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Friday, September 28, 2012

Tajikistan: Recent Developments and U.S. Interests

Jim Nichol
Specialist in Russian and Eurasian Affairs

Tajikistan is a significant country in Central Asia by virtue of its geographic location bordering China and Afghanistan and its ample water and other resources, but it faces ethnic and clan schisms, deep poverty, poor governance, and other severe challenges. Tajikistan was one of the poorest of the new states that gained independence at the end of 1991 after the break-up of the former Soviet Union. The new country was soon plunged into a devastating civil conflict between competing regional and other interests that lasted until a peace settlement in 1997. Former state farm chairman Imomaliy Rahmon rose to power during this period and was reelected president after the peace settlement as part of a power-sharing arrangement. He was reelected in 2006. His rule has been increasingly authoritarian and has been marked by ongoing human rights abuses, according to many observers.

The civil war had further set back economic development in the country. The economy recovered to its Soviet-era level by the early 2000s, and GDP had expanded several times by the late 2000s, despite setbacks associated with the global economic downturn. Poverty remains widespread, however, and the infrastructure for healthcare, education, transportation, and energy faces steep developmental needs, according to some observers. The country continues to face problems of political integration, perhaps evidenced in part by recent violence in eastern Tajikistan. The country also faces substantial threats from terrorism and narcotics trafficking from Afghanistan.

The United States has been Tajikistan’s largest bilateral donor, budgeting $988.57 million of aid for Tajikistan (FREEDOM Support Act and agency budgets) over the period from fiscal year 1992 through fiscal year 2010, mainly for food and other humanitarian needs. Budgeted assistance for FY2011 was $44.48 million, and estimated assistance for FY2012 was $45.02 million. The Administration requested $37.41 million in foreign assistance for Tajikistan in FY2013 (these FY2011-FY2013 figures exclude most Defense and Energy Department programs).

After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, Tajikistan seemed to be willing to cooperate with the United States, but hesitated to do so without permission from Moscow. However, Tajikistan had long supported the Afghan Northern Alliance’s combat against the Taliban. Perhaps after gauging Russia’s views, Tajikistan soon 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 for refueling, and there are some French troops and some aircraft based at Dushanbe. During a January 2009 visit, the then- Commander of the U.S. Central Command reached agreement with President Rahmon on the land transit of goods such as construction materials to support military operations of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. While most land transport along this Northern Distribution Network traverses Uzbekistan to final destinations in Afghanistan, Tajikistan serves as an alternative route for a small percentage of supplies. In March 2012, the land transit of ISAF material out of Afghanistan through Tajikistan began.

Date of Report: August 31, 2012
Number of Pages: 19
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