Report 51 / Europe & Central Asia

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.

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Executive Summary

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.

Osh/Brussels, 24 April 2003

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