If their country is to have a future, Tajikistan's regional powers must
work together to repair an economy devastated by war and natural

By Rashid Abdullo in Dushanbe

Five years after the end of Tajikistan's bloody civil war, there are
concerns that the country's fragile peace could be shattered by the
pitiful state of the economy.

According to the UN, more than 80 per cent of the population lives 
below the poverty line. The minimum wage is around five som - two US dollars 
- a month, while the monthly cost of basic consumer goods for the average
household is ten times this figure.

"The biggest threat to stability in Tajikistan is its economic state," 
Ivo Petrov, special representative of the UN General Secretary in 
Tajikistan, told IWPR.

It is a crisis that has been more than ten years in the making. 
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Tajikistan was left without
subsidies, estimated to account for as much as 40 per cent of the gross
domestic product, GDP, by the end of the Eighties.

Still reeling from that body blow, the newly independent republic
experienced a sharp drop in production as traditional markets for Tajik
goods dried up.

Tajikistan was then rocked by a civil war which claimed tens of 
thousands of lives, drove half a million Tajiks from their homeland and left more
than 60,000 children orphaned.

Entire villages were burned down and many farms destroyed, while 
military checkpoints were erected by opposing sides, effectively cutting 
economic ties between different regions and hastening the area's decline. The 
full cost of the civil war is calculated at seven billion dollars - an 
enormous sum for a country with a population of just 6.5 million.

The cycle of disaster is not yet over. Three years of drought followed 
by flooding have caused tremendous damage to the land, particularly in the
Hatlon Oblast in the south of the country.

In an address to parliament this spring, Tajikistan president Emomali
Rakhmonov estimated the total cost of the drought to be 800 million US
dollars - several times the country's annual budget.

Academic Talbak Nazarov stresses that although the GDP has jumped from 
1.7 per cent in 1997 to 10.2 per cent in 2001, it is still less than half 
the size it was when the country announced its independence.

In 2000, the GDP was only 41 per cent of its 1991 figure, with 
industrial production running at 42 per cent and agriculture at 73 per cent. 
However, manufacturing output has since fallen and now stands at only 18 per 
cent of its level in the early Nineties.

Unemployment remains a huge problem. While government statistics claim
that only six per cent of the population is out of work, this covers 
only the registered jobless and experts suggest the real figure could be as
high as 60 per cent. Every spring, around one million Tajiks are driven
abroad to find seasonal work in Russia and other CIS states. A large
number leave their homeland altogether.

The situation shows no sign of improving, and is worsened by a yawning 
gap in status between different regions. Although the south of the country
currently wields the bulk of the political power, it is nowhere near as
developed as the north.

The history of the area reveals that Tajikistan's northern areas were
absorbed into the Russian Empire in the second half of the 19th 
century, at a time when its economy was booming, and as a result became 
prosperous and highly developed. In contrast, the southern and eastern provinces
remained the most backward part of the emirate of Bukhara.

During the Soviet era, serious steps were taken to improve the southern
regions. Modern agriculture was introduced and a relatively good industrial base
developed. Improved living conditions led to a sharp increase in population.

But the growing significance of the south was not reflected in the
corridors of power, where representatives of the northern regions still
held sway.

The first to challenge that power were Islamic groups in the east. When
the Soviet Union disintegrated, these factions took advantage of the
confusion and threw down the gauntlet to a north now stripped of the
support of its traditional ally Moscow.

This prompted southern groups - who opposed the idea of creating an
Islamic state in Tajikistan - to make their bid for power.

The struggle then exploded into a full-scale civil war that affected 
all regions except the north, which escaped the fighting as it is cut off 
from the rest Tajikistan by mountain ranges.

Even as the conflict brought the southern political elite to power in
Tajikistan, the north was maintaining its economic dominance, and that
situation has remained largely unchanged. In the past few years, only 
one of Tajikistan's four regions, the northern Sogd Oblast, has balanced 
its books.

Analysts fear that this imbalance could result in a civil war every bit 
as serious as the last. They agree that to protect its hard-won peace and
avoid new internal conflicts, Tajikistan must reverse the economic 
decline of the south and allow the northern regions a bigger say in the
decision-making process. The south's political elite must also develop 
a national rather than local mindset.

"Despite the peace, a range of critical economic, socio-political and
humanitarian issues must be solved in the interests of strengthening
stability in Tajikistan," Ibrohim Usmon, international issues adviser 
to the president, told IWPR.

While the process will be neither swift nor easy, the country's 
regional powers will have to enter into dialogue, embrace compromise and learn 
the lessons of the past. Tajikistan's future will depend on it.

Rashid Abdullo is a political scientist in Dushanbe


Back To Islam Awareness Homepage

Latest News about Islam and Muslims

Contact IslamAwareness@gmail.com for further information