Monday, February 23, 2009

Tajikistan: On the Pot-holed Road to Failed-State Status

Paul Quinn-Judge

19 February 2009
Transitions Online

Tajikistan has a long southern border with Afghanistan and would like better relations with the West. Too bad it's on the verge of collapse.

A combination of geographic position and wishful thinking has put Tajikistan front and center in the fight for Afghanistan, but those in diplomatic and military circles pinning their hopes on Dushanbe should think again. The idea that Tajikistan might form part of a reliable supply route to the conflict area and a northern bulwark against extremism might look good on paper, but the reality is starkly different. If the international community must rely on Tajikistan to be a useful and productive ally, then Afghanistan is in serious trouble.

Tajikistan is a weak state, teetering on the edge of failure, and things are likely only to get worse there. Chronic food insecurity, disintegrating energy infrastructure, and endemic corruption are driving the country deeper into crisis. This downward slide will only accelerate as migrant laborer remittances, forming as much as 50 percent of GDP, fall dramatically in the world economic crisis.

The United States would clearly like to make Tajikistan part of its new supply route into Afghanistan and is talking about shipping goods through the country by train and truck. Rahmon would almost certainly be happy to help - he would love more money, not to mention attention from the West. But there are a number of barriers. He would have to square it with the Russians, who are looking increasingly irritated at outsiders operating in their traditional sphere of influence, as their recent deal with Kyrgyzstan and Bishkek's threatened closure of the U.S. airbase at Manas shows. It could also draw increased attention from radical Islamic movements. How much traffic his shaky infrastructure could accommodate is another matter.

The West needs to consider if its security priorities in the region will usefully be served by an enfeebled, venal state. The fundamental preconditions to the creation of a real bulwark against the spread of instability from Afghanistan - economic and political reforms and a viable system of government - will not happen for decades.

This year and beyond look bleak for Tajikistan. At the very least the government will face serious economic problems, and the desperately poor population will be condemned to yet more deprivation. At worst the government runs the risk of social unrest. There are few indications that the Rahmon administration is up to this challenge.

The full article is here

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