Realities in Tajikistan
Choosing a relatively obscure former Soviet republic as the focus of one’s dissertation will have any number of ramifications, not the least of which is a certain sense of joy whenever anyone else in the world happens to write about it. Thus I was well pleased to see a bit on Tajikistan by Matthew DuPee in the new Asia Despatch. It’s a good summary of Tajikistan’s woeful interdiction efforts — although to be fair, given the nature of the Tajik-Afghan border (where in some places traffickers can simply toss their drugs over the border) and the extreme poverty and corruption gripping the country, I think we have to be realistic about how much Tajikistan can really contribute to international anti-trafficking efforts.
It’s an important factor to bear in mind when looking at Afghanistan, as any efforts to reduce the drugs trade there and restore security throughout the northern regions will in large part depend upon border conditions with Tajikistan and its neighbours.
But let’s try not to fall into the usual trap of seeing everything in Central Asia through the prism of Afghanistan. There are very real concerns about renewed conflict in Tajikistan and other Central Asian republics, and to the extent that the drugs trade encourages corruption, violence and the hollowing out of state capacity, it could be a contributory factor. While it’s true that the likelihood of conflict in the region can sometimes be overblown — hasn’t the Ferghana Valley been a ‘tinderbox’ for a couple decades now? — the recent violence and instability in Kyrgyzstan, and the prospects of regime change in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in coming years, point to a continued potential for conflict that must be managed cleverly if we are to avoid anything like the Tajik civil war of the 1990s.
So how does one brush up on events in Tajikistan? First, I recommend the online work of another crazy academic writing a dissertation on Tajikistan, Christian Bleuer — his Tajikistan Research site and the blogs Ghosts of Alexander and Registan. Not only is he incredibly knowledgeable about the country, he’s quite good at poking holes in overblown predictions and bad strategy.
I also like New Eurasia for on-the-ground coverage and debates about what’s really going on in the country, as well as the Institute for War & Peace Reporting and EurasiaNet. Of course there is always RFE/FL and the English-language Tajik news agency site Asia-Plus.
There’s a lot more out there, of course — just a bit to get you started. If you find yourself fascinated (it can happen!) please feel free to email me for more.
UPDATE: Wikileaks reveals that Tajikistan is a ‘corrupt, alcohol-sodden fiefdom‘. I think I’m going to nick that for my dissertation title.