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: 272 - (29/08/03)
The Central Asian frontier of NATO
The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) has decided to send troops to Afghanistan. This is the first time NATO troops have been sent outside their geographical brief before. It is logical that Tajikistan should also be on the agenda.
Until 9:11 it was taken for granted that Russia was the right guarantor of Tajikistan's security. But Russia's lack of resources, military ineffectualness and general fecklessness has created a security vacuum in Tajikistan.
By the late 1990s, Tajikistan was a corridor for armed Islamicist insurgents, who were making incursions into Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. This was, and remains, the main route for narcotics from Central Asia, the main supplier, to Europe, the main consumer.
The US and its allies have moved into the vacuum. The events of 9:11 were vital. By December the US and its allies had already begun to use the Dushanbe airport as a prime base to stage operations in Afghanistan. Tajikistan remains a key staging area for any operations in Afghanistan, and potentially for an even wider area that stretches from Iran to Pakistan to Western China.
Russia pales in significance
This development is being accompanied by a rundown of Russia's forces in the republic, once over 20,000 strong. The 201st motorised division, often described as a crack force, is in fact disintegrating. It is plagued by financial and personnel problems. It has been cut from 8,000 men to 5,500. It can no longer engage in serious rapid-deployment operations.
The decade-old agreement on the stationing of Russian border troops happens to expire this year. The technicalities of the dispute between the two sides over its renegotiation scarcely matter. The Russians no longer have the money or motivation to continue.
Tajikistan is undoubtedly more interested in Western assistance. The 11,000 nominally Russian border troops are now overwhelmingly of Tajik descent, even if under Russian officers.
The Afghan-Tajik border remains a sieve for heroin traffic from Afghanistan to Europe. The drug laboratories and trafficking gangs are based mostly in the northern Afghan area that is largely controlled by elements of the Moscow-backed Panjshiri faction of the Northern Alliance in the Kabul government. Experts estimate that a mere 10%, if that, is being intercepted by the officials on that route.
Last year the US began to supply the Tajik border guards with modern communications gear and detection equipment, as well as technical training. The Tajik government has proposed a wide anti-drug coalition in which the US would play a central role. Washington allocated $1.7million in technical assistance to Tajik border troops last year.
On August 11th Gen John Abizaid, the successor to Tommy Franks as head of US Central Command, met President Rahmanov in Dushanbe. The US has agreed to upgrade Dushanbe airport so that it can serve military as well as civilian needs, upgrade other airfields and give extensive training to Tajik forces.
Security programmes form only one aspect of US assistance to Tajikistan. In all some US$100million is being extended by the US to the country. Once a bastion of Russia's presence in Central Asia, Tajikistan is now clearly under the wing of Washington.
Tajikistan forecasts bigger wheat harvest
Tajik Deputy Ministry of Agriculture, Ikhtiyer Ashurov, said the country predicts a harvest of 640,000 tonnes of wheat and 610,00 tonnes of raw cotton for 2003, respectively 14.1 per cent and 18.4 per cent higher than in 2002, according to Interfax News Agency.
"Some 800,000 tonnes of grain will be harvested this year, including 640,00 tonnes of wheat. We hope to harvest 610,00 tonnes of cotton as planned, though we had to resow cotton on 25 per cent of the areas planted," Ashurov was quoted as saying.
Independent Tajik media group asks for government support for local media
The National Association of Independent Media of Tajikistan (Nansmit) has sent a letter to Tajik Prime Minister, Oqil Oqilov, and to the chairman of the lower house of parliament, Sadullo Khairulloev, asking for tax exemptions for the media for a 10-year period and for revisions of the tax and customs laws to encourage the development of the Tajik media, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 13 August.
The journalists' letter noted that the heads of 29 newspapers and journalists' groups sent the same appeal to President Rakhmonov in April, but there has been no response. The journalists pointed out that Tajikistan's poor economic situation, undeveloped advertising sector, and the lack of quality printing facilities are causing severe financial problems for the domestic media, and these are compounded by current tax and customs laws.
Tajikistan links Russian military base issue to its debt
Russian Deputy Defence Minister Gen Nikolay Kormiltsev told ITAR-TASS News Agency on 8th August that the question of reorganization of the 201st Tajik-based Russian motor-rifle division into a Russian military base in Tajikistan remained open because of the unacceptable position of the Tajik leadership.
The Tajik side put up several demanding conditions to Russia at the recent talks in Dushanbe late in July, Gen Kormiltsev, who is also commander-in-chief of the Russian land troops, went on to say. He explained that Tajikistan demanded that Russia write off the multi-million dollar Tajik debt in exchange for permission to set up the base. The Tajik side also linked the operation of the fibre optical complex of the Russian Space Troops in the city of Nurek to a positive solution of the Tajik debt problem.
"It is natural that the Russian military delegation couldn't accept that position because it harms Russian interests. Therefore, the base issue wasn't solved," Kormiltsev emphasized.
To overcome the stalemate, the Russian side suggested forming an inter-agency bilateral commission that will comprise the officials of the Russian and Tajik Defence and Finance Ministries, as well as representatives of other agencies.
Kormiltsev said that the commission could search for ways of finding mutually acceptable solutions on a regular basis.
Development university for Central Asia taking shape
In a unique international initiative, the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) is creating the University of Central Asia (UCA) with campuses in the three Central Asian countries of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakstan, IRIN News Agency reported recently. This will be the first private, internationally chartered university offering subjects related to sustainable development in these impoverished mountain societies.
"Education is a key to successful development in all the world's low-income countries," Nasir Virani, the UCA's business manager, told IRIN in Khorough, the capital of Tajikistan's eastern Badakhshoni Kuhi Province.
"In five to seven years time this whole place will be transformed," he said, pointing to green fields and houses, which will be turned into one of the campuses of the UCA.
The University of Central Asia is the world's first institution of higher education dedicated to the eradication of poverty in the vast regions of Central Asia and beyond.
UCA was established by an international treaty between Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the Shi'ah Ismaili Muslims, in August 2000. The act has been ratified by the legislatures of each of the founding countries, and the institution has an initial endowment of US$15 million granted by the Aga Khan.
Besides the UCA's campus in Khorough, two additional campuses will be located respectively in Naryn in southern Kyrgyzstan at the heart of the Tien Shan mountains, and the town of Tekeli in the Taldykorgan area of southeastern Kazakhstan west of the Khrebet Dzhungarskiy Alatau mountain range bordering on China.
Initially, the University of Central Asia would serve some 25 million people, but over the long term, as the number of participating countries increases, UCA programmes would be extended into Afghanistan, China, India, Iran, Nepal, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
"The university will be private and independent, secular, coeducational, and will support pluralism while maintaining the highest international standards," Virani said. It would have a means-blind admission policy; entrance would be merit-based and irrespective of a student's background.
Lessons at UCA's Division of Continuing Education and Training have already started with some 4,000 beneficiaries trained in short-term intensive skill-development courses commencing 2002 in Khorough and surrounding districts. In coming years, the university will offer a master's programme in mountain-development studies.
In addition, a four-year undergraduate degree in liberal arts and sciences will consist of a well-rounded and interdisciplinary training in the humanities, social studies, management and natural sciences and engineering. "We want to create future leaders," Virani said.
Working in the field of social and economic development, as well as that of cultural preservation and promotion, the AKDN - a contemporary endeavour of the Ismaili Imamat, represented by the Aga Khan - brings together a number of agencies, institutions and programmes, that reflect and respond to the complexity - present and future - of the development process. To date, the AKDN has mobilised over US$150 million, primarily for development initiatives in the high mountain zones of Central Asia.
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