Location: Tajikistan is located on the southern edge of the Central Asian group of nations, bordering Afghanistan to the south, China to the east, Kyrgyzstan to the north, and Uzbekistan to the west.
Size: The smallest of the five former Soviet republics of Central Asia, Tajikistan has an area of 143,100 square kilometers, of which 400 square kilometers is water.
Land Boundaries: The border with Afghanistan is 1,206 kilometers; with Uzbekistan, 1,161 kilometers; with Kyrgyzstan, 870 kilometers; and with China, 414 kilometers.
Length of Coastline: None. Tajikistan is landlocked.
Principal Rivers: In Tajikistan’s dense river network, the largest rivers are the Syr Darya, the Amu Darya (called the Panj in its upper reaches in Tajikistan), the Vakhsh (called the Surkhob in its upper reaches in Tajikistan), and the Kofarnihon. The Amu Darya carries more water than any other river in Central Asia. The Vakhsh is an important source of hydropower.
Climate: The climate is mainly continental, with drastic differences according to elevation. The climate is very dry in the subtropical southwestern lowlands, which also have the highest temperatures. The summer temperature range in the lowlands is from 27° C to 30° C, and the winter range is from –1° C to 3° C. In the eastern Pamirs, the summer temperature range is from 5° C to 10° C, and the winter range is from –15° C to –20° C. In some areas, however, winter temperatures drop to –45° C. Rainfall in the mountain valleys averages 150 to 250 millimeters per year; at the higher elevations, rainfall averages 60 to 80 millimeters per year. The highest precipitation rate, 2,236 millimeters per year, is near the Fedchenko Glacier in eastern Tajikistan.
Natural Resources: Tajikistan’s most notable resources are rich deposits of gold, silver, and antimony and the water power provided by its rivers. About 85 percent of arable land requires irrigation to grow cotton and grain, the main crops.
Land Use: Some 6.6 percent of Tajikistan is classified as arable land, 5 percent is forested, and 0.9 percent is devoted to permanent crops. The remainder is mountains, valleys, glaciers, and desert.
Environmental Factors: The major environmental problems are concentrations of agricultural chemicals and salts in the soil and groundwater, pockets of high air pollution caused by industry and motor vehicles, water pollution from agricultural runoff and disposal of untreated industrial waste and sewage, poor management of water resources, and soil erosion. Soil erosion affects an estimated 70 percent of irrigated land, and overgrazing also contributes to soil erosion. Air pollution is a particular problem during times of the year when atmospheric conditions hold industrial and vehicle emissions close to the surface in urban areas. In summer, dust and sand from the deserts of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan cause air pollution across the entire southwestern lowland region. Forest degradation also is a serious problem as trees are cut to expand pastureland on collective farms.
A large Soviet-era uranium mining operation left poorly constructed repositories of radioactive waste in northwestern Tajikistan. Other operations in Tajikistan extracted and processed gold, antimony, tungsten, mercury, and molybdenum, each of which is known to leave toxic waste. The Kofarnihon, Zarafshon, and Vakhsh rivers pass through heavily polluting industrial regions of the country, carrying pollutants into the Amu Darya and thence to the Aral Sea. The expansion of aluminum processing at Tursunzade, a key but long-delayed economic goal, would increase industrial pollution in the Dushanbe region. Tajikistan’s withdrawal of water for irrigation from the Syr Darya and tributaries of the Amu Darya also influences the quantity of water downstream. Therefore, Tajikistan’s water management policies are a regional concern.
The resolution of these problems has been delayed by the overall poverty of the country and the civil war of 1992–97. Although the civil war reduced industrial and agricultural activity substantially, it also interrupted environmental monitoring and maintenance activities put in place by the Soviet Union’s Committee on Nature Protection, leaving Tajikistan with a severely reduced infrastructure for both economic and environmental activity.
Time Zone: Tajikistan’s time zone is five hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.
Early History: Iranian peoples such as the Soghdians and the Bactrians are the ethnic forbears of the modern Tajiks. They have inhabited parts of Central Asia for at least 2,500 years, assimilating with Turkic and Mongol groups. Between the sixth and fourth centuries B.C., present-day Tajikistan was part of the Persian Achaemenian Empire, which was conquered by Alexander the Great in the fourth century B.C. After that conquest, Tajikistan was part of the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, a successor state to Alexander’s empire. Between the first and fourth centuries A.D., the area was part of the Kushan Empire, which spread Buddhism among the Soghdians and Bactrians of the region. The Chinese also were active in the region during this period. In the years before the eighth century, the Sassanians exerted a strong Persian cultural and linguistic influence on the area. In the eighth century, Arabs conquered modern-day Tajikistan and brought with them Islam, which within one century was the predominant religion of the region. Between the Arab conquest and the year 999, the strongest influence was that of the Persian Samanid Dynasty. The conquest of that dynasty by the Qarakhanid Turks intensified the introduction of Turkic peoples and culture into the region. Between the eleventh and the sixteenth centuries, modern-day Tajikistan was ruled successively by Turks, Mongols, and Uzbeks.
Under the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union: The Uzbek state that conquered the region in the sixteenth century divided into several khanates that ruled until the Russian Empire began taking over Central Asia in the mid-nineteenth century. Part of modern-day Tajikistan was included in the Russian Governorate General of Turkestan (in existence 1867–1917). During this period, Tajikistan felt the influence of economic changes such as the introduction of cotton and of political forces such as the Jadadist reform movement and the bloody revolt against Russian conscription that began in 1916. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Soviet forces gradually overcame the widely dispersed resistance of indigenous Central Asian insurgents, some of whom were based in Tajikistan. In 1924 Tajikistan became an autonomous republic within the new Soviet republic of Uzbekistan, and in 1929 the country became a full-fledged Soviet republic. In the years between the world wars, the economy of Tajikistan was absorbed into the Soviet economic system, which designated Tajikistan as a cotton-growing republic. Tajiks exerted very little influence in Soviet political affairs during this time, and many Tajik party members were purged from the republic’s communist party.
In the post-World War II Soviet era, irrigation was expanded in Tajikistan’s agricultural system, industries developed, and the level of education rose. During this period, political life was dominated by a series of nondescript party functionaries. In the late 1980s, the openness of the Soviet regime of Mikhail S. Gorbachev (in office 1985–91) stimulated a nationalist movement in Tajikistan, and Tajik leaders reluctantly declared sovereignty in 1991, when the dissolution of the Soviet Union became inevitable. The last of the communist party leaders, Rakhmon Nabiyev, was elected the first president of independent Tajikistan in 1991. A year later, a conflict between the government and reform groups led to the collapse of the Nabiyev government and then to a civil war that lasted five years and cost between 50,000 and 100,000 lives. Imomali Rakhmonov, who had taken power after the collapse of the coalition government that followed Nabiyev’s fall, was elected president in 1994 without the participation of opposition parties.
The Post-Soviet Era: In the mid-1990s, rebel forces gained control of large parts of eastern Tajikistan, even though the government had Russian troops at its disposal. After sporadic cease- fires and negotiations, in 1997 the Rakhmonov government signed a peace accord with the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), a coalition of Islamic leaders and secular politicians. In the years that followed, insurgent groups of the UTO remained active in some parts of the country, and a series of assassinations resulted. In 1999 the UTO responded to the addition of more UTO representatives in government positions by disbanding its armed forces, and the UTO fighting force was integrated into the armed forces of Tajikistan. However, at the same time the extremist Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) was building bases in the mountains of Tajikistan and establishing a large-scale trade in narcotics from Afghanistan. In the early 2000s, the narcotics trade was an increasingly serious problem, even after the defeat of the IMU in Afghanistan in early 2002.
Rakhmonov easily won re-election in the presidential election of 1999, and the parliamentary elections of 2000 gave Rakhmonov’s party a strong majority. In both instances, some opposition candidates were barred. In the wake of this success, Rakhmonov restructured the government in ways that further strengthened his power. In 2003 a controversial referendum approved constitutional amendments that theoretically would allow Rakhmonov to remain in power until 2020. In June 2004, Tajikistan signed an agreement with Russia calling for a permanent Russian military base in Tajikistan, as well as increased Russian investment in Tajikistan’s economy. In the parliamentary elections of 2005, international monitors again questioned the one-sided victory of the ruling party. The leaders of two opposition parties were arrested prior to those elections. In 2006 Rakhmonov removed several provincial governors in order to strengthen his base for the presidential election, which he won easily in November. A series of border incidents and mutual accusations kept tensions with neighboring Uzbekistan at a high level in 2006. Tajikistan continued to grow more dependent on Russia economically, as a series of major Russian investments occurred or were planned in 2006.
The United States established diplomatic relations with Tajikistan in 1992 following its independence from the Soviet Union. Tajikistan faces many challenges, including a long border with Afghanistan that is difficult to manage, widespread corruption, inadequate health and education systems, and food and energy shortages. Regional threats include extremism, radicalization, terrorism, and drugs.
Stability and economic growth in Tajikistan are critical to achieving overall regional stability and to strengthening regional economic integration. The United States and Tajikistan have a broad-based relationship, cooperating in such areas as counter-narcotics, counterterrorism, non-proliferation, and regional growth and stability. In 2010, the United States and Tajikistan launched an annual bilateral consultation process to enhance cooperation. Tajikistan has been a strong partner to the United States and international forces in efforts to bring security and peace to Afghanistan, playing an important role in supply and transit routes.
Bilateral Economic Relations
Tajikistan is one of the world’s poorest countries, and it depends on remittances and commodity exports that make it vulnerable to global economic conditions. Tajikistan has signed a trade and investment framework agreement with the United States and other Central Asian countries establishing a regional forum to discuss ways to improve investment climates and expand trade within Central Asia.
Tajikistan’s Membership in International Organizations
Tajikistan and the United States belong to a number of the same international organizations, including the United Nations, Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, and World Bank. Tajikistan is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Partnership for Peace.