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Tajikistan has experienced three changes in government and a five-year civil war since it gained independence in 1991 from the USSR. A peace agreement among rival factions was signed in 1997, and implementation reportedly completed by late 1999. Part of the agreement required the legalization of opposition political parties prior to the 1999 elections, which occurred, but such parties have made little progress in successful participation in government. Random criminal and political violence in the country remains a complication impairing Tajikistan's ability to engage internationally.
Update No: 268 - (25/04/03)
The Tajik republic is a very poor country, the poorest in the entire former Soviet Union. Two thirds of the population live below the poverty line, that is on less the US$2 per day.
It is curious, one might think, to measure Tajik living standards in dollars. Yet the US has had a profound impact on this remote country for some time. The American Civil War disrupted the supply of cotton from US southern states to Russia, which thereupon continued its expansion into Central Asia, with the explicit idea of cotton production there to replace the US source of the commodity, vital for its textile industry.
Cotton consequently became the staple export. Tajikistan has other assets, quite a range of metals and minerals, including precious metals. For all its present poverty it has an economic potential not to be sniffed at.
Tajikistan has one quite exceptional thing to be said for it; it has a coalition government with partners that could scarcely be more incongruous, but which is working.
It had a bloody civil war from 1991 to 1994 with moderate Islamicists, backed by ethnic Tajiks in Afghanistan, striving to oust well - entrenched Leninists, based appropriately enough, not just in Dushanbe, the capital, but in Leninabad, the northern industrialised province, which is the backbone of the Tajik economy.
The Leninists showed a rare tolerance in agreeing from 1994 to a series of ceasefires, which led eventually in December 1997 to the formation of a coalition government with the Islamicists, which still holds. The president, Imomali Rakhmanov, is a former communist hailing from Leninabad. But he has shown real statesmanship in cooperating with his ideological foes, those faithful to Islam, albeit not the fanatics of al-Qaeda or the Taleban.
Tajikistan is now the only country in the world, that after a brutal civil war, established such a coalition government with the Islamicists. Unfortunately, the rest of the world has largely ignored this brave experiment, the success of which could have had profound repercussions for the way the West reacts to resurgent political Islam elsewhere. The US relocated its ambassador to a neighbouring country for security reasons; and there was no real effort by Western countries to work with the coalition forces.
Yet non-governmental groups working today in Central Asia report that Tajikistan is one of the more open countries in the region. "The Tajik example," says Charles William Maynes in the March-April 2003 edition of Foreign Affairs, "could well inform political developments in the region and elsewhere - and should help define Western perceptions of Islam."
The Afghan War
But of course Tajikistan is very remote, and land-locked. Still, it has come into prominence due to the war against al-Qaeda and the Taleban in Afghanistan. American troops and planes came to the country in droves in late 2001. They have largely departed. It would be unwise for the US and the Western world simply to forget about this former Soviet outpost in Central Asia. There are lessons to be learnt in unlikely places.
GDP in January-February has grown by 12 per cent.
Tajikistan's gross domestic product in January-February of the current year grew by 12 per cent compared with the same period in 2002 and amounted to 483.7 million Somonis.
According to the State Statistical Committee, the volume of industrial production in the Republic for January-February of the current year has increased by 13.4 % and amounted to 485.4 million Somonis. Agricultural output grew over the same two-month period by 11.9 percent and amounted to 43.611 million Somonis. Retail turnover grew by 49.6% compared with the same period of the previous year and amounted to 9.8 million Somonis. The level of inflation in consumer sector made 11.5%.
WFP increases aid for recovery
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has increased its assistance to Tajikistan by 40 per cent under its Protected Relief and Recovery Operation (PRRO), marking a transition from humanitarian relief to recovery and development in the country, IRIN News Agency was told.
"Tajikistan is a low-income and food-deficit country needing food assistance," the WFP country director, Ardag Meghdessian, told IRIN from the Tajik capital, Dushanbe. "The shift of emphasis from relief to recovery indeed indicates increased stability in the country, as well as an improvement of the overall humanitarian situation," he said, adding that the devastating two-year drought in 2000 and 2001 was over.
Recently, the agency's executive board approved a two-year programme for the country to begin this July through its PRRO. This project, known as "Assistance to Food-Insecure Households and Recovery Operations in Tajikistan," would entail the provision of 142,000m t of food to some 1.4 million beneficiaries in the poverty-stricken mountainous Central Asian republic of 6.2 million people. The new project will have a total budget of US$74m as opposed to US$52m for the previous one.
But despite WFP's move from relief to recovery, Tajikistan still faces a humanitarian crisis, according to the EC. The EC adopted a 10 million Euro aid package for the former Soviet republic. The country is still facing an exceptional food emergency," said a statement from the Dushanbe office of the commission's humanitarian aid office, ECHO.
WFP's programme would go ahead in parallel with relief and recovery activities, Meghdessian said. "The relief component is to provide food assistance to the most vulnerable groups, as well as to provide assistance to disaster victims," he noted. About 83 percent of the population is living below the national poverty line, defined as, less than US$10 per person per month.
WFP estimates 12 per cent of Tajiks are extremely poor and 5 per cent, or some 300,000 individuals, are considered destitute and in need of food aid. A recent agency food security survey showed that such vulnerable groups concentrate in villages of 27 districts out of a total of 58 in the republic. As opposed to past practice, when two-thirds of resources were geared towards relief, only one-third of the funding would be directed towards such assistance.
Under the recovery efforts, the project will cater for the nutritional needs of malnourished children, pregnant and lactating women, treat and prevent tuberculosis, and work with psychiatric patients in the country. WFP will also provide training for farmers in poultry, beekeeping and other agricultural and income-generation activities.
The agency will also support the government's efforts towards achieving food security by privatising farmland, which will further improve wheat production in the country where only seven per cent of the land is arable.
While providing food to some 370,000 school children in 1,600 institutions across the country, the school-feeding programme is one of the major components of the PRRO. "This will attract many children back to schools who had abandoned them for various reasons since independence 12 years ago," Meghdessian said.
With a huge portion of Tajik infrastructure devastated during the five-year civil war between 1992 and 1997, many aid agencies rely on food-for-work projects for infrastructure rehabilitation and recovery activities. Under the WFP scheme, around 55,000 Tajiks will receive food aid in return for working to restore their schools, hospitals, bridges and roads.
Meghdessian maintained that it was imperative to improve cereal production in the country in order to boost food security. "Inputs such as provision and availability of quality seeds, fertilisers and rehabilitation of irrigation systems need improvement," he said. Tajikistan currently produces only 40 per cent of its cereal needs.
He added that in view of very limited employment opportunities, more people were turning to agriculture on marginal lands, which was a major concern. "The marginal lands are very dependent on rainfall, which makes these people very vulnerable," he said.
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