Tue, Dec 14, 2010 - Page 5 News List

WikiLeaks details list of challenges facing Tajikistan

The Guardian, LONDON

Tajikistan is losing the battle against the flow of drugs from neighboring Afghanistan and is characterized by “cronyism and corruption” emanating from the president downwards.

A series of leaked US diplomatic dispatches released by WikiLeaks paint a bleak picture of central Asia’s poorest state. They note that it suffers from “earthquakes, floods, droughts, locusts and extreme weather” and is situated next to “obstructive Uzbekistan,” “unstable Afghanistan” and the “rough, remote” Pamir mountains next to western China.

However, Tajikistan’s worst obstacle is the country’s venal leader, President Emomali Rahmon, diplomats said in the cables.

A secret cable dated Feb. 16 from the US embassy in Dushanbe describes how Rahmon runs the republic’s economy for his own personal profit: “From the president down to the policeman on the street, government is characterized by cronyism and corruption.

“Rahmon and his family control the country’s major businesses, including the largest bank, and they play hardball to protect their business interests, no matter the cost to the economy writ large. As one foreign ambassador summed up, Rahmon prefers to control 90 percent of a US$10 pie, rather than 30 percent of a US$100 pie,” the cable said.

Tajikistan’s sole industrial exports are aluminium and hydroelectricity, but most of the revenues from the “technically state-owned Tajik Aluminium Company (Talco) end up in a secretive offshore company controlled by the president,” the cable states, adding: “The state budget sees little of the income.”

Tajikistan is of growing importance to the US as a military supply route for the US army in next-door Afghanistan, but attempts to stop the endless traffic of Afghan heroin in the other direction — to Europe and Russia — have so far come to nothing, the cables say.

Last year Dushanbe intercepted only 5 percent of the 40 tonnes of “Afghan opiates” smuggled to Russia, the cable says, adding that: “Corruption is a major problem.”

Tajikistan’s “largely conscript” border guards are also “poorly trained, poorly paid, under-equipped and often under-fed,” the cables say.

In an entertaining cable, US Ambassador Richard Hoagland describes a meeting with Rahmon soon after he kicked the Russians out. Rahmon said that Moscow had been using the border guards to orchestrate a coup against him.

Chucking away his notes, the president said the Russian special services were bent on “causing trouble in Tajikistan.”

“It’s coming from the Kremlin, and some of it comes from the top. We can never forget that [Russian Prime Minister Vladmiri] Putin himself is a chekist [career intelligence officer] at heart,” the president said.

The cables also reveal that Tajikistan agreed to host a US military base on its territory — in defiance of the Kremlin.

The US appears to be under no illusions about the Kremlin’s resistance to US encroachment in its backyard.

“We believe Russia is exerting consistent and strong pressure on Tajikistan to reduce the US and Western role and presence,” the embassy said in 2006.

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