"We won't have quiet lives here as long as one of them is across the river in Afghanistan," said Safar Khalimov, a former warlord who is deputy mayor of this southern farming region and helps returnees get land and jobs.
But in nearby villages populated by Garmis, young men are scarce. Garmis and Kulyabis live too close for comfort, and many Kulyabis are still armed, so the Garmis who fought them--or might be suspected of having done so--stay away. Still, their mothers and young siblings are coming back.
On a collective farm called Communism, Garmi war widow Guljon Bukhoriyeva had just returned to her mud-brick home. The roof was gone, along with her four cows, but squash grew in the garden. Two years after leaving, she put a borrowed roof over one of her three rooms and moved in.
As she greeted visitors, her three young children pushed dry weeds into a mud-oven fire. Kulyabi neighbors have welcomed her back, she said, but her three grown children are staying "in another part of Tajikistan."
"It is a true success story," Pirlot said of the repatriation. "But my fear is, 'Is it going to last?' The effort we've made to rebuild things wouldn't stand a chance if the hard-liners decided to go at it again."
That could happen as long as the welcome mat does not extend to opposition leaders, who speak for 5,000 guerrillas. In the peace talks, the government insists on having the election Sunday without them; the opposition wants a council of neutral statesmen, appointed by both sides, to rule for two years, disarm everyone, then hold elections.
Guerrillas have stepped up attacks in recent months, assassinating a deputy defense minister and seizing or killing 53 government soldiers in a single raid.
"These elections will not help the cause of peace," exiled Tajik poet-politician Davlat Khudonazarov told a recent U.S. congressional hearing. "They will be held in an environment where tens of thousands of people are running around with guns in their hands."
Citing the exclusion of opposition parties, the Council for Security and Cooperation in Europe has rejected the government's invitation to monitor the election.
But American and Russian diplomats support it, and at least some of them pin hope on Rakhmonov's only rival, his former prime minister, Abdulmalik A. Abdulajanov. A wealthy businessman of the Khodzhent clan, he is viewed as more conciliatory.
Abdulajanov, 45, accuses Rakhmonov of adopting "a totalitarian mentality," preparing ballot fraud and spreading the threat of armed resistance if the ruling clan is voted out.
In fact, Rakhmonov, 42, is appealing to the hostile and the conciliatory instincts at play. At a recent campaign rally, a local military commander got up and declared that "this is my country and I'll never give it away to the opposition."
But when Rakhmonov spoke, he pondered aloud why so many Tajiks had killed each other.
"We are still brothers," he said.