OSH, Kyrgyzstan (TCA) — Early in September, Tajikistan will mark a quarter-century of independence that followed the implosion of the USSR in 1991. Regretfully, Tajikistan represents the most dramatic case, having suffered from an all-out civil war following independence that lasted for most of the decade, and wounds from it still unhealed. The country’s economy is picking up between security problems and internal opposition.
Unrest took to the open in early 1990. “Demonstrations against government housing policy took place across the country, and ended in a violent clash in Dushanbe. Soviet army units sent to quell the riots inflicted casualties on demonstrators and bystanders alike. Using the riots as a pretext to repress political dissent, the regime imposed a state of emergency that lasted long after the riots had ended,” one review published later by an NGO called Global Security was to read.
The first President and the warlord rule
Tajikistan’s first elected President after people had voted at gunpoint was Rahmon Nabiyev, that used his private militia to stage a coup in Dushanbe, occupying the presidential palace and declaring himself interim head of state. In reality, even the faintest shadow of democracy in Tajikistan never stood a chance.
In Tajikistan, armed groups operating from various parts of the country were a common situation. Apart from the Taliban, who were emerging in southern Afghanistan but was already building up its fifth column in Tajikistan, one of the strongest factions were the forces of Emomali Rahmonov (now Rahmon), operating from the southwestern Tajik province of Kulyab and steadily advancing on Dushanbe. By spring 1992, a civil war was already in full swing.
Civil war ceasefire and peace
Over summer, Nabiyev was briefly ousted, and his militia’s attempt to occupy the government buildings and other key positions in the centre of Dushanbe ended in a stalemate, until December when Rahmonov occupied the premises. In practice, the country was without any government. As for Nabiyev, he was to die in his home town Leninabad on April 11 the following year – a suicide according to some, a murder according to others, a heart attack according to the official explanation.
From there on, the civil war raged on, mainly between Rahmonov’s “neo-Soviets” and a weird coalition of “democratic reformists” and Islamic extremists. A ceasefire, mediated by UN envoys, was agreed upon simultaneously ending in a stalemate in which “government” forces held half a dozen cities in various parts of the country and “opposition” ones most of the rest. Only in summer 1997, a peace accord was signed between the parties after five years of all-out war had left over half a million dead and the country in tatters on all levels.
For the moment, one Russian and another Indian military base, as well as regular exercises by combined Tajik, Russian, Kazakh, Kyrgyz and (to lesser extents) Chinese troops, seem to keep Tajikistan at bay from hostile forces in nearby Afghanistan such as the Taliban, Daesh and Al-Quaeda.
Security, lately aggravated by Rahmon’s move to oust the “moderate Islamists” represented by the so-called Islamic Renaissance Party that used to be part of the post-war coalition government, keeps the economy stuck in underdevelopment and the industry in one of non-development.
The main problem is that state power and “opposition” by and large consists of figureheads who were up to their fat necks into the outbreak of the civil war, and people know it even though sideliners tend to ignore it. Crime and violence are rampant across the country. Moreover, the warlords who made the country into civil war to begin with are still fighting each other in underground wars, mainly over control of the annual multi-hundred-million income on drugs, arms and other smuggle, but the shadow of political aspirations keeps hanging over the struggle as well.
On the economic side, agriculture and manufacturing have been on the increase of late, but industrial output remains at hardly more than a quarter of Tajikistan’s GDP while the norm is four-fifth – meaning that three quarters of the population is scrambling to survive. Economic growth, now steadily in place, only took off towards the new century but not until 2012 Tajikistan’s gross domestic product exceeded its 1991 level. Economic and industrial output growth may well have been growing by 7 and 15 per cent on-year respectively over the last couple of years, but it can be observed that less than 10 per cent of the population benefits from it. Industrial activity accounts for less than a quarter of GDP, and an overwhelming part of the population scrambles to make ends meet. For a large part of the Tajik population, prosperity and public order are a remote dream, as long as there is no new generation ready to make a fresh start in sight.
The only resource that could “industrialise” the country is hydropower. Its prize, the giant Rogun dam, has been under construction since the mid-1980s. The project, which should add 3,600 megawatts to Tajikistan’s power generation capacity, with at least half of electricity generated meant for export, may bring in 2 to 3 billion in US dollar each year depending on sales conditions. Whether or not the construction of large-scale hydropower generation facilities, which in theory could bring in millions (in US dollar) from exports, could bring relief is not so sure. Overall Tajikistan suffers from an endemic lack of cash resources of its own, which does not necessarily mean that there can be no returns on external investments, but it does mean that such investments bear high levels of exposure to socioeconomic constraints.
This is the third article of a series reviewing the post-Soviet period in Central Asian republics. The second article (on Uzbekistan) can be read here