existed and promised to report to the government. One month later, the government of Tajikistan accepted an invitation from the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General to join UN-mediated peace talks.
The Dialogue was a factor in the context that shaped the parties' willingness to engage in official talks. Yet as with any unofficial dialogue process, it is difficult to determine the extent and nature of its influence on government decision-making and hence to assess its impact. In complex political situations, it is almost impossible to identify precisely which of the many inputs bears most responsibility for changes. In this case, the government decision was taken against the backdrop of sustained diplomatic pressure to negotiate and its awareness of the escalating costs of war. Yet as was remarked by a high Tajikistani official who was involved in the government decision to negotiate: 'After six meetings of the Dialogue, it was no longer possible to argue credibly that negotiation between the government and the opposition was impossible.' Among the delegates to the first round of official negotiations in Moscow, one member of the government team and two members of the UTO team were also participants in the Inter-Tajik Dialogue.
In their sixth meeting in March 1994 – one month before the beginning of UN-mediated negotiations – Dialogue participants wrote their first document, the 'Memorandum on the Negotiating Process in Tajikistan'. This was the first of eighteen (so far) memoranda they prepared jointly to convey ideas to the negotiating teams and the larger body politic. Participants recognised that the government and opposition leaders were the main actors in the negotiations but sought to inform them of ideas discussed in the Dialogue. The task of creating the memoranda marked the transition of the Dialogue into stage four, which focuses on building scenarios and planning strategies that contain mutually reinforcing or complementary steps to create the momentum for overcoming obstacles. The first memorandum recommended the creation of four working groups for the negotiating process. This would allow the diverse points of view held by government and UTO delegates to be channelled into solving practical problems such as refugee return, political change, disarmament, and economic regeneration. Much later the Commission on National Reconciliation (CNR) – the central implementation mechanism of the 1997 General Agreement, which included several Dialogue members – organised its work programme through four sub-commissions, echoing the model discussed in that first memorandum.