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Tajikistan: A Roadmap for Development


Tajikistan's experience in ending a brutal civil war and integrating opposition factions into government has won deserved praise. Major advances have been made in security around the country, and stability has improved significantly over the past two years. Yet the economic situation remains dire; Tajikistan is one of the twenty poorest countries in the world. Widespread poverty continues to fuel a major drug-trafficking business and provides potential breeding grounds for Islamist militant or other extremist groups. There is a serious need to use development assistance to build a viable state in this geopolitically vital part of Central Asia.

The development community should focus on priority areas and work together to ensure real impact from limited resources. Traditional areas such as improving agriculture; boosting the business environment; rescuing health and education systems; knitting the country together with new infrastructure and communications; and combating the drugs trade, should be high on the development agenda. But above all, the government and the international community need to take some realistic steps to improve governance, and in particular tackle corruption, which is undermining all initiatives to improve living standards and stability.

The West made serious commitments on state-building and development not only to Afghanistan, but also to the surrounding states, and it is critical that it fulfils them. Aid to Tajikistan has increased since the military campaign in neighbouring Afghanistan but much of it is uncoordinated, and few organisations have a long-term strategy.

The economic situation is dire. The average monthly salary is less than U.S.$7 per month, and unemployment is estimated to be over 30 per cent. At least 30 per cent of children are chronically malnourished, and infant mortality rates have increased. The education system is in disarray, threatening to undermine the high levels of literacy enjoyed during Soviet times. Roads are often impassable during the winter, separating the disparate regions and isolating the country from the outside world. Boosting the economy requires diversification away from reliance on two major export commodities: aluminium and cotton.

Diversification and more equitable land reform could quickly increase food production and gradually eliminate the dependency of almost one million people on international food aid. Shifting attention from Soviet-style industrial projects to small and medium-sized business would also begin to have a real impact on living standards. But this needs an end to government intrusion and better access to credit and advice for entrepreneurs.

Better land reform and improving the business environment are political issues which require political responses. Tajikistan's difficult political trajectory since independence has produced an often dysfunctional state sector, with inadequate governance mechanisms, high levels of corruption, limited rule of law, and insufficiently competent and experienced personnel. Tackling governance issues will be a major, long-term effort, but unless there is a guiding strategic concept, many international and government development initiatives will simply be wasted.

Human development issues, notably health and education, need urgent attention. A resurgence of once-forgotten poverty-induced epidemics such as typhoid is a dangerous sign of a health service in crisis. School attendance, particularly by girls, has dropped sharply. Tajikistan threatens to become one of the few countries where children will lag far behind their parents in education.

Basic issues of infrastructure and communications also require serious attention. The country's geography encourages regionalism and ensures that some regions remain difficult for government agencies to govern. Renewed transport and communications infrastructure should be a central part of initiatives to boost internal trade and link Tajikistan into regional initiatives.

Finally drugs need to be approached as a development problem as much as a security issue, with a new focus on employment and alternative agricultural and business opportunities at all levels. Particular attention must be given to the border areas with Afghanistan.

The government and the international community must pool their resources and consult closely on their application if they are to achieve meaningful progress on such a broad front. The Consultative Group meeting in Dushanbe in May 2003 would be an opportune moment to strengthen this coordination and in particular to integrate good governance priorities into development programs.

There is a strong international interest that Tajikistan avoid the fate of Afghanistan. Ignoring its very real problems would likely engender the conditions in which international terrorism and organised criminality thrive. However, many in the government are open to new ideas and committed to moving the country away from its past reputation as a base for Islamist militant groups and a transit station for drugs. Given the right mixture of government policy and international assistance, a positive shift is feasible.


To the government of Tajikistan:

Food Security

1. Improve food security by pushing ahead with land reform programs, adopting measures to ensure greater access of the poor to land and more freedom for farmers to diversify crops, and encouraging agri-business initiatives and rural enterprise programs.

Small and Medium Sized Enterprises

2. Improve the business environment by introducing low, flat taxes on small business, simplifying regulations, and restricting government interference.

3. Break up state monopolies in areas such as tourism and transport and take down barriers such as visa and travel restrictions.

Good governance

4. Seek a gradual move towards more public participation in political life, beginning with:

(a) elections at local level under the forthcoming law on local government;

(b) more opportunity for parliament and local councils to contribute to policy consideration and review;

(c) more freedom for journalists to report and ministers to inform the public on policy; and

(d) improved access to information at all levels by developing an independent statistical agency, mandated to provide public information, and encouraging much more extensive government contacts with media.

5. Make government ministries and bodies more effective by defining their functions more clearly and introducing mechanisms to ensure they coordinate with each other.

6. Train local and government officials in all aspects of law making and regulation writing.

7. Accelerate real judicial reform and improvements in law enforcement.

8. Initiate civil service reform by introducing a standardised examination for new entrants and increasing salaries for those already in the civil service who pass such a test.

9. Begin a multifaceted campaign against corruption, including:

(a) higher salaries for key officials, matched by reductions in the size of the civil service;

(b) establishment of an independent anti-corruption commission, with international involvement and a mandate to conduct transparent investigations and prosecutions;

(c) development of an environment in which journalists can report on corruption without fear of retribution.


10. Develop a national plan that aims at reversing the decline of the educational system, in particular the tendency of girls to drop out of the system prematurely, and at attracting corresponding donor support.


11. Continue with plans to introduce a mixture of standardised pricing for medical services and increased support for vulnerable groups, in consultation with international donors.

12. Improve public awareness of major diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV/AIDS and develop and implement a comprehensive policy to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

To international financial institutions and bilateral donors:

13. Condition any measure to write off or restructure part of Tajikistan's foreign debt to new government initiatives with respect to corruption and improved governance at all levels.

14. Focus on boosting agricultural production outside the cotton sector through legal support for farmers; technical assistance in land reform; support for crop diversification; and assistance to farmers in building up NGOs and credit and marketing associations.

15. Support programs that help SMEs, particularly those that combine credit lines, legal advice and advocacy; support lower, more simplified tax systems, and more limited regulations, and provide training for government officials on the importance of the SME sector for the economy.

16. Work with the government to produce a national action plan for education, and commit to financing such a plan, which should include strict monitoring of funds and more community involvement in their expenditure, and higher teachers' salaries.

17. Develop with the government crop-replacement programs and other forms of income-generation to supplant the drug-trade and foster long-term economic growth in high-transit regions.

18. Review infrastructure and communications programs (EU TRACECA, UNDP Silk Road) and develop a new approach that:

(a) emphasises agreement among the countries of the region to meet and apply common customs and border procedures;

(b) focuses on improving those roads that are most important to state-building because their development will do most to create new opportunities for the poorest areas of the country to participate more extensively in regional trade; and

(c) links all infrastructure funding to monitored commitments to remove unnecessary barriers to trade and movement on such routes.

To the government of Russia:

19. Protect the rights of migrants working in Russia from harassment and abuse, including by simplifying registration procedures and reducing their costs, thereby encouraging more compliance with Russian laws by employers; make it easier for migrant workers to obtain residence permits and other official documents so that they can enter and be subject to the benefits and obligations of the formal economy.

20. Recognise that tackling drugs involves more than interdiction and provide political and logistical support for income-substitution projects in high-transit areas.

Osh/Brussels, 24 April 2003


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