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Tajikistan - Foreign Relations

Some of Tajikistan's difficulties are geographic. Tajikistan is located at a crossroads of major world civilizations -- Russia, Turkey, Iran, India-Pakistan, and China--and has been influenced by each. Russia, China and India share an interest in restraining Islamic fundamentalism, while Iran and Pakistan vie to reinforce Tajikistan's Islamic identity. Russia and Tajikistan's fellow Central Asian neighbors--Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan--have been concerned about drug and gun running across the borders as well as Islamic fundamentalism, and have mostly supported Tajikistan's secular regime. Russia has been concerned to safeguard the 90,000 ethnic Russians still residing in Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, to safeguard the 1.5 million ethnic Uzbeks residing there. Discrimination against ethnic Russians in Tajikistan has increased and fuels a continuing exodus.

Tajikistan's neighbors in the region, in particular Uzbekistan and the Russian Federation, maintain great influence over the course of internal Tajik politics, and neither state has behaved as if it considered Tajikistan a genuinely sovereign and independent country. Due to the geography of the region and the whims of Soviet planners, Tajikistan is largely at the mercy of Uzbekistan for all overland and rail transport. Tajikistan has moved to reduce its energy dependency on Uzbekistan by signing a tripartite agreement on trade, economic, and cultural relations with Turkmenistan and Iran. Turkmenistan provides Tajikistan with reduced cost fuel and natural gas as part of the agreement.

Because of its isolated location, Tajikistan continues to rely chiefly on economic, military, and political support from Russia. In turn, Russia has used Tajikistan as a foothold in Central Asia. In 2005 Tajikistan owed Russia about US$300 million, and remittances from Tajik migrant workers in Russia were an important source of national income. With Russiaís approval, Tajikistan offered the United States use of air bases in the anti-Taliban campaign in Afghanistan in 2001Ė2.

President Emomali Rahmonov's attempt to pursue a Tajjk version of multi-directional ["open-door"] foreign policy isn't very far-sighted. In terms of its economic, demographic, intellectual, defensive, and other resources, Tajikistan is nowhere near equal to Kazakhstan. It's a much more vulnerable and less self-sufficient state. In the final analysis, Tajikistan owes its existence - within its current borders and with its current political elites - entirely to Russia.

Russian interference looms large in the Tajik consciousness. The Russians control one major hydropower dam in Tajikistan, a source of disagreements between the two countries. The Tajiks seek alternative partners, including the United States, China, and Iran, to balance Russian influence. Tajikistan had no external outlet to bypass Russian authority; Tajikistan was the last Central Asian state to join Partnership for Peace, on 20 February 2002, nearlly a decade after the other four states joined. It differs from Kyrgyzstan in that Russian forces are stationed in Tajikistan rather than individual officers on a contractual basis. Therefore, ethnicity issues relate less to inter-ethnic tensions within the Tajik Army, than inter-ethnic tensions of Tajiks serving with foreign forces on its soil or between Tajik forces and Central Asian neighbors sending forces to defend it.

Relations with neighboring Uzbekistan remain problematic. Much of present-day Sughd province was transferred from the Uzbek SSR to the newly formed Tajik SSR in 1929. Ethnic Uzbeks form a substantial minority in Tajikistan. Tajikistan's relations with Uzbekistan present a contradictory picture. On the one hand, Tajik intellectuals, and at times the Dushanbe government, have criticized Uzbekistan for discrimination against its Tajik minority. In response, citing fears of Islamic radicalism in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan closed its Tajik-language schools in mid-1992. On the other hand, antireformists in both republics have maintained good relations based on the interest they shared in the defeat of reformers in Tajikistan in the early 1990s. Uzbekistan gave military support to the factions that won Tajikistan's civil war and closed its border with Tajikistan in the fall of 1992 to prevent opposition refugees from the civil war from fleeing to Uzbekistan.

After the civil war, Uzbekistan's attitude toward Tajikistan became increasingly ambivalent. One aspect of Uzbekistan's policy continued its earlier effort to prevent the opposition from taking power in Tajikistan; a 1993 cooperation treaty between the two countries, stipulating a role for Uzbekistan's air force in the defense of Tajikistan--which has no air force of its own--manifested that concern. However, the government in Tashkent was increasingly displeased that the dominant factions among the victors in Tajikistan's civil war were much less amenable to Uzbekistan's leadership than were the factions that had controlled Tajikistani politics before the war. By 1995 the Uzbekistani government was urging the government in Dushanbe to be more conciliatory toward the opposition in postwar peace talks.

Key bilateral issues include the ostensible presence of terrorist groups in Tajikistan, Uzbekistanís mining of the common border, and disputed allocation of Tajikistanís water resources. Chronic problems with Uzbekistan, fueled by personal animosity between the presidents of each country, has stymied Tajikistan's trade, energy self-sufficiency, and economic development. Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have had chronically bad relations. Tajikistan has a difficult relationship with Uzbekistan, which is concerned about Tajikistan's plans to develop hydropower, which Uzbekistan views as a threat to downstream irrigation.

Border disagreements arise sporadically between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and the Kyrgyz Republic. For the most part these are minor disagreements concerning people moving across mostly unmarked borders, but occasionally disputes develop into situations where gunfire is exchanged. For the most part relations are strained but peaceful.

In the 1980s, a dispute over the two scarce resources in Central Asia, water and arable land, soured relations between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. In June 1989, the situation burst into spontaneous, grassroots violence over competing claims to a small parcel of land. That conflict led to mutual recriminations that continued until a settlement was reached in 1993. Tensions were heightened in 1992 by Kyrgyzstan's fear that the Tajikistani civil war would spill over the border, which had never been defined by a bilateral treaty. Despite tense relations between the two republics, Kyrgyzstan attempted to negotiate an end to Tajikistan's civil war, and it sent medicine and other aid to its beleaguered neighbor. After the civil war, Kyrgyzstan sent a contingent of troops to Tajikistan as part of the joint CIS peacekeeping mission.

Afghan instability is a malign influence: traffic in drugs undermines rule of law in Tajikistan, Tajiks fear the spread of extremist ideas from Afghanistan, and militants in Afghanistan can threaten Tajik security across the long, porous border. Afghanistan continues to represent the primary security concern in Tajikistan's immediate neighborhood, although 2010 violence in Kyrgyzstan caused concern. With the ouster of the former Taliban government from Afghanistan, Tajikistan now has much friendlier relations with its neighbor to the south. The Taliban-allied Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), a U.S. Government-declared terrorist organization formerly active in Afghanistan and Tajikistan, has also been greatly diminished as a threat to Tajikistan's domestic stability. Rampant illicit trafficking of Afghan opium and heroin through Tajikistan remains a serious long-term threat to Tajikistan's stability and development, fostering corruption, violent crime, and economic distortions.

The official language of Tajikistan is Tajik, a dialect of Persian similar to Farsi and Dari. Iran funds tunnel and hydropower projects, but displays of Persian solidarity do not mask deep suspicions between the hard-drinking, Soviet-reared, Sunni elite in Dushanbe and religiously conservative Shiites in Tehran. Tajikistan has been drawn closer to Iran out of economic necessity, and because of Uzbekistan's relationship with Russia. Iran was an active participant in the inter-Tajik dialogue and made considerable efforts in the 1990s to pacify the warring parties. Iran was a key facilitator of the 1997 accord ending Tajikistanís civil war.

In 1998, Tehran gave support to Rahmon when Tajik Army Colonel Mahmud Khudoyberdyyev announced his insubordination to Rahmon and declared the Sogdiysk region of the republic to be a zone of his own interests, seizing power in the region. It was specifically Tehran that came to Rahmonís aid, sending the necessary arms and munitions to the national army. Tajikistan was the only CIS country that had military ties with Iran. The IRI gave loans to the Tajik army for material needs: Purchase of military uniforms, means of communication, ammunition for rifles, and creation of joint enterprises for sewing military uniforms in Tajikistan. Iran, the traditional rival of Russia for influence in Tajikistan, has funded major projects such as the completion of the Sangtuda hydroelectric power plant.

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Page last modified: 06-06-2021 18:21:40 ZULU