Key Challenges For Tajikistan’s Political Future

Tajikistan

Tajikistan is an extremely diverse country in Central Asia bounded by China, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. It is noted for its mountainous, arid climate characterized by long and dreary summers and harsh, cold winters. The Fann Mountains, situated near the urban center Dushanbe, rise above 5,500 meters. The range encompasses the mighty Iskanderkulsky Nature Reserve, a prominent bird sanctuary, called for by the name of Iskanderkul. Tajikistan has an estimated total population of about 3.5 million people, of whom nearly half are female. There are three major language groups: Tajik, Pashto and Turkmen.

Tajikistan’s economy is based on heavy dependence on oil and gas exports. Besides agriculture, the country exports wheat, cotton, cork, turkeys, goats, berries, citrus fruits and fish. Tajikistan obtains most of its oil requirements from Iran and Russia. It has significant diplomatic and trade relations with all its neighboring countries, especially with China, although the two sides have yet to sign a general trade agreement.

The central government is weak and is often susceptible to coups. The de facto head of state is the elected prime minister, who rules from a consultative constitutional position. The unity of the government, however, belies a lack of fundamental stability and factionalism in the country, as evidenced by the recent history of the presidential administration and national security forces.

The 2021 elections brought an end to years of political division and gave way to a consultative constitutional system, which now controls the executive branch and the armed forces. A new constitution for a constitutional Monarchy was drafted following the elections, but it remains in flux as it is not approved by a majority of citizens. Political factions continue to clash over control of the National Assembly and various regions within the country. Sectarianism has also exacerbated existing regional tensions between Tajikistan and neighbouring countries.

Tajikistan is in transition from a centralized autocratic state to a more participative constitutional order. Tajik citizens continue to demand greater political participation, and the ability to affect change through free and fair elections. Human rights abuses committed during the past decade by the security forces still persist, with reports of summary execution and extrajudicial execution. The transitional authorities have taken limited steps to investigate credible allegations of systematic abuses and to hold those accountable who are responsible.

The transitional government has limited control over the media, and freedom of expression remains severely limited. Tajikistan’s international community, and specifically the United States and European Union, have expressed concern about continuing human rights abuses and political violence and called on the country to address the problems through transparent and inclusive accountability measures. The EU Commissioner for human rights Christoccan Markevort said that, “Tajikistan needs to protect its human rights and increase its protection capacity [not to mention its] inelastic foreign exchange rate, as the deterioration of the country’s stability and economy continues.”

Tajikistan’s external security environment is largely unbalanced due to the presence of a number of unstable or violent neighbors. A weak and divided security force, lacking professionalism and cohesion, is unable to effectively counter Tajik guerillas, terrorists, and armed groups associated with Islamic radicalism. There are reports that Tajikistan’s army is also fighting a rebellious army in the north of the country. Insurgent groups have been fighting for control of Kunduz and Azadabad, two important cities in northeast Pakistan that border Tajikistan. The Pakistani Army is reportedly assisting the Afghan army in recapturing Kunduz.

In addition to lacking professionalism, the lack of political will to address major human rights issues, sustained poverty, limited development resources, and poor infrastructure are contributing to the deterioration of Tajikistan’s human rights situation. The government has been reluctant to implement meaningful political reforms or legal frameworks, and retains the control of a fragile and disorganized political system. The current government has limited ability to improve the rule of law and to guarantee fundamental human rights. Prominent members of the opposition, including several members of the lower house of Parliament, were brutally crushed during the 1992 elections. There are increasing worries that these same institutions may be violently suppressed in the future.