The United States categorized Tajikistan under the official banner of “country of particular concern,” pertaining to the government’s crackdown on religious freedom and other human rights abuses, according to EurasiaNet.
U.S. leadership, however, has decided not to pursue sanctions against the Central Asian country due to its vital role in fighting terrorism and drug trafficking. The Defense Department announced that Tajikistan would receive $50 million in assistance over the next few years to combat terrorist influence in the region.
The United States has turned a blind eye to other human rights abusers around the world, most notably Saudi Arabia, but Tajikistan’s rampant assault on religious liberty and freedom of expression has become too hard to ignore. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has lobbied for the State Department to place Tajikistan on a list of offending nations that repress religious expression, and State Department officials have finally listened after four years.
The State Department arrived at this conclusion for various reasons, but the government shutdown of main opposition party, Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, and the murder of an important opposition figure has forced the U.S. to make a reluctant response. The secular-based People’s Democratic Party of Tajikistan is the dominant faction, with President Emomali Rahmon ruling the party. Rahmon has governed the nation since the early 1990s, but many critics contest his legitimacy.
Authorities have responded harshly against peaceful protesters over the years, while jailing dissenters and forcibly extraditing political opponents, notes Human Rights Watch. The country’s descent into authoritarianism is all too apparent, but Tajik leaders will face few ramifications in the near future.
Under U.S. law, countries that are placed on the list would face denial of financial assistance in certain cases, but the Tajik state could collapse without foreign assistance. The Afghan war has destabilized Tajik borders in the past, and American officials fear Dushanbe’s fall would be an ideal breeding ground for terrorists, especially ISIS, which has spread its tentacles into parts of North Africa and Central Asia.
Furthermore, Tajikistan’s economy is poorly developed, and a great deal of the state’s revenue derives from remittances. Tajik workers primarily send remittances from Russia, but Moscow’s economic decline has placed Tajikistan in a precious spot. The Tajik economy largely centers on agriculture, with cotton comprising most of the sector’s output.
The country is a leading aluminum producer, but its manufacturing base remains lackluster. Tajikistan made significant advances after a post-Soviet civil war, but the economy is not potent enough to attract investment from around the world, and its heavy reliance on commodities makes it susceptible to international price shocks. Because of this, the U.S. feels compelled to render aid to stop Dushanbe from becoming a failed state.