Bordering Afghanistan and China, Tajikistan is the poorest nation of the region. Much income comes from men working in Russia but food and fuel are still donated by aid agencies. Inflation was terrible but since 2001 has steadied. Children under nine years old make up nearly one-third of the population. Even so, Tajikistan has the second highest infant mortality rate in the world with 109 infant deaths for every 1000 births.
Parnership for Peace
Since independence in 1991, Tajikistan has had three changes of government. The country has suffered from ongoing civil conflict with political, regional and clan-based aggression. Peace was brokered in 1997 and since then things have been steadily improving. Now Dushanbe (the capital) is even more active than Tashkent, happily, with new stores, restauraunts, and factories opening right and left. Tajikistan is in the early stages of seeking World Trade Organization membership and has joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace. Still, 60% of the population continue to live in abject poverty.
Shaken, Not Stirred
The Tajiks are descendants from the Persians and are closely linked with the neighbouring Uzbeks. Tajikistan is a landlocked, mountainous country with more than half of the land area above 3,000 metres with frequent strong earthquakes. The country is a landlocked, mountainous region dominated The Trans-Alay mountain Range in the north and the Pamirs in the southeast are the dominant mountains with the highest point being Qullai Ismoili Somoni (formerly Communism Peak) – the tallest mountain in the former USSR.
Daily life in Tajikistan
Tajikistan has the lowest per capita GDP among the 15 former Soviet republics. Only 5% to 6% of the land area is arable. Cotton is the most important crop. Mineral resources, varied but limited in amount, include silver, gold, uranium, and tungsten. Industry consists only of a large aluminum plant, hydropower facilities, and small obsolete factories mostly in light industry and food processing. The civil war) severely damaged the already weak economic infrastructure and caused a sharp decline in industrial and agricultural production. Tajikistan’s economic situation remains fragile due to uneven implementation of structural reforms, weak governance, widespread unemployment, and the external debt burden. A debt restructuring agreement was reached with Russia in December 2002, including an interest rate of 4%, a 3-year grace period, and a US $49.8 million credit to the Central Bank of Tajikistan.
Most Tajiks live in small villages known as “qishlaqs” surrounded by orchards and vineyards of apples, apricots, melons and mulberries. Qishlaqs consist of 200 to 700 one-family mud or stone houses built along the banks of a river or canal. The population is broken down into: Tajik 64.9%, Uzbek 25%, Russian 3.5% (declining because of emigration), other 6.6%.
The Drug Routes
Tajikistan is a major transit country for Afghan narcotics bound for Russian and, to a lesser extent, Western European markets; limited illicit cultivation of opium poppy for domestic consumption; Tajikistan seizes roughly 80 percent of all drugs captured in Central Asia and stands third world-wide in seizures of opiates (heroin and raw opium).
Most Tajiks are Sunni Muslims (85%) with small Shi’ite Muslim communities in the more remote regions (5%). Although there are a few orthodox churches in the main cities there is only a handful of Christians in the country. There are several Christian aid agencies involved in medical work.