History and Government

History : The Tajiks come from an ancient stock - the inhabitants of the Pamir Mountains claim to be the only pure descendants of the Aryan tribes who invaded India over 4000 years ago, and that the Saxon tribes of Western Europe also originated there. Tajikistan’s inaccessibility has protected it from most invaders, although Alexander the Great founded a city on the site of modern-day Khojand, calling it Alexandria Eskate (Alexandria the Furthest). However, the mountains effectively spared it from the Mongols, although it was under their aegis.

After the dissolution of the Mongol Empire, Tajikistan was successively ruled by the emirs of Samarkand, Bukhara, and finally, Kokhand. It was eventually ceded to the Russian sphere of influence in the dying days of the ‘Great Game’ of political intrigue between the Russian Empire and the British in India at the end of the 19th century. The Bolsheviks were not made welcome and the Basmachi movement continued to resist them until the early-1930s. Enver Pasha (d. 1924) and Ibraghim Beg (d. 1931) both came to their end in Tajikistan. During the fighting, some 200,000 Tajiks fled to Afghanistan. Tajikistan’s distance and remoteness again saved it during the Soviet era, when it escaped more lightly than other republics did.

Russian immigration was encouraged and many inhabitants of the Garm valley and the Pamirs were forcibly moved to the southwest in the 1950s, to help with the cotton-growing, and replacing those who had escaped into Afghanistan. From 1983 until 1991 - the closing stages of Soviet rule - the Tajik republic was run by Kakhar Makhkamov. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the establishment of Tajikistan as a sovereign state, the former leader of the Tajik Communist Party, Rakhman Nabiyev, returned to power in November 1991, after 8 years out of office.

The main opposition to the Nabiyev government came from the inhabitants of the Garm and Pamir regions, who felt excluded from national politics. In 1992, the Garmis united under the flag of the opposition Islamic Revival Party and the Pamiris under that of the Democratic Party. The pair soon formed a strategic alliance, the United Tajik Opposition (UTO). With neither side willing to compromise, the stage was thus set for a civil war, which lasted for 5 years and reduced the already impoverished country to penury. The Tajik war had some of the characteristics of the recent civil wars in the Balkans and has certainly matched them for savagery and loss of life. The conflict was watched with great concern by Tajikistan’s neighbours. All were aware that the strife there could easily erupt in their own territories, as the three main political forces in the region - Islam, communism and liberal democracy - contend for influence. In 1994, Russian troops were brought in at the request of the beleaguered regime. Moscow also brokered negotiations between the government and the UTO. By 1997, the government and opposition had gradually put together a workable deal, under which the UTO accepted a 30 per cent share of administrative responsibilities and integrated some of its units into the army. The government would, for its part, legalise the main opposition political parties that were previously banned.

Nevertheless, the presidential election of November 1999 was a one-sided affair, with the government candidate, Imomali Rakhmonov, attracting 97 per cent of the vote against a nominal opponent. Assembly elections in March 2000 returned the ruling People’s Democratic Party of Tajikistan.

Post-Soviet developments in the former Central Asian republics, the ‘Stans’, had barely registered in the West. That changed after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. Keen to prosecute its war against the al-Qaeda ‘network’ and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, Washington started to canvas neighbouring countries for facilities and military bases. Tajikistan, which shares a 1000-mile border with Afghanistan, was a prime candidate and much of the subsequent fighting in northern Afghanistan relied on US supplies and personnel moved in from Tajikistan. There were also valuable ethnic links between the Tajiks and parts of the Northern Alliance (see Afghanistan) - descendants of those who fled Tajikistan in the 1930s - and that ultimately took care of the bulk of the fighting on the ground. The Americans made little secret of the fact that they intended to stay, despite the reservations of the other two main regional powers, China and the Russian Federation (which increased its troop deployment in 2003 to 19,000). For their part, the Tajiks were mainly concerned with the economic potential of the arrangement. The economy is in poor shape and many regions of the country have suffered food shortages following years of drought and economic dislocation caused by the civil war.

Government : Under the new constitution agreed between the government and the UTO (see History above), Tajikistan has an executive president who appoints a prime minister to lead a Council of Ministers. The legislature is the bicameral Majlisi Oli, which comprises the 63-member Assembly of Representatives elected by popular vote and the 33-member National Assembly, with 25 members elected by majlis deputies and 8 presidential appointees. Both houses serve a 5-year term.

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