Nations in Transit
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Democracy Score(1 = best, 7 = worst)
National Democratic Governance(1 = best, 7 = worst)
Electoral Process(1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Society(1 = best, 7 = worst)
Independent Media(1 = best, 7 = worst)
Local Democratic Governance(1 = best, 7 = worst)
Judicial Framework and Independence(1 = best, 7 = worst)
Corruption(1 = best, 7 = worst)
A jolt was sent through Tajikistan's ruling elite in March 2005 when the once moderate and later autocratic leader of Tajikistan's northern neighbor, President Askar Akayev of Kyrgyzstan, was forced out of power shortly after the February 27, 2005, parliamentary elections, which were held concurrently with Tajikistan's parliamentary elections. This fear came despite the fact that the Tajik public appeared rather satisfied with its own political leadership, crediting President Imamali Rahmonov with having ended the civil war and instability (responsible for more than 50,000 deaths) via the 1997 peace accord with the armed Islamist-led United Tajik Opposition. Tajikistan's population loathes (if anything) political actions, such as the demonstrations that brought down Akayev's rule. Indeed, the events in Kyrgyzstan reminded many in Tajikistan of their own past, particularly the large-scale mobilizations following the country's declaration of independence in 1991 and the ensuing civil war and bloodshed. Yet despite any shortcomings of Tajikistan's present leadership and the pro-government People's Democratic Party (PDP), the public does not sufficiently trust the opposition, a series of parties with somewhat incoherent agendas and infighting. Nevertheless, in 2005 the government of President Rahmonov redoubled its efforts to suppress dissent by harassing opposition parties, closing major opposition papers, and arresting several key opposition figures (most notably the leader of the Democratic Party, Mahmadruzi Iskandarov). Not surprisingly, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) declared that Tajikistan's February 2005 elections did not meet "international standards for democratic elections." Owing to various obstacles imposed by the government on opposition activities during the campaign, the ruling PDP gained nearly all open seats of the lower house of Parliament, with the opposition Communist Party taking 4 seats and the Islamic Renaissance Party taking 2 out of a total of 63.
Tajikistan's political woes are due partially to the ruling elite's use of "patronage and consanguineal networks" like the Kulob ethnoregional clan, which constitutes a large segment of the current regime. As such, mahallagaroie, or subnational regionalism, continues to pose a danger to stability in Tajikistan. Furthermore, despite impressive rates of macroeconomic growth in recent years (average 9.6 percent per year during 2001-2005), poverty and increasing income inequality threaten human and national security. The National Bank of Tajikistan (central bank) reported that the average monthly wage for the first half of 2005 was 84 somonis (US$27). Additionally, the process of privatization and moving toward a market economy has not been smooth, with privatization of agricultural lands and former Socialist collective farms, for example, being neither equitable nor transparent. The cotton sector alone faces a critical crisis of accumulated debt approaching US$300 million. Still, though the country ranks at the bottom among post-Communist states in various indicators, including per capita income (estimated at US$325 per year), evidence suggests the overall rate of poverty is declining. Furthermore, two Russian conglomerates have announced their intention to invest as much as US$2 billion in the Tajik economy, mainly to build two large hydroelectricity plants and increase the capacity of aluminum production during the next six years. This will likely generate jobs and-some years hence when energy and aluminum production begins-economic benefits from the use and export of new sources of electricity.
Although in 2005 the international community contributed an estimated US$100 million to a variety of mostly socioeconomic assistance projects in Tajikistan, much of it channeled via local non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the government's new restrictions include a policy requiring international donors and organizations to report their connections and meeting agendas with Tajikistan's civil society entities. By the end of 2005, 2,500 NGOs were registered in Tajikistan, though a large majority existed only on paper and some others functioned mainly to obtain funds from Western donors. Yet in Tajikistan, as in many other Central Asian countries, societies pre-dated NGOs with the concept of the mahalla (neighborhood), an informal social organization active, among other places, in local teahouses, bazaars, and mosques. Some successful international NGOs, such as Oxfam-Great Britain and the Mountain Societies Development Support Program (an Aga Khan Foundation-funded agency) have successfully used the mahalla in their rural socioeconomic development projects in Tajikistan.
The judicial system remains highly problematic in that judges, prosecutors, and defense lawyers receive insufficient pay and are easily enticed by bribes and corruption. And despite a new law banning the death penalty, Tajikistan has not shown much progress in the area of human rights. Its treatment of prisoners does not satisfy international standards, and a 2005 UN report expresses concerns over "widespread use of ill-treatment and torture" to extract information from detained suspects. Concerns include the treatment of alleged members of the Hizb ut-Tahrir (Liberation Party) arrested in the past couple of years and accused by the government of intending to topple the regime. Furthermore, child labor in various sectors of the economy, especially agriculture, violates internationally ratified laws to protect children from unfair labor practices. On the issue of corruption, an opinion poll released in 2005 indicated that 56 percent of the urban public in Tajikistan perceived the government's efforts in fighting corruption as inadequate, while Transparency International ranked Tajikistan 144 among 158 countries, a slightly worse rating compared with that of the previous year. The export commodities of cotton and aluminum have been especially susceptible to corruption by various interest groups and rent-seeking entities. In addition, drug traffic from Afghanistan continues to also serve as a source of corruption and a threat to social and political development.
National Democratic Governance. Regional affiliations, patronage, and clan networks developed during the country's brutal civil war continue to play critical and negative roles in Tajikistan, hindering steps toward genuine pluralism and democratic governance. Furthermore, events that brought down the regime in Kyrgyzstan play on the minds of Tajikistan's leadership, prompting a somewhat heavy-handed approach toward opposition parties and the media. Given such recent measures, Tajikistan increasingly resembles a form of dictatorship. Yet the public appears genuinely supportive of President Rahmonov's government, mostly because of the relative peace and stability since the signing of the 1997 Moscow peace accord. Furthermore, despite impressive macroeconomic growth, income disparity continues to worsen and the country remains the poorest among the post-Communist states. Owing to lack of progress in bringing about genuine pluralism and distribution of power, the ongoing use of and heavy reliance on patronage networks by the ruling elite, and a heightened degree of heavy-handedness practiced against opposition groups and dissidents before and after the February 2005 parliamentary elections, Tajikistan's national democratic governance rating worsens from 6.00 to 6.25.
Electoral Process. Despite new laws and regulations meant to significantly improve fairness and transparency in the election process, in 2005 the government continued to erect obstacles for opposition political parties and candidates. And though the OSCE described the 2005 elections as an improvement over previous years, they still failed to meet "international standards for democratic elections." Not surprisingly, the pro-government PDP won a sweeping victory of parliamentary seats. Owing to the government's restriction on the activities of legal parties, preventing the free activity of opposition media and controlling the main media outlets in favor of its own candidates; its failure to register new political parties; harassing and detaining middle- and high-level opposition figures on likely trumped-up, exaggerated, or politically motivated charges and selective application of the law--all of which contributed to an unfair and intimidating election atmosphere--Tajikistan's rating for electoral process worsens from 6.00 to 6.25.
Civil Society. In 2005, the authorities increased efforts to monitor and at times restrict the activities of international organizations, especially domestic civil society entities or NGOs. The government became increasingly suspicious of Western-funded NGOs' involvement in the so-called "colored revolutions", the latest series of which led to regime change in Kyrgyzstan in March 2005. Weeks later, Tajikistan's Ministry of the Interior, which is in charge of registering civil society and monitoring their activities, ordered financial audits of various domestic groups and called for all international organizations and foreign embassies to inform the ministry in advance of meetings and topics of discussion with domestic NGOs, political parties, and local journalists. Yet civil society groups continue to be productive and critical for the well-being of the country's population. Given the new restrictions imposed by the Tajik Ministry of the Interior, especially regarding contact of international organizations with local NGOs, Tajikistan's rating for civil society deteriorates from 4.75 to 5.00.
Independent Media. The government has been exerting increasing pressure on the media and journalists it deems critical of the state's activities. In 2005, at least four opposition papers were forced to shut down, two television stations closed temporarily, and few new licenses, if any, were issued. Furthermore, for disseminating information and stories critical of the government, two journalists were given multiyear prison sentences under the guise of theft and disorderly conduct. Owing to an increase in government tactics of suppressing information and activities of journalists and media deemed critical of government policies and organs, Tajikistan's rating for independent media worsens from 6.00 to 6.25.
Local Democratic Governance. Despite the fact that the mahalla, or neighborhood, has for centuries acted as a de facto community council and the smallest body of governance (aside from the nuclear family) in Central Asian societies, the Tajik Constitution has failed to recognize this traditional social institution. The smallest local entities of governance are the jamoats, or local councils, which themselves are not structured democratically and lack sufficient revenue. Qualitative and anecdotal evidence suggests that the largest segment of Tajikistan's workforce, the agricultural sector and especially those (mostly women) working on cotton farms, does not make a living wage, that the cumulated farm debt neared US$300 million by the end of 2005, and that the sector lacks any significant level of local democratic governance. Local communities in Tajikistan are usually unable to choose their own leaders, and participation and decision making continue to be largely contingent on business and political connections, with most decisions made in a nontransparent manner. As such, Tajikistan's rating for local democratic governance remains at 5.75.
Judicial Framework and Independence. The executive branch of the government has excessive control and influence over the legislature and judiciary. Many of the 56 constitutional amendments passed in the June 2003 plebiscite exacerbated this problem by weakening the checks and balances necessary for a democratic society. That said, the government has made some progress in the judicial system in the past few years. To placate international criticism and mimic reforms made in Russia and other member countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), in May 2004 the Parliament passed a moratorium on the death penalty, which became law in February 2005. The government also passed a new anti-child labor law-though in practice child labor (especially in the cotton industry) continues-and an anti-human trafficking law, which allowed for the prosecution of some involved in luring women and girls into prostitution in foreign countries. Still, the judicial system remains largely unjust, corrupt, and reliant on assumption of guilt, with the state prosecutor having disproportionate power over the fate of the accused. Furthermore, torture and ill-treatment of detainees continue to be concerns, and despite some progress, the prison system remains generally decrepit, with (among other things) an estimated 16 percent of the prison population suffering from tuberculosis. There remain major shortcomings in the judicial system owing to lack of fairness of trials, disproportionate power of the prosecution, and the continuing ill-treatment of the detained. Given only minor improvements in the law and prison conditions, Tajikistan's rating for judicial framework and independence remains unchanged at 5.75.
Corruption. Tajikistan remains the poorest of the post-Communist states of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Despite impressive rates of macroeconomic growth, the majority of the population still lives below the poverty threshold. Furthermore, privatization, heavily encouraged by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, has been conducted in a mostly nontransparent fashion and primarily to the benefit of the elite. Corruption has thus been a function of both poverty and a lack of proper governance, including the government's inability to prevent financial malfeasance involving the country's major export commodities of cotton fiber and aluminum. Drug trade emanating from Afghanistan, though contributing indirectly to economic growth, has been a source of corruption and crime as well. Furthermore, the recent transfer of border guarding responsibilities from Russian-led troops to Tajik forces has proven problematic because of severe budgetary and technical shortages. Owing to the insufficient steps taken by the government to curb corruption, a problematic privatization process, and the ongoing drug trade, Tajikistan's rating for corruption remains at 6.25.
Outlook for 2006. The government will make a concerted effort to secure victory for President Rahmonov in the November 2006 presidential election. Given the harsh measures taken by authorities in 2005 against opposition parties and the media, and yet the public's overall approval of the president, Rahmonov's reelection (until 2013) is all but assured. That said, external factors, such as further political turmoil and instability in Uzbekistan, could lead to spillover effects in Tajikistan, thus negatively affecting Tajikistan's still fragile stability. Furthermore, the government will give in to international pressure in extending (though only partially) freedom of the press and the registration of at least one new moderate opposition party. And despite the expected and robust growth in the macroeconomy and a small but noticeable drop in the level of poverty, the gap between rich and poor will increase, a phenomenon that if not dealt with will prove destabilizing for Tajikistan in the long run. Among other things, the rural-urban divide will also widen, with cotton-growing regions enduring poverty, continued gender bias, labor exploitation, and nontransparent and corrupt land reform. Economic and political development in 2006 will depend on the government's ability to implement genuine reforms and to continue the peace-building and democratization efforts largely abandoned in the past few years.
The 1994 Constitution provides for a directly elected executive with broad authority to appoint and dismiss officials. Amendments to the Constitution adopted in 1999 further increased the powers of the president by extending his term in office from five to seven years and creating a bicameral Parliament. In 2003, a public plebiscite overwhelmingly approved 56 additional constitutional amendments, including a formal end to state guarantees for free education and health care and a controversial amendment allowing the president to stand for election in two seven-year terms. The government interpreted the latter to mean that the standing President Imamali Rahmonov can run for reelection twice, beginning in November 2006, thus potentially remaining in power until 2020.
In March 2005, Tajikistan's leadership was shaken by the ouster of Kyrgyzstan's president, Askar Akayev, through civil demonstrations resembling the post-Communist "colored revolutions" of Georgia (2003) and Ukraine (2004). The government's recent heavy-handed treatment of the political opposition can be viewed as a measure to discourage similar activities in Tajikistan, although the regime appears to have genuine support among the public. According to a 2004 survey by the U.S.-funded International Federation of Election Systems (IFES), the majority of the population credits President Rahmonov for the country's stability and economic growth following the brutal civil war of 1992-1997. The poll showed, among other things, relatively strong support for the president, with 58 percent of those surveyed choosing Rahmonov as the most trusted figure in the country. Indeed, the painful memories of the civil war, still fresh for many people, seem to have led to an antipathy toward chaos and violence and possibly an affinity toward what many would see as a benign dictatorship able to enforce law and order. Furthermore, despite widespread corruption of local officials and police and growing economic inequality, people see no alternative to Rahmonov; opposition parties lack solid platforms and agendas, are known for bickering, and appear unable to unite effectively against the rule of Rahmonov and the pro-government People's Democratic Party (PDP).
Tajikistan's major challenges stem largely from the sociocultural factors of traditional, clan-based societies, which came to the fore immediately after the country gained independence from the Soviet Union. President Rahmonov has used an informal policy of assigning important government posts to individuals from the southern Kulob region of the country, where he is from. Professor Kirill Nourzhanov of the Australian National University refers to this phenomenon as "patriarchal clan-based militias" based on "patronage and consanguineal networks." Indeed, the current government has its roots in the civil war that ensued when a coalition of warlords consolidated power shortly after Tajikistan's independence in 1992.
In addition, the 1997 Moscow peace accord introduced a new entity (with its own regional constituency from the Gharm and Pamir parts of Tajikistan): the political groups making up the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), dominated by the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP), now the only legal Islamist political party in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). The legalized opposition, along with existing government elite, have benefited from the land redistribution and privatization process, which accelerated after the peace accord. There are also allegations that the political elite has secured dominant rent-seeking positions, including involvement in drug trafficking and, to a lesser extent, benefited from international aid. Despite the fact that the 1997 peace accord required the government to assign 30 percent of top government posts to opposition figures, the government has recently undone many of these appointments, reducing former opposition figures to an estimated 5 percent of posts. Several regional and ethnic groups (such as the country's large Uzbek population) have been largely left out of the central government. Consequently, patronage networks, ethnoregionalism, or "subnational regionalism" will continue to threaten the thin veneer of stability in Tajikistan.
Poverty is a destabilizing factor as well. Given the impressive macroeconomic growth of the past dozen years, however, conditions seem to be improving. While a 1999 World Bank household survey found that 83 percent of Tajik households live below the acceptable poverty threshold, the same indicator dropped to 68 percent in 2003. Though there are no reliable figures on inequality, anecdotal evidence points to varying rates of poverty and socioeconomic development among regions and social strata in Tajikistan. Inequality has been on the rise, and prospects are precarious for hundreds of thousands of households that rely on agriculture and animal husbandry in a country where less than 7 percent of the land is arable. Nearly all state sector employees receive below subsistence wages. According to the Ministry of Economy, though the minimum monthly wage supposedly increased by 80 percent in January 2005, it still remained at only about 12 somonis (US$4) per month in early 2005. At the same time, the average monthly wage during the first half of 2005 as reported by the central bank was 84 somonis (US$27). Not surprisingly, close to 15 years after the demise of Communism, the IFES survey finds that only 36 percent of the public prefers a market-based economic system with limited state control, while 50 percent prefers an economic system where the state has full control.
Another pressing issue is the population's poor health and access to sanitary living. Conditions are worst in rural areas, where roughly only 15 percent of Tajikistan's 5.2 million rural population (out of 7 million for the country as a whole) has access to safe drinking water. The capital city, Dushanbe, also faces periodic health crises, especially during rainy seasons, when floods and landslides in the nearby Varzob valley can leave as much as half of the city's estimated 600,000 people without potable water for days. Not surprisingly, the decrepit state of the water delivery system has in the past caused epidemics of waterborne diseases such as typhoid.
Following independence in 1991, Imamali Rahmonov was appointed chairman by the Supreme Soviet (Parliament) of Tajikistan in November 1992. Prior to his appointment, Rahmonov was a kolkhoz (Soviet agricultural cooperative) leader and later chair of the executive committee of the Communist Party (CP) in the southern Kulob province. Most important, Rahmonov had been one of the organizers of the Kulobi-dominated Popular Front, a pro-regime and pro-Communist militia with a reputation for brutality and responsible for a large number of deaths mostly in the first year of the civil war in 1992. By March 1993, all opposition parties had been banned-many of their leaders and followers fleeing to Afghanistan and Iran-leaving the CP the sole legally functioning political entity. Rahmonov later managed to run for president, with two controversial victories in 1994 and 1999. In 1994, he ran against onetime prime minister (1992-1993) Abdumalik Abdullojonov (a northerner who later went into self-exile in Russia and the West) in a one-sided race that barred UTO opposition parties and was marred by irregularities.
Rahmonov strengthened his position in a September 1999 plebiscite that approved constitutional amendments extending the presidential term from five to seven years, introducing a bicameral parliamentary system (a 63-member Council of Representatives and a 33-member National Council-lower and upper houses of Parliament, respectively), and allowing the formation of political parties based on religion-this last amendment was a requirement to satisfy the terms of the 1997 peace accord. Though this plebiscite-approved by 70 percent of voters-was thought to have been generally free and somewhat fair, the ensuing November 1999 presidential election and the March 2000 and February 2005 parliamentary elections were marred by irregularities and heavily criticized by opposition parties and international observers. In the 1999 presidential election, the government made a concerted effort to exclude opposition candidates for trumped-up technical reasons, restricted political party activities, imposed curbs on the media, and essentially limited the race to the incumbent president, with Rahmonov reportedly winning 96 percent of the vote. The OSCE criticized the 1999 presidential election as having had insufficient "transparency, accountability, [and] fairness," and Human Rights Watch accused the government of "extensive and egregious violations" during the campaign, referring to specific cases of fraud committed by election officials. Likewise, the 2000 parliamentary (lower house of Parliament) elections were described by the OSCE as not having met "minimum international standards." Though noting improvements in 2005, the OSCE still accused the Tajik government of failing to meet standards expected from an OSCE member state.
Based on these criticisms, the government appeared to take measures to build confidence in the February 2005 elections for the lower house of Parliament, including appointing members of opposition political parties to midlevel election commissions and amending the country's election laws in favor of a more fair and transparent election process. The OSCE described the implementation of these measures as "inadequate and arbitrary." A total of 226 candidates from the pro-government PDP, CP, IRP, Social Democratic Party (SDP), Socialist Party, and Democratic Party (DP) competed for 22 open seats-with a required election threshold for parties of 5 percent-in addition to 84 independent and nonparty candidates running for the remaining 41 seats in the February 2005 elections.
Voting took place in over 3,000 polling stations, with many providing three language options: Tajik, Uzbek, and Russian. Voters also elected representatives to local councils for provinces, districts, and towns. Constitutional amendments allowed local councils to nominate candidates to the upper house of Parliament (National Council), with each of the five regions ultimately electing five members to the national body. As predicted, the ruling PDP gained a near sweeping victory in the February 2005 elections for the lower house, taking 38 out of 41 seats. The remaining 22 seats were appointed on the basis of party slates, with the PDP, the CP, and the IRP clearing the 5 percent threshold. Based on this, the PDP took an additional 17 seats, and the CP and IRP wound up with only 4 and 2 seats, respectively. According to the country's election commission, the PDP received 74 percent of all votes, the CP 13 percent, and the IRP 8 percent. The commission also indicated that 2.9 million of the 3.1 million registered voters cast their ballots, a nearly 93 percent turnout that many have called an exaggeration.
Despite an array of six parties and self-nominated candidates, various legal actions against opposition figures in the months prior to the elections prevented some well-known politicians from running for office. Most notably, in December 2004, Russian authorities heeded a demand by the Tajik government to detain Mahmadruzi Iskandarov, leader of the Tajik opposition DP. The government claims Iskandarov's arrest was related to the alleged embezzlement of millions of dollars while he served as head of the national gas company (Tojikgaz), as well as his supposed links to organized terror groups. DP officials and Iskandarov's lawyer argue that his arrest and eventual trial allowed the government to eliminate a potential rival ahead of the February 2005 parliamentary and upcoming November 2006 presidential elections. The government also arrested a number of SDP party activists and a government newspaper, Jumhuriyyat, accused the SDP chair, Rahmatollo Zoirov, a onetime special adviser to President Rahmonov, of being pro-West, an agent of Uzbekistan, and a supporter of the banned Islamic Hizb ut-Tahrir (Liberation Party).
No genuine debates took place prior to the elections, and government authorities controlled political campaigning. The government closed four independent newspapers, and new papers and media outlets were prevented from registering. The state media did, however, make public service announcements about election procedures. However, the scarcity of media campaign coverage called into question voters' ability to make an informed choice. Election observers also cited widespread cases of multiple voting and noted problems at the district election commissions where protocols were filled in or illegally altered. Given such measures, and given the still genuine popularity of the government, the overwhelming victory of the PDP and other pro-government candidates was not surprising.
Prior to Tajikistan's independence, several informal "discussion groups" had already formed, such as Ru ba Ru (Face to Face) and Ehyo (Renewal), with fewer than 100 members, mostly from among the country's intelligentsia. Soon after independence, Western-style NGOs developed under the auspices of foreign donors and various socioeconomic development programs. Since then, the country has seen the creation of a variety of civil society entities in the form of registered NGOs. Though still a bureaucratic, expensive, and time-consuming process, the act of forming an NGO in Tajikistan has been simplified in the past few years. Close to 2,500 NGOs registered with Tajikistan's Ministry of Justice from 1991 to the end of 2005, though only a fraction actually function. Some of the most successful NGOs are associated with the Geneva-based Aga Khan Foundation-a modern Islamic faith-based umbrella organization that supports various socioeconomic and educational projects worldwide-and its encouragement of democratic self-rule and reliance on preexisting mahalla networks of governance.
The Tajik civil war created as many as 25,000 widows. According to a UN report, women continue to be victims of the economic and social woes of Tajikistan. For example, up to two-thirds of Tajik women (over 1 million) are estimated to have been victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. There have also been reports of human trafficking for the purpose of prostitution mostly to Persian Gulf states, with anecdotal reports of trafficking to China as well. In 2003, the Parliament adopted a bill criminalizing human trafficking, with sentences of five to fifteen years' imprisonment. Still, gender disparity is especially critical in rural areas, where a patriarchal culture has been in existence for centuries and where Communism penetrated the least during the Soviet era.
An important outcome of the growing civil society in Tajikistan is the increased opportunity for women's engagement in societal change. Although women are not widely represented in the Tajik government, they have played increasingly important roles as members and leaders in civil society groups; an estimated one-third of all domestic NGOs are headed by women. During 2005, the NGO Modar (Mother) reportedly conducted workshops on how to fight human trafficking for a spectrum of government and public agencies, including law enforcement, courts, prosecutors' offices, the border guard, and tourist agencies. Other female-headed NGOs, such as Oshtii Melli (National Reconciliation), trained and provided independent election observers during the 2005 parliamentary elections and plan on a similar endeavor for the 2006 presidential election.
One criticism of Western-funded NGOs and international organizations is their impact on the domestic job market. The gap in salaries between private enterprise, the public sector, and the world of international NGOs and international organizations is so huge that, as Central Asian scholar Oliver Roy notes, a clear "internal brain drain effect" exists in Tajikistan, as in other transitional states. Consequently, many competent professionals are willing to work only for civil society entities just to maintain a decent standard of living. Western funding for civil society groups has also formed a flourishing business, where highly capable local and English-speaking technocrats have learned how to write proposals and project reports satisfying Western requirements, with local communities at times not reaping much benefit from actual projects.
Despite the success of some regional civil society groups, in recent years Central Asian governments have become increasingly suspicious of Western-funded NGO activities. Unlike NGOs in neighboring Afghanistan, which primarily promote reconstruction and economic activities, a disproportionate number of Western-funded NGO projects in Tajikistan are geared toward promoting nonmaterial concepts such as openness, pluralism, and free media, which government authorities feel threaten their authority, appear conspiratorial in nature, or open them to public criticism. Some Tajik officials believe that Western funding for civil society groups aims to form political opposition among populations of post-Communist states as the "colored revolution" phenomenon.
It is apparent that after the regime change in neighboring Kyrgyzstan and unrest and turmoil in northern Uzbekistan in 2005, the Tajik government is on guard, despite the relatively low possibility of similar events taking place in Tajikistan. As early as December 2004, when addressing a PDP congress, President Rahmonov had criticized foreign organizations, namely the Soros Foundation's Open Society Institute (OSI), which has had an office in Dushanbe for the past decade. Rahmonov accused the OSI of attempting to undermine the integrity of Tajikistan by supporting what he described as subversive media, such as the radio station Varorud and the newspapers Odamu Olam and Ruzi Nav, with the goal to "destroy" his administration. And in spring 2005, Tajik authorities ordered financial audits of many international NGOs active in Tajikistan. Furthermore, fearing political activities by local NGOs and media outlets, the Ministry of the Interior as of April 2005 required foreign embassies and international organizations to inform it of dates and topics of meetings with local NGOs, political parties, and journalists. In 2005, the Tajik authorities also refused to register branch offices of two U.S.-based NGOs: Freedom House and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs.
The Tajik media have diminished in recent years under the pressures of poverty, relatively high taxes, emigration of cosmopolitan citizenry, and serious deterioration in the education system, producing a post-independence generation significantly less educated than those of the Soviet era. Government restrictions have thus led to a limited and often biased array of media outlets. The 1997 peace accord called for legalizing previously banned opposition party outlets (primarily newspapers), and progress was made in allowing these to function relatively freely-at least in comparison with media in surrounding states. However, the past few years have seen renewed government pressure through selective use of tax laws; arduous and costly procedures for registering new media; the occasional revocation of access to government-owned and private printing houses; and intimidation, beatings, arrests, and imprisonment of selected journalists for politically motivated reasons. In addition, Article 137 of Tajikistan's penal code stipulates a maximum five years' imprisonment for insulting or defaming the president. As such, investigative reporting on corruption and organized crime is especially risky, and harsh libel laws sustain a culture of self-censorship.
Prior to the 2005 parliamentary elections, the government redoubled its suppression of independent and opposition media, using tax police and arbitrary enforcement of tax laws to shut down several newspapers. In January, the tax police accused newspapers Nerui Sukhan and Ruzi Nav and their publishing house, Kayhon, of violating the tax code and shut down their operations. Nerui Sukhan was allowed to publish in July but was shut down again shortly thereafter. Authorities later arrested and subsequently sentenced the paper's editor, Mukhtar Boqizoda, to two years' imprisonment and ordered 20 percent of his earnings to be paid back to the state. Boqizoda was convicted under Article 244, part 1, of theft of state property, after being found guilty of stealing roughly US$500 of electricity by connecting wires in his office to streetlights. Critics have accused the government of playing politics in this and other cases and have compared these tactics with Russia's destruction of two of its own most popular independent media outlets (NTV and TVN) a few years ago on the basis of alleged financial impropriety.
In April, two television stations, Guli Bodom and Somonian (the only private TV stations in Konibodom and Dushanbe, respectively), were shut down temporarily owing to alleged noncompliance with licensing and broadcasting laws, although the airtime allocated to opposition candidates prior to the parliamentary elections is a more likely cause. In mid-2005, the government allegedly ordered the Ministry of Justice to adhere to a secret ban on registering new independent media (TV, radio, newspaper, and Internet). As many as 30 applications for media registration were reportedly ignored, including that of the newspaper Imruz, which is affiliated with the opposition SDP. The government also arrested Jumaboi Tolibov, a well-known journalist based in the northern Soghd province. A court accused Tolibov of several violations, including "incivility," for his brazen investigation and reporting on government corruption and criticism of the regional prosecutor of the Soghd province in the newspaper Minbari Khalq-ironically owned by the pro-government PDP. Tolibov was later sentenced to one year of community work.
Tajikistan became connected to the Internet in 1991 and by all accounts was the last country among the post-Communist states to do so. By the end of 2005, five private Internet providers existed in the country and use was slowly spreading, especially among the youth. Yet the vast majority of the population does not have the financial resources for Internet access, which for the time being is restricted to urban areas and Internet cafés at a relatively high cost by local standards of about US$1-2 per hour. The government has generally been hands-off regarding material accessed on the Internet. One of the few cases of government action with respect to the Internet happened prior to the 2003 referendum on changes to the Constitution, when authorities temporarily blocked access to a Web site run by self-exiled journalist Dodojon Atovulloev due to his critical coverage and commentaries on Tajikistan and the ruling elite.
Facing criticisms from international organizations and Western donors, the government loosened its temporary ban on some independent and opposition papers in latter part of 2005. Ruzi Nav was allowed to print a special edition, with a print run of 99 copies. Another paper, Odamu Olam, was expected to resume publication after nearly a year, and Adolat, an official publication of the DP, was also allowed to put out a special edition in August to honor the party's 15th anniversary. Still, despite various irregularities imposed by the government, the majority of the public appears to have confidence in the country's media, with about 65 percent of those polled in an IFES survey agreeing that Tajikistan's state-run and private media provide objective coverage of social and political developments in the country.
For centuries, the chaikhona (teahouse), the masjid (mosque), and the souk or bazaar (market) have served as focal points of local dialogue on self-governance in Muslim majority societies of Central Asia. The social organization behind such dialogues has traditionally been referred to as the mahalla (neighborhood). In 1924, the population of Tajikistan was almost totally illiterate, leading Soviet planners and policy makers to form likpunkty, or centers for combating illiteracy. They also occasionally banned public expressions of religious worship and even introduced "Militant Godless Leagues." According to Shirin Akiner of the University of London, these leagues resulted in the near disappearance of Islam, save for occasional semi-Islamic practices and rituals. The mahalla, however, never vanished, and it continues today to engage in organized activities such as hashar (community mobilization efforts such as repairing homes and building local facilities), touy (wedding assistance), and khodaie (remembrance of the dead). Thus, the informal social institution of mahalla, which during the Soviet era helped preserve a private space outside official control, continues to foster communal identity and solidarity in the post-Communist era.
The Tajik Constitution, formulated in 1994 and approved by a nationwide referendum, confirmed the existing Soviet territorial and administrative division of the country into a series of viloyats (provinces), nohiyas or rayons (districts), towns, settlements, and qishloqs (villages). Today, three provinces (Khatlon, Soghd, and Badakhshan) technically uphold their own regional governments. The capital city and a series of surrounding districts are equivalent to two additional provinces or major regions. Overall, there are 62 districts and 356 jamoats, or local councils (similar to municipalities in Europe and North America). The Tajik Constitution defines the jamoat as a "system of organizing public activities&to address issues of local importance autonomously" and at the discretion of its members. Ironically, the Constitution does not recognize the smallest self-organizing body, the mahalla-corresponding to the 3,500 villages in the country and various urban neighborhoods.
The president appoints provincial and district heads in consultation with governors and jamoat leaders, through the head of their respective district hukumat (government). Though council members can veto appointments, they seldom do. Not surprisingly, central government political organizations, such as the ruling PDP apparatus, almost always dominate province, district, and jamoat bodies. Local election commissions of the 2005 parliamentary elections, for example, were composed mainly of pro-government PDP members. Patronage exercised by the national government in appointing province and district administrators discourages independent decisions and policy making outside of the capital. Furthermore, owing to the central government's dominance and alleged corruption and the stagnant economy of outlying regions, most local administrative bodies in the provinces, districts, and especially jamoats face serious budgetary constraints. Opposition parties suggest real change in Tajikistan for the better will take place only when free and fair elections occur, including at the jamoat level.
It is estimated that as much as 85 percent of the taxes generated at the regional level goes to the state, with a mere 15 percent remaining at the district level. To generate funds for its staff and community projects, jamoats spend an estimated two-thirds of their time collecting arbitrary property taxes, transportation duties, and fees from the local population. Mahallas and even jamoats continue to be devoid of any real power at the national level and remain largely outside the nation's economic and political decision-making process. Some NGOs, however, have successfully used the notion of the mahalla in their socioeconomic development programs via the formation of democratically elected village organizations or community-based organizations.
Close to three-quarters of the population of Tajikistan lives in rural areas, with agriculture constituting over one-quarter of the country's income and encompassing a little less than two-thirds of the national workforce. Of these, an estimated 400,000 are employed in the cotton sector, one of Tajikistan's main export commodities. Yet, despite the government's repeated declaration that cotton is a "strategic" commodity, the vast majority of cotton workers live far below the poverty threshold, while cotton farms have accumulated a debt close to US$300 million. Furthermore, many agricultural workers live under conditions described as "bonded labor" and "financial servitude." As such, local democratic governance for rural folk, who form the majority of Tajikistan's population, is in an extremely poor state.
The judiciary in Tajikistan-frequently co-opted as a tool to silence opposition figures-is constrained to the executive and unable to enforce the equal rights of citizens before the law. Considering Tajikistan's violent past and current brazen treatment of the opposition and ordinary citizens by ministry officials and law enforcement, the country's record on progressive governance, respect for the law, judicial independence, and human rights in the post-Soviet era has been far from exemplary. Nevertheless, there is greater freedom of expression and association compared with what exists in Tajikistan's neighboring states-notably authoritarian Uzbekistan and near totalitarian Turkmenistan. Evidence also suggests that Tajik authorities are highly sensitive about their global image and do respond to international criticism.
The right of the accused is among a list of concerns, as Tajik courts have tended to presume guilt rather than innocence when trying individuals. A 2005 UN report criticized the fact that in Tajikistan the prosecutor has a position superior to that of defense lawyers and undermines the role of the judge, thus contradicting international standards in court proceedings. Often judgments are not issued independently for fear of possible repercussions. The low pay of officials, including judges, makes the judicial system vulnerable to corruption. The UN has recommended that authorities follow through with a series of judicial reforms, including the adoption of civil and criminal procedural codes in compliance with international standards.
Based on human rights reports covering conditions in 2004, allegations of torture and ill-treatment, including cases of arrest and abuse of alleged Islamists, such as supposed members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, have been made without resulting in thorough and impartial investigations in the majority of cases. The government has accused alleged followers of Hizb ut-Tahrir of planning the violent overthrow of the state and having ties to al-Qaeda. Cases of abuse by authorities are not limited to alleged Islamists, however. In June 2004, three ethnic Russian citizens suspected of murder, all members of the Awakening Baptist Church in the town of Nurek, were believed to have been ill-treated while detained by police of the local branch of the Ministry of the Interior. Two of the suspects signed "confessions" while seemingly subjected to duress, ill-treatment, and likely torture. Both suffered concussions and were later hospitalized. The general procuracy of Khatlon province later closed their case, finding "no sign of a crime."
Prison conditions in Tajikistan are far from ideal, though in recent years improvements have taken place, notably related to the health of inmates. The judicial system remains generally unfair, and those with means bribe their way out of a prison term or trial. Overall, prisons are characterized by overcrowding, lack of food, and widespread illness. A conservative estimate puts the number of prisoners infected with tuberculosis at 1,600 out of around 10,000. Evidence suggests, nevertheless, that the number of prisoner deaths due to disease has been declining in the past few years as a result of intervention and financial assistance from European donors. Still, inmate casualty figures remain critically high when compared with those of other states worldwide.
Violations of child labor laws have also occurred as a result of the persistent poverty of the majority of the population. Tajikistan is a signatory to the international Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention, which calls for measures to eliminate all forms of child slavery, forced labor, prostitution, and work that harms the health, safety, or morals of children. In an attempt to protect young workers, the government amended its labor code in May 2005, making it favorable to children's rights. However, new laws and government rhetoric have failed to prevent child labor in various sectors of the economy. The lucrative cotton industry predominantly uses female and child labor to carry out hard fieldwork. In addition, children are seen working in urban areas, selling plastic bags in bazaars and carrying groceries for shoppers, washing cars, working in restaurants, and even toiling on the flourishing construction sites in the capital city.
Gender equality and the protection of women's rights are also critical issues. In 2005, the UN Human Rights Commission noted the need for training government employees as a way to prevent human rights violations by police and investigative officials. The commission also noted that the state needs to prosecute violators of human rights, provide compensation to victims, increase public awareness to protect women against domestic violence, combat human trafficking in collaboration with Tajikistan's neighbors, and take measures to ensure a higher representation of women in public life. The UN promised US$100,000 to five NGOs involved in women's issues during 2006 to help implement legislation on curbing violence against women, including establishing crisis centers and shelters for victims of domestic violence. Also, in February 2005 the Tajik Parliament approved legislation on state guarantees of gender equality of rights and opportunities.
Human rights organizations were surprised by the government's speedy and near unanimous ratification of amendments to the country's criminal code replacing the death penalty with life imprisonment. The abolition of the death penalty in Tajikistan results from international (mainly European) pressure and follows the line of other CIS member countries, especially Russia, which also imposed a moratorium on capital punishment. Experts agree, however, that much remains to be done to reform the country's legal system, prison network, and human rights in general. According to Amnesty International, only days before the moratorium on the death penalty in 2004, the government secretly executed at least four individuals, with the location of their graves kept secret as well per a provision in the law. The executions were carried out despite the UN Human Rights Commission's appeals, which characterized Tajikistan's actions as violating its obligations as a party to the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, especially as at least two of the executed persons-Rajabmurod Zhumayev and Umed Idiyev-were convicted for crimes known to have been confessed under torture.
Misappropriation of public assets, the dispensing of state benefits, influence peddling, bribes, and extortion all fall under the umbrella of abusing public office for private gain, otherwise known as corruption. According to the World Bank, "high corruption" (graft and state capture by state officials) and "petty corruption" (solicitation of bribes and extortion by civil servants) are rampant in the seven poorest CIS countries, which includes Tajikistan. In recent years, the Tajik government has stated its seriousness about fighting corruption, and in 2004 it formed a special department for combating corruption in the Office of the Prosecutor General. In a televised speech in December 2004, President Rahmonov cited corruption as one of the key internal threats facing the country, along with religious extremism, organized crime, and drug trafficking. And in January 2005, the president announced cutting nearly 900 positions from the staff of the state traffic police -a government organ known for its ubiquitously corrupt workforce.
Despite such measures, no hard evidence suggests that a significant dent has been made in the pervasive corruption known to exist within government and business circles. A notable case of a government figure arrested on a variety of charges, including corruption, is that of Yaqub Salimov, the former head of the Ministry of the Interior and former Tajik ambassador to Turkey, who was arrested in 2003 in Moscow and repatriated to Tajikistan, and sentenced to 15 years in prison in April 2005. Indeed, corruption remains a major impediment to proper tax collection, economic development, and foreign investment. A study by the World Bank estimates that 80 percent of small businesses pay regular bribes to tax officials. And according to the most recent IFES opinion survey, the highest level of dissatisfaction (56 percent) among the Tajik public is related to inadequate anticorruption measures. Transparency International's 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index assigns Tajikistan a score of 2.1 (on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is "most corrupt"), putting it in the same bracket as Somalia and Sudan and near the bottom of the 158 countries surveyed.
Allegations of corruption especially revolve around the country's dual commodity exports of cotton and aluminum, together forming nearly four-fifths of Tajikistan's exports. (During 2005, aluminum brought in revenues of over US$600 million and cotton fiber about US$160 million.) In May 2005, the government announced that TadAZ, the state-owned Tajik aluminum plant, had generated a debt of US$160 million over a 10-year period when under the directorship of Abduqodir Ermatov. Ermatov was relieved of his post as director and appointed deputy minister of economy and trade in December 2004, while the Office of the Prosecutor General instituted criminal proceedings against him and the chief accountant of the plant. Though ordered not to leave the country, Ermatov is known to have fled to the United Kingdom. The government has also hinted at bringing charges against the management of Ansol, a company headed by the Tajik oligarch Azar Nazarov (also currently in the United Kingdom) that supplied TadAZ with alumina in the 1990s, accusing it of defrauding the government of tens of millions of dollars. The prosecutor general also alleged that Ansol funded an attempted coup d'état with the former commander of the presidential guard, Ghaffor Mirzoyev, and the former head of Tojikgaz and head of the DP, Mahmadruzi Iskandarov. Both Mirzoyev and Iskandarov are currently in government custody. A London court is also hearing the case of the conglomerate Russian Aluminum, set to invest over US$1 billion in aluminum and hydroelectricity production in Tajikistan but also allegedly involved with influential Tajik business and political elite in a scheme to divert profits from TadAZ offshore.
Drug trafficking has been another source of corruption in Tajikistan. Since the overthrow of the Taliban by U.S.-led forces in late 2001, there has been an upsurge in the flow of drugs from Afghanistan into Tajikistan en route to Russian and European markets. As much as three-quarters of the world's supply of illicit opiates, mostly in the form of heroin, originates from Afghanistan-where in 2005 over 4,000 tons of opium were cultivated. There are few reliable estimates of the amount of drugs trafficked into Tajikistan. However, in the past few years border guards and police have reportedly intercepted as much as 10 tons of drugs annually. Though the government's antinarcotics activities appear to be strengthening, the recent transfer of border responsibilities along the southern border with Afghanistan from Russian control to Tajikistan's state border protection raises concerns about the agency's severe financial shortfalls and accompanying allegations of corruption related to drug trafficking.
Border officials from both Tajikistan and Afghanistan admit that approximately 100 kilometers of the border on the Afghan side and at least 50 kilometers on the Tajik side are effectively unguarded. And minuscule wages of Tajikistan's border patrol encourages corruption and drug trafficking. In fact, wages are so low that some newly assigned Tajik border patrol troops are begging for food from local residents along the Afghan border in the mountainous Badakhshan province in southeastern Tajikistan. Though suspicions run high, few top-level officials have been charged with corruption and drug trafficking. Still, in July 2005 the government sentenced a midlevel official from the Ministry of the Interior's Drug Control Department to 14 years in prison for attempting to sell five kilograms of heroin in Dushanbe. The government is receiving technical and foreign aid from the United States and the European Union to help guard its southern border.
In recent years, Tajikistan has experienced impressive annual economic growth rates (average 9.6 percent during 2001-2005). Though most analysts consider sustained economic growth necessary for ending poverty and corruption, there is also room for caution. Increased government revenues in transition economies may well boost the confidence levels in the government and work as a disincentive for those in charge to pursue equitable and sustainable economic reforms, promote democratization, and fight corruption. Furthermore, privatization of formerly state-owned enterprises, a process heavily encouraged by international financial institutions and Western donors in Tajikistan, may have unwittingly played into the hands of local elites.
Though corruption will likely be curbed if significant wage increases are made in the public sector, some of the most corrupt state structures, such as the police, require radical reform of institutional or state culture. According to Transparency International, factors such as business transparency, press freedom, and public pressure acting together can work as effective checks against corruption. Furthermore, a World Bank study on anticorruption in transition countries recommends a series of concerted actions by states to effectively curb corruption, including detailed survey data on reality and perception of corruption in the country (as a gauge to set priorities) and overall reforms in public institutions via aggressive implementation of anticorruption policies.