I traveled to Dushanbe last week for a two-day visit. After having recovered from a devastating civil war in the 1990s, Tajikistan remains fragile, as shown by the August 23 prison break of opposition figures and foreign fighters and the September 3 IED blast. Tajikistan also shares a 1,400 kilometer border with Afghanistan.
One of the poorest countries in the world, Tajikistan lacks economic opportunities, which has prompted over one million Tajik men to work in Russia, Kazakhstan, and other countries. Many families rely on their remittances for survival. Despite the delicate post-conflict situation, many multinational and bilateral donors have overlooked Tajikistan, which receives less assistance than African countries at similar post-conflict stages. USAID conducts a wide-ranging, $44.5 million program, including a teacher training program that I watched in action on the first day of school, which students commemorated by wearing their best suits and dresses. We hope to continue to help President Rahmon deal with these many challenges. My meetings with him, Foreign Minister Zarifi, and Deputy Foreign Minister Rahmanova took us a step in the right direction.
Expanding the space for political opportunities also helps stabilize Tajikistan. I met with Muhiddin Kabiri, chairman of the Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan, the only Islam-based political party in all of Central Asia, and the primary opposition party in Dushanbe. Kabiri stressed to me the importance of putting forward a moderate Muslim platform that allows both religious and political expression. NGO representatives told me that while they encounter many obstacles, they can still work productively at a local level to promote more active civil society involvement. For our part, I frequently cite USAID's support for 41 water users associations spread throughout the country, a successful grassroots effort to self-govern water management.
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