Updated August 14, 2020
it failed to secure any seats. International analysts
Tajikistan is a landlocked country that borders four other
questioned the integrity of the electoral results.
states, including China and Afghanistan, and maintains
close ties with Russia. Formerly a constituent republic of
Figure 1. Map of Tajikistan
the Soviet Union, Tajikistan became independent in 1991.
The country’s long border with Afghanistan and the specter
of spreading regional instability draw interest in Tajikistan
from China, Russia, and the United States. Because
Tajikistan depends heavily on remittances, primarily from
Russia, the ongoing Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-
19) pandemic is causing significant economic strain.
Tajikistan is also becoming increasingly dependent on
China, which is Tajikistan’s largest foreign creditor and is
building up a security presence in the country. Tajikistan
has faced incidents of violence attributed to the Islamic
State (IS), but the government also uses the prospect of
insurgent activity as a pretext for stifling opposition.
President Emomali Rahmon and his family control the
government and significant sectors of the economy, and
Graphic created by CRS.
corruption is pervasive.
According to the State Department, major
human rights issues in Tajikistan include unlawful or
Tajikistan is a presidential republic with
arbitrary killings by prison authorities, torture, arbitrary
power heavily concentrated in the executive. The president
detention, and a non-independent judiciary, as well as
serves as both head of state and head of the government; the
significant restrictions on freedom of expression, freedom
role and influence of the legislature is limited. President
of movement, and political participation.
Rahmon has been in power since 1992. He was exempted
from term limits in a 2016 constitutional referendum that
Media freedom in Tajikistan is severely curtailed, and the
also granted him and his family immunity from
government routinely blocks access to certain websites and
prosecution. Tajikistan under Rahmon has been termed a
internet services. Reporters Without Borders ranked
“nepotistic kleptocracy,” as a small group of families close
Tajikistan 161st out of 180 countries in its 2019 World Press
to the president dominate the political and economic
Freedom Index, down from 149th in 2018. Some Members
spheres. All six parties in parliament support Rahmon. As
of Congress have expressed concerns about government
speaker of the parliament’s upper chamber, the president’s
pressure on independent media outlets, particularly the
son, Rustam Emomali, is first in the line of presidential
congressionally-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
succession. No elections in Tajikistan have been deemed
free and fair by observers from the Organization for
Tajikistan has faced criticism for engaging in transnational
Security and Cooperation in Europe.
repression of government critics who have left the country.
This includes targeting IRPT members and other dissidents
Shortly after Tajikistan became
through law enforcement mechanisms such as International
independent in 1991, the country fell into a five-year civil
Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) wanted persons
war (1992-1997) that claimed over 50,000 lives and
notices and pressuring family members who remain in
displaced more than half a million people. The Islamic
Tajikistan. In response to such actions by Tajikistan and
Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), which fought with
other countries, in 2019 Congress introduced the
anti-government forces, was legalized following the 1997
Transnational Repression Accountability and Prevention
peace deal and adopted an agenda of democratization. It
Act to counter politically-motivated abuse of INTERPOL.
went on to become Tajikistan’s second-largest party. In
2015, the government outlawed the IRPT and labelled it a
The government of Tajikistan restricts and strictly regulates
terrorist organization in what the U.S. State Department
religious practices in the country. An estimated 98% of the
characterized as “steps to eliminate political opposition.”
country’s population is Muslim, primarily Hanafi Sunni.
Some of the party’s leaders have been sentenced to lengthy
Authorities target outward signs of religiosity, harassing
prison terms, while others have fled the country. The March
women who wear hijabs and men with beards. Minors are
2020 parliamentary elections, the first since the IRPT was
prohibited from participating in public religious activities.
banned, included candidates from one opposition party, but
The government also places restrictions on minority
religious groups, including Christian denominations.
Tajikistan is designated a “Country of Particular Concern”
make the country a net energy exporter, but its completion
under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.
may be delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tajikistan’s energy sector is vulnerable to climate change,
as reduced snowfall can depress hydroelectric output.
Tajikistan at a Glance
: 139,960 sq. km. (about the size of North
Economic Dependence on Russia:
heavily on remittances from labor migrants in Russia,
which accounted for almost a third of Tajikistan’s GDP in
: 9.3 mil ion (2019 est.)
2019 (down from almost half in 2013). This renders
: 84% Tajik, 14% Uzbek, 2% other (2014 est.)
Tajikistan highly vulnerable to external shocks.
Remittances have fallen significantly due to the COVID-19
: 95% Sunni Muslim, 3% Shia Muslim, 2% other (2014
pandemic, and the World Bank projects that GDP growth
will fall to 1% or lower in 2020 (down from 7.5% in 2019).
GDP/GDP per capita (2019)
: $8.1 bil ion/$874
In recent years, China has emerged
Data from the World Bank and the CIA World Factbook
as one of Tajikistan’s most important economic partners,
Terrorism and Violent Extremism:
The government of
holding the majority of the country’s foreign debt. China
Tajikistan estimates that about 1,900 of its citizens,
has made a range of investments in Tajikistan as part of the
including women and children, left for Syria and Iraq to
Belt and Road Initiative, and Huawei equipment comprises
join IS or other terrorist groups. Among them was Colonel
as much as 90% of Tajikistan’s telecommunications
Gulmurod Khalimov, the U.S.-trained commander of a
special Tajik police unit who was reportedly killed in
Mosul in 2016. As with other Central Asian foreign
Foreign Policy and U.S. Relations
fighters, many Tajiks were radicalized as labor migrants in
Russia remains Tajikistan’s primary
Russia. In 2015, the government offered conditional
security partner, providing training and equipment to the
amnesty to those who returned from Syria voluntarily and
Tajik armed forces, and Tajikistan hosts a large Russian
renounced violence. According to Tajikistan’s Ministry of
military base. Previously tense relations between Tajikistan
Internal Affairs, 163 foreign terrorist fighters have returned
and neighboring Uzbekistan have improved markedly since
to the country; some returnees have gone on to participate
2016. Tensions on the partially undemarcated Kyrgyz-Tajik
in government-sponsored anti-extremism campaigns, while
border periodically erupt into violence. Tajikistan’s long,
others have been imprisoned. In 2019, Tajikistan became
porous border with Afghanistan is a source of security
one of the first countries to undertake an organized, large-
concerns because of transnational threats such as violent
scale repatriation effort, bringing home 84 children whose
extremism and narcotics trafficking. In 2019, the United
mothers are serving prison sentences in Iraq. The United
Nations estimated that about 100 Tajik nationals were
States Institute of Peace has provided support for
present in Afghanistan as part of terrorist groups affiliated
Tajikistan’s reintegration and rehabilitation efforts. Plans to
with Al Qaeda or IS. Afghanistan-based terrorist groups
repatriate Tajik citizens from camps in northern Syria were
cooperate with organized criminal networks involved in
suspended due to Turkey’s October 2019 military
smuggling narcotics from Afghanistan into Tajikistan.
operations in the area. Central Asian foreign fighters remain
an international concern due to their ongoing participation
Security Cooperation with China:
in armed groups active in Syria and Afghanistan.
increasingly engaging in security cooperation with China,
which views the country as an important barrier against
Tajikistan has experienced several violent incidents
potential extremist spillover from Afghanistan into
attributed to IS, including prison riots in 2018 and 2019 and
Xinjiang. China has deployed personnel from its People’s
a 2019 attack on a border post. Some analysts argue that a
Armed Police to Tajikistan’s Pamir Mountains, close to the
lack of transparency on the part of Tajik authorities makes
border with Afghanistan. China has also supplied Tajikistan
it difficult to determine the true nature of these events.
with military hardware and engages in training exercises
Government critics also contend that authorities use the
with Tajik military units. The two countries work with
specter of violent extremism as a pretext to repress political
Afghanistan and Pakistan on counterterrorism issues
dissidents. In 2018, four Western cyclists, including two
through the Quadrilateral Cooperation and Coordination
Americans, were killed in a terrorist attack. The Tajik
Mechanism. Tajikistan is also a member of the Shanghai
government blamed the attack on the IRPT, even though the
attackers had recorded a video declaring their IS allegiance.
U.S. engagement with Tajikistan focuses
largely on security cooperation, particularly in counter-
Tajikistan is one of the world’s poorest
narcotics, counterterrorism, and nonproliferation. Tajikistan
countries, with an economy dependent on metal and
lies along a major drug trafficking route for opiates from
mineral exports and remittances from migrant workers.
Afghanistan to Russia and Europe, and the United States
Tajikistan has significant potential to develop hydropower
provides equipment and training to relevant Tajik agencies.
infrastructure and export electricity to South Asia, an
Tajikistan also works with the United States to promote
initiative supported by the partially U.S.-funded Central
greater regional connectivity in Central Asia and is seen as
Asia South Asia Electricity Transmission and Trade Project
an important partner for promoting stability in Afghanistan.
(CASA-1000). If finished, the massive Rogun Dam could
Congress appropriated $49.9 million in assistance for
Tajikistan for FY2019; the State Department requested
Maria A. Blackwood
, Analyst in Asian Policy
$14.2 million for FY2020 and $28.5 million for FY2021.
This document was prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). CRS serves as nonpartisan shared staff to
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