Tajikistan became an independent state in 1991 with the breakup of the Soviet Union. However, the newly established nation was hit by a civil war between regional factions that lasted from 1992 to 1997, resulting in an estimated tens of thousands casualties. Although there have been no major conflicts or security issues in recent years, Tajikistan remains the poorest of the 15 nations that originated from the former USSR region. More recently, the NATO intervention in Afghanistan turned international attention on Tajikistan, bringing with it some increased economic development and securities assistance, which may benefit the job market and promote longer-term stability.
The civil war severely damaged Tajikistan’s already weak economic infrastructure and further caused a fast decline in industrial and agricultural production. Although two-thirds of the Tajikistani workforce is in agriculture, less than 7 percent of the land area is arable. Agricultural reforms would allow farmers to grow the crop of their choice, but most are currently limited to producing cotton. A poor job market has led to nearly half of the labour force finding employment abroad, primarily in Russia.
Tajikistan’s economy continues to face other serious barriers for development including corruption, weak governance, seasonal power shortages and debt. Despite having achieved steady economic growth since 1997, over half of the population lives below the poverty line.
Tajikistan is on the US State Department’s Tier 2 Watch List as a source country for women trafficked through Kyrgyzstan and Russia to the UAE, Turkey and Russia for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation. Men and children are also trafficked to Russia and Kazakhstan for forced labour.
Illicit trafficking of Afghan opium and heroin through Tajikistan remains a serious long-term threat to the country’s stability and development, fostering corruption, violent crime and HIV/AIDS. Income from this market has an increasingly visible impact on its economy. Tajikistan is in the process of seeking membership of the WTO and has joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace.