Looking at Tajikistan

by Joshua Foust on 5/19/2009 · 5 comments

There is a curious RFR/RL report about families fleeing Tajikistan so they can live in an Islamic country. That’s right: they’re moving to Afghanistan:

Afghan investigators told RFE/RL that the Tajiks said they are not followers of any political group or religious movement but simply wanted to live in a “Muslim country.”

Weird. It brought to mind a two-year old post Christian Bleuer wrote about Pashtuns fleeing the fighting in Pakistan (what, you thought Pakistan is a new problem?), comparing it to the Tajik refugee flight during the 1990s.

According to the UNHCR approximately 100,000 refugees fled into northern Afghanistan in an exodus that started in late 1992. As late as the end of 1995 nearly 20,000 refugees remained in three main camps across northern Afghanistan. Though it should be noted that the northern parts of Afghanistan were relatively stable until the Taliban showed up.

What would make the theoretical Pakistan civil war so much worse is the huge population difference. Tajikistan has about 7 million people. Pakistan has about 165 million. Furthermore, many refugees from Tajikistan were able to go to Russia and Uzbekistan. Where exactly would the Pakistani refugees go?

That’s kind of happening right now, though the overflow into Afghanistan has thus far been limited.

When we’ve discussed Tajikistan here on Registan.net, it’s often been in the form of physical challenges: power supplies and electricity, or their growing conflicts with neighboring Central Asia states over access to water. What we rarely discuss are the social issues there, partially because there’s so little information available (I miss Ian Chesley’s coverage at Beyond the River).

Now, Tajikistan isn’t exactly a backwater. It’s importance is growing as a staging area for NATO operations in Afghanistan, even if it will never compete with the air bases in Kyrgyzstan or Uzbekistan. It lies along a critical drug smuggling route, and will probably become more important should the U.S. and NATO choose to become adults about counternarcotics and stop trying to destroy small farming communities. And it is one outpost of Iran’s growing regional influence, both from a linguistic and cultural, but also a political perspective.

Now, the specific fortunes of Tajikistan are rather opaque: either it is in the process of collapsing or not, its president is an eccentric or not, it is an Islamic society, or, apparently, not enough of one to prevent families from illegally emigrating south. Indeed, I haven’t the slightest clue what really is going on there, save a niggling suspicion that it will probably be very important in the next few years. Anyone have any other thoughts?


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 5 comments }

Reader May 19, 2009 at 12:24 pm

That’s how you get yourself registered with UNHCR as a refugee fleeing religious and political repression and seeking to live in a free society such as the Denmark, Sweden, or the US of A!

AJK May 19, 2009 at 2:02 pm

I don’t think many folks are taking Afghanistani refugees right now, let alone folks fleeing into Afghanistan. Too much security ish, too much anti-state-building, too many loaded questions. That’s at least what it would be in the US of A…I’m assuming Scandinavians are still taking mostly W. Asian refugees these days.

AliG May 19, 2009 at 6:00 pm

Lame….who cares????? I’m more interested in our Rahmon polishing his lil Rustam to head the soon-to-be kingdom of Rahmoniyans…..anyways…poor,irrelevant, ans simply waste-of-time kinda reporting by RFR/RL…people left because they hate country’s condition….and maybe because of a new pathetic religious law…..bottomline, let the people go!

p.s. Rahom isn’t eccentric anymore….or is he? ;)…probably you’ve heard about his recent pr stunt….that man deserves an oscar!

ML August 10, 2009 at 5:28 pm

“Tajik” is an old Turkic word for Persians, or non-Turks; the Tajiks moving to Afghanistan aren’t “Tajik citizens” or a unique ethny moving into an alien nation and society, they are often indistinguishable from Afghans in all but dialect and female dress. Tajik as a national language is a mere legality; it’s hardly different from Dari. So these “Tajiks”, while moving across recent “international borders”, are still very much at home in a broader cultural realm. A Tajik national can travel to Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, central Pakistan or even northern India and find himself understood and unnoticed because he looks no different from others. In the same way, certain varieties of “Latino” can travel anywhere in Central and South America and not be out of place except for minor dialect differences. Hardly grounds to suppose a radically different ethny .

Nathan Hamm August 11, 2009 at 8:51 am

Congrats. You know things. Who said anything about Tajiks being radically different ethnic group from the closely related peoples of neighboring states?

A different citizenry is another matter entirely. What you call mere legalities are anything but trivial, especially so in the former Soviet states of Central Asia. If these folks are legally citizens of Tajikistan, then they are in fact “Tajik citizens” regardless of how at home they feel in “a broader cultural realm.”

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