Tajikistan: Recent Developments and U.S. Interests
Tajikistan: Recent Developments
and U.S. Interests
Specialist in Russian and Eurasian Affairs
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
This report outlines challenges faced by Tajikistan since its five-year civil war
ended in 1997. It discusses U.S. policy and assistance. Basic facts and biographical
information are provided. This report may be updated. Related products include CRS
Report RL33458, Central Asia: Regional Developments and Implications for U.S.
Interests, updated regularly.
According to the Administration, U.S. aid
for border security, counter-narcotics control,
democratization, health, education, and
economic growth is key to improving
Tajikistan’s role as a bulwark against the
regional threats of terrorism and drugs. (State
Department, Congressional Budget
Justification for Foreign Operations, FY2009).
State Department officials served as
observers at the U.N.-sponsored
intra-Tajikistan peace talks and pledged rebuilding aid, an example of U.S. diplomatic
efforts to head off or ease ethnic and civil tensions in the Eurasian states. The United
States also supported the presence of U.N. military observers in Tajikistan during the
1992-1997 civil war. The United States has been the major humanitarian and
developmental aid donor to facilitate implementation of the Tajik peace accord and for
resettlement of displaced persons. Over the period FY1992-FY2007, the United States
was the largest bilateral donor, budgeting $771.3 million of aid for Tajikistan
(FREEDOM Support Act and agency budgets), mainly for food and other humanitarian
needs (by comparison, European Union members provided about $470 million in grants
and loans). The United States also facilitated the delivery of privately donated
commodities. Estimated spending in
Basic FactsFY2008 was $31.9 million (FREEDOM
Area and Population: Land area is 55,800 sq. mi.,Support Act and other foreign aid,
slightly smaller than Wisconsin. Population is 7.2
million (The World Factbook, mid-2008 est.). Theexcluding Defense and Energy
Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Region has calledDepartment funds), and the
for greater autonomy, which is opposed by the TajikAdministration has requested $28.58
government.million for FY2009 (FREEDOM Support
Ethnicity: 79.9% of the population is Tajik, 15.3%Act and other foreign aid). Much of the
Uzbek, 1.1% Russian, 1.1% Kyrgyz (2000 Census).
Clan and regional identities include the Khojenti,aid requested for FY2009 is planned for
Kulyabi, Garmi, and Pamiri groups.bolstering border security, which
Gross Domestic Product: $11.82 billion; per“remains a major challenge due to
capita GDP is about $1,800 (The World Factbook,inexperience, lack of funds, and
2007 est., purchasing power parity).
Political Leaders: President: Emomali Rahmon;inadequate capacity.” Support for border
Prime Minister: Oqil Oqilov; Speaker of theguards, customs, and other security forces
National Assembly (upper chamber): Mohammadwill help prevent illicit trafficking in
Sayed Ubaydulloyev; Speaker of the Assembly ofnarcotics and weapons of mass
Representatives (lower chamber): Saydullodestruction and the transit of terrorists. A
Khayrulloyev; Foreign Minister: Hamrokhon Zarifi;
Defense Minister: Col. Gen. Sherali Khayrulloyev.second focus of U.S. aid will be on
Biography: Rahmon was born in 1952 and trainedeconomic programs to bolster agricultural
as an economist. In 1988, he became a state farmproduction, encourage the trade in
director in Kulyab region. His rise to power waselectricity with Afghanistan, foster
boosted by his links to the paramilitary leader andbanking reform, and increase micro-
ex-convict Sangak Safarov. He became chair of the
Kulyab regional government in late 1992, andfinancing. The United States also will
weeks later was elected chair of the Supreme Sovietcontinue to emphasize Tajikistan’s
and proclaimed head of state. He was popularly“severe needs” for maternal and child
elected president in 1994 and re-elected in 1999 andhealthcare, basic education, and natural
disaster assistance (Congressional
Budget Justification for Foreign
Contributions to the Campaign Against Terrorism
During a January 2008 visit, then-commander of the U.S. Central Command,
Admiral William Fallon, praised Tajikistan’s support for Operation Enduring Freedom
(OEF) in Afghanistan by granting overflight and basing rights.1 After the September 11,
2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, Tajikistan seemed to be willing to cooperate
with the United States, but hesitant to do so without permission from Moscow. However,
since Tajikistan had long supported the Afghan Northern Alliance’s combat against the
Taliban, it was predisposed to welcome U.S.-led backing for the Northern Alliance.
Perhaps after gauging Russia’s views, the Tajik Defense Ministry on September 25, 2001,
offered use of Tajik airspace to U.S. forces, and some coalition forces began to transit
through Tajik airspace and airfields. U.S., French, and British personnel have used the
Dushanbe airport to a limited degree for refueling (the French maintain a presence of 100-
scale use by the coalition.
1 Embassy of the United States, Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Embassy News: Press Briefing with
Admiral William Fallon, January 22, 2008.
According to the State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2007 (released
April 2008), Tajikistan’s poor budgetary resources have hampered its ability to secure its
1,400-mile border with Afghanistan, raising the threat that terrorists might transit the
country from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The United States in 2007 provided
communications equipment and counter-terrorism training to the border guards and other
security forces. U.S. aid for education, public diplomacy, and economic development
aims to ameliorate problems that might bolster terrorist recruitment. A possible terrorist
bombing occurred outside the Supreme Court in June 2007, which did not result in
casualties, and another at a conference hall in November 2007, which killed one person.
Foreign Policy and Defense
In April 2008, President Rahmon stated that Tajikistan was ready to “further expand
relations of cooperation with countries of the West and the East, as well as those of the
Islamic world, from the point of view of our open-door foreign policy.” He pledged that
Tajikistan would “remain an active partner” in the Global War on Terrorism and would
“expand constructive collaboration with the United States, the European Union and other
countries of the [anti-terrorist] coalition not only in this important field, but will also pay
more attention to expanding beneficial economic cooperation.” In November 2007,
Rahmon explained that Tajikistan’s “open door” foreign policy — “cooperation with any
entity of international relations which has good intentions and aims towards our country”
— might not please certain unnamed “powerful countries,” but that the policy prevented
Tajikistan from becoming a “puppet.”2 He has warned that Tajikistan faces a global
environment where “the rivalry between different countries for international markets,
resources of raw materials, fuel and energy reserves, and other natural wealth” is growing,
and where arms races are intensifying. He has called instead for “beneficial international
cooperation to reduce and prevent new global threats and dangers, [such as] terrorism,
extremism, drugs production and trafficking, [and] organized transnational crime.”3
Tajikistan is interested in the political and human rights of approximately seven
million Tajiks residing in Afghanistan (25% of the population) and over one million in
Uzbekistan (4%). Relations with Uzbekistan have been problematic, including
disagreements about water-sharing, Uzbek gas supplies, and environmental pollution. In
1999-2001, Uzbekistan mined border areas along the Tajik-Uzbek border in response to
incursions by terrorists traversing Tajikistan from Afghanistan. Other mines remain from
the civil war and from the Soviet incursion into Afghanistan (along the Tajik-Afghan
border). These mines reportedly have killed or injured 1,000 Tajiks. Efforts to clear the
mines are ongoing.
The Tajik armed forces consist of about 8,800 ground, air force, and air defense
troops.4 There also are about 3,800 paramilitary personnel in the Interior Ministry, 1,200
in the National Guard, and 2,500 in the Emergencies Ministry. The armed forces are
underfunded and riven by regional clan loyalties that compromise their effectiveness. In
2 Open Source Center. Central Eurasia: Daily Report (hereafter CEDR), November 16, 2007,
Doc. No. CEP-950361; April 25, 2008, Doc. No. CEP-950185.
3 CEDR, September 8, 2007, Doc. No. CEP-950171.
4 The Military Balance, February 5, 2008.
1999-2000, some 2,000 UTO fighters were incorporated into the Tajik armed forces. A
10-year (with options for renewal) Tajik-Russian basing agreement was signed in October
2004 that provides for Russia’s former 201st Motorized Rifle Division to be based at
three garrisons and to have access to three training grounds. Tajikistan also transferred
ownership of the Okno space tracking base (near the town of Nurek) to Russia. In
exchange, Russia cancelled a $242 million debt. Russia’s approximately 5,500 contract
troops in Tajikistan constitute its second largest military presence abroad, after the Black
Sea Fleet in Ukraine. Tajikistan assumed control from Russia over guarding its borders
in June 2005, although about 50 Russian border guard advisors and 20 instructors remain.
In November 2006, Tajikistan and Russia signed an agreement to hold joint military
training operations. Many Tajik officers receive training at Russian military schools.
Tajikistan is a signatory of the Collective Security Treaty (CST) of the CIS (led by
Russia). In 2001, CST members approved the creation of a regional Anti-Terrorist Center
(composed of intelligence agencies) and regional rapid-deployment military forces that
include a Tajik battalion. In 2001, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO; an
economic and security organization led by China and Russia and including Kazakhstan,
Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) also approved the creation of an anti-terrorist
regional center. Tajikistan joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace in February 2002. At
the signing, a NATO press release hailed Tajikistan’s support to coalition forces in
Afghanistan as “of key importance” to combating international terrorism. Tajikistan’s
then-Defense Minister Khayrulloyev stated in March 2006, however, that Tajikistan
intended to continue to rely on Russia for equipment and training.
The Tajik Civil War. Tajikistan was among the Central Asian republics least
prepared and inclined toward independence when the Soviet Union broke up. In
September 1992, a loose coalition of nationalist, Islamic, and democratic parties and
groups tried to take over. Kulyabi and Khojenti regional elites, assisted by Uzbekistan
and Russia, launched a successful counteroffensive that by the end of 1992 had resulted
in 20,000-40,000 casualties and up to 800,000 refugees or displaced persons. In 1993, the
CIS authorized “peacekeeping” in Tajikistan, consisting of Russian and token Kazakh,
Kyrgyz, and Uzbek troops. After the two sides agreed to a cease-fire, the U.N. Security
Council established a small U.N. Mission of Observers in Tajikistan (UNMOT) in
December 1994. In June 1997, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon and then-rebel leader
Sayed Abdullo Nuri signed a comprehensive peace agreement. Benchmarks of the peace
process were largely met, and UNMOT pulled out in May 2000, but Russian troops have
remained. Stability in Tajikistan is fragile. Observers remain concerned about possible
secessionism in the northern Soghd (formerly Leninabad) region and in the western Gorno
Badakhshan region, and tensions between ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks within Tajikistan.
Political and Economic Developments
Since the signing of the peace accords in 1997, Rahmon has steadily increased his
authoritarian rule and marginalized the opposition. His ambit remains limited, however,
by myriad local warlords. The main Tajik opposition groups boycotted the 1994
presidential election and a referendum on a new constitution because they had no say in
drawing up the constitution (which establishes strong presidential rule) and would not be
allowed to field their own candidates. The Tajik legislature in mid-1999 rubber-stamped
constitutional changes proposed by Rahmon calling for a seven year presidential term, a
two-house Supreme Assembly (legislature), and the legalization of religious parties. A
popular referendum approved the changes, and a presidential election was set for
November 1999. Tajik opposition candidates alleged that government harassment
prevented them from registering, so that Rahmon emerged as the only approved candidate.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) refused to monitor the
election. Seeking to avert renewed war, Nuri agreed to respect the outcome of the
election in return for pledges by Rahmon to allow fair legislative elections scheduled for
February 2000. OSCE monitors later reported that this election presented voters with a
range of candidates from competing parties, but they raised questions about freedom of
the media, the independence of electoral commissions, turnout figures, and the
transparency of vote tabulation.
A legislative electoral law was approved with input from the UTO in late 1999
calling for a lower chamber, the Assembly of Representatives, to consist of 63 members
(22 elected by party list and 41 in single member districts), and an upper legislative
chamber, the National Assembly, to consist of 34 members representing regional interests
(25 selected by indirect voting by local council assemblies, eight appointed by Rahmon,
and one reserved for the former president). Another referendum on changes to the
constitution was held in June 2003. Opposition critics correctly predicted that one of the
changes — limiting a president to two seven-year terms — would permit Rahmon to
claim two more terms in office under the “new” amendment.
The four main opposition parties are the IRP, Democratic Party (DP), Social
Democratic Party (SDP), and Communist Party (CP). The CP sometimes has allied itself
with the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP). About 160 candidates (mostly PDP
members) ran for the district seats in the February 27, 2005, election to the Assembly of
Representatives. The OSCE reported “large-scale irregularities,” including the presence
of government officials on many electoral commissions, close government control of
campaigning, ballot box stuffing, and doubtful ballot counting. After runoff races in
March, the PDP had won 51 seats, the CP 5, the Islamic Revival Party 2, and
independents 5. Selection of deputies to the National Assembly in late March 2005
resulted in 29 seats for the PDP, 2 for the CP, and 3 for independent candidates.
Five candidates ran in the presidential election in Tajikistan held on November 6,
2006, including incumbent President Rahmon. All four “challengers” praised Rahmon
and campaigned little. The opposition DP and SD parties boycotted the race, claiming it
was undemocratic, and the IRP chose not to field a candidate. Rahmon officially received
the race was slightly improved over the 1999 presidential election but still lacked
“genuine choice and meaningful pluralism,” including because of the dearth of
meaningful debate by the candidates, improbable turnout figures in some precincts, use
of administrative resources, and non-transparent vote-counting.5
According to the State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
for 2007 (released in March 2008), The government’s human rights record remained poor.
Arbitrary arrest and detention remained serious problems, and police and security officers
beat and otherwise abused detainees to extort confessions. Authorities often falsified
5 OSCE. Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. Final Report on the 6 November
reasons for arrest or inflated minor problems to make politically motivated arrests, and
exerted pressure on judges. Independent media were subject to intimidation such as
selective tax inspections, and media outlets regularly practiced self-censorship out of fear
of government reprisals. The government controlled most printing presses, the supply of
newsprint, and broadcasting facilities. The government generally refused to grant permits
for rallies on the grounds that large gatherings could lead to violence, but a few groups
staged protests without permission and did not suffer reprisals. The government
continued to refuse to register some opposition political parties. Religious freedom
deteriorated during the year. Authorities at times restricted Muslim religious activities.
Trafficking of persons was a serious problem. Reportedly, government officials in
customs, border control, immigration, police, and tourism took bribes from traffickers or
even acted as patrons of traffickers. The government did not enforce child labor laws and
continued to force students to pick cotton.
In late 1997, Tajikistan’s economic decline reversed as the peace accord took hold.
GDP grew about 7.8% and inflation was 13.2% in 2007 (The World Factbook est.).
Tajikistan has depended heavily on foreign loans and aid to cover its budget and trade
deficits. Tajikistan’s foreign debt reportedly was $1.3 billion in early 2008. Most small
enterprises had been privatized by 2000, but land and major enterprises remain state-
owned. Tajikistan’s aluminum smelter in Tursunzade, one of the world’s largest, claims
that it accounted for three-fourths of Tajikistan’s foreign currency earnings in 2007.
Cotton and hydro-electricity are other exports. The agricultural sector employs two-thirds
of the labor force. The government reported in early 2008 that more than 50% of the
population lived below the poverty level (defined as incomes of less than $1 per day), and
warned that rising inflation threatened poverty-reduction efforts.6 Up to one million
Tajiks — nearly 50% of the labor force — are labor migrants. According to the State
Department, “the culture of corruption, fueled by the huge amount of drugs passing
through the country [from Afghanistan], poses a significant threat to Tajikistan’s stability
and prosperity.”7 In March 2008, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced that
it was demanding the early repayment of $47 million in loans to Tajikistan. While
receiving IMF loans, the Tajik National Bank had failed to report that its reserves had
been depleted by losses in the cotton-growing sector.
At the end of January 2008, severe winter weather and electricity, gas, and food
shortages led the Tajik government to declare a humanitarian crisis and ask the United
Nations for assistance. The U.N. and other organizations launched an appeal for urgent
assistance, which has amounted in $13.8 million in international donations as of mid-July
2008. The United States is the major donor of fuel, medicine, and food. Rahmon
reported in April 2008 that the harsh winter and an ongoing drought had caused financial
losses of more than $843 million, and in June 2008 he warned that the lingering drought
was harming agricultural output. Some observers have raised concerns that these
economic dislocations might lead to civil unrest.
6 CEDR, January 23, 2008, Doc. No. CEP-950250.
7 U.S. Department of State. International Narcotics Control Strategy Report 2008, March 2008.