Tajikistan’s Limited Options
Filed Under: Politics, World | Posted: 02/09/2012 at 8:02AM
Comments | Region: Tajikistan
At home, the government confines appointments to circle of insiders, while abroad the country has few real friends.
Tajikistan’s government is incapable of making the changes needed to take the country forward because it is not geared up to hiring the best and brightest, and because its external relationships with key regional states are troubled, a leading analyst says.
IWPR asked Dushanbe-based political analyst Nurali Davlatov to outline the constraints on economic progress, the main sources of public dissatisfaction, and the limitations of the administration led by President Imomali Rahmon.
IWPR: There’s recently been an increasing amount of criticism of the Tajik authorities in the media, on the internet and elsewhere. Why is this happening, and why now?
Nurali Davlatov: We are highly reliant on external factors and events. Take food security – what happens if Uzbekistan cuts off our rail links to the outside world? We experienced something close to that last year.
The same is true of energy security. For the last 16 years Tajikistan has experienced an annual energy crisis. It has virtually no electricity six months out of the 12, and the power stations that are supposed to provide heating to residential areas don’t work, even in the capital. There are constantly problems with natural gas, one of many areas where we depend on Uzbekistan.
Our relationship with Russia hasn’t been that friendly recently, either. So we’ve got problems with both Uzbekistan and Russia. In Afghanistan, meanwhile, the war continues and it isn’t clear how things are going to develop there, because sooner or later the Americans will come to terms with the Taleban.
Relations with China are superficially good, but we risk becoming dependent on it down the line. It provides us with loans, but these just result in an influx of Chinese workers. It also requires loans to be repaid on time, otherwise it will remove what it has built. And now we are leasing out farmland to the Chinese.
So one side of the problem is Tajikistan’s standing in the world.
The second thing is that everything we do is so ineffective. The excuse used to be that we’d endured a civil war. But 15 years have gone by since that ended, and people are still being fed empty promises – everything will soon be fine, we’ll be self-sufficient in energy, and we’ll only have to wait another two or three more years for this. This is repeated year after year.
The danger is that the public’s trust has its limits, and could soon be at an end. These media reports are a warning sign that people’s patience is running out.
Promises won’t work for ever. You have to carry out some sort of action – substantive programmes that will achieve some kind of headway, if not drag the country out of crisis.
Thus far, we haven’t seen any sign of progress. Why are the factories and companies that were privatised in the early years of independence not actually functioning? Why are the remittances sent home by migrant workers in Russia not helping rebuild the Tajik economy? The money goes on consumption or flows out again [to fund imports]. We don’t produce anything ourselves, and we don’t have any plans to do so.
IWPR: There was a government reshuffle at the beginning of 2012. Will this new team be able to carry forwards the changes that Tajikistan so badly needs?
Davlatov: It’s the same team as before. There isn’t a single new face there. This is a legacy of the Soviet period – once you get into the “nomenklatura” elite, you will only get thrown out under extraordinary circumstances. You remain there regardless of whether you can do the job.
IWPR: So how do people get into the top echelons of power?
Davlatov: The principle of regionalism was established in the 1940s, when for the first time ethnic Tajiks were appointed to top posts in Soviet Tajikistan. From then until the early 1990s, officials from northern Tajikistan were in charge, backed by Moscow.
That balance was upset in 1992, when there was a power-struggle and the Popular Front [from Kulob in southern Tajikistan] came out on top and began appointing its own people. Later on, one man began deciding everything – President Rahmon. The team that came to power in 1992 was divided internally, so they initially got official posts but were gradually weeded out and sidelined. So initially Kulob region was in charge, but later the top jobs went to people from just one district there, Dangara, the president’s birthplace.
Anyone who comes to power in Tajikistan is going to rely on his “avlod” or clan.
IWPR: Isn’t that rather a pessimistic view?
Davlatov: A nation’s psychological makeup takes decades or centuries to form. Tajiks are currently at a stage where they will place more reliance in their avlod, their village, or their district than on outsiders.
IWPR: We are always hearing, including from President Rahmon, that Tajikistan is short of skilled personnel. In your view, are there people here with the professional skills to implement much-needed reforms?
Davlatov: Tajikistan has professionals, although they don’t necessarily live here – they are scattered around the world these days.
The people who are actually in power came from rural districts and collective farms. Dushanbe’s previous residents emigrated and are working in Europe or America.
What we need is good managers, good programmes, and people to devise those programmes if we can’t do it ourselves. We need government that is conscientious, not corrupt, and that regards itself as servant rather than master of the nation.
Interview conducted by Lola Olimova, IWPR editor for Tajikistan.
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