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  Tajikistan: An Uncertain Peace

Osh/Brussels, 24 December 2001: Of all the Central Asian states, Tajikistan remains the most vulnerable. Its leaders now face an important choice: either they embark on a path of economic reform and democratisation, or run the risk of bringing the country to the brink of economic and subsequent political collapse. The war in Afghanistan is a threat to stability in Tajikistan but also provides a window of opportunity, as international aid to the region is likely to increase. The challenge will be to spend the money wisely and not simply widen the gulf between the wealthy ruling elite and the rest of the population.

A new ICG report, Tajikistan: An Uncertain Peace, says optimism in the country has faded since a peace agreement in 1997 ended a long and devastating civil war. Drugs, refugees and the conflict in Afghanistan are ongoing concerns while the political system is fragile and prone to violence. The fear of renewed hostilities and the presence of Russian troops are stabilising factors, but domestic and external factors have the potential to inflame violence again.

Tajikistan faces four major challenges: constructing a viable political system and functioning state; combating criminal groups, militant gangs and drugs trafficking; reversing economic decline; and establishing good relations with often fractious neighbours.

After the 1997 peace agreement, Islamist opposition parties were included in the government, but President Imomali Rakhmonov has undermined this historic compromise by recruiting mainly from his own area, and maintaining tight control of the parliament and media. Parts of the country still remain under the control of field commanders who refused to accept the 1997 agreement, and armed gangs terrorise civilians with looting and hostage taking.

Civil war destroyed much of Tajikistan’s infrastructure. Russia’s 1998 economic crisis and four years of drought have compounded the decline. Corruption is widespread and up to half the economy is linked to the drugs trade. Eighty per cent of the population lives in poverty.

Until 2000, Tajikistan was the base for the Islamist Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) which wants to overthrow the Uzbek government. The IMU moved to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban in 2000 and several thousand fighters are estimated to have died, but those that return could pose a threat to Tajik security and to Tajik-Uzbek relations.

Ending uncertainty means including former opposition figures in government, ending censorship and selective political prosecution, ensuring transparent elections, tackling corruption and ending harassment of Muslims. Uzbekistan should reopen transport links to Tajikistan and remove mines from the border, while the international community can assist with comprehensive aid programs on poverty, drug addiction, infrastructure and media. To reduce losses through corruption, aid should be channelled through NGOs and traditional structures rather than the government.

Media contacts: Katy Cronin or Sascha Pichler at ICG Brussels, +32-2-536 00 64 or 70, [email protected]


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