Tajikistan benefits from UK engagement and assistance
Co-chair of the APPG Nigel Mills MP and John Mann MP visited Tajikistan between 23 and 29 October 2016. The aim of the visit was to advance UK-Tajik relations meeting parliamentarians and government officials, and to review the effectiveness of DFID’s strategy in the country.
Tajikistan is a country still transitioning from its Soviet past and recovering from a brutal civil war that severely weakened its economy, while also facing the challenges of Islamic extremism and increasing instability in its neighbour, Afghanistan.
There are real concerns that the Government’s efforts to deliver stability and security have resulted in suppression of opposition parties, a weakening of democratic institutions and human rights issues with regard to freedom of religion and speech. After discussions with government ministries and NGOs in Tajikistan we remained very concerned about the treatment of opposition politicians and lawyers that represented them and urged the Government to respect the rule of law.
Given the high levels of poverty in Tajikistan and the reliance on remittances from seasonal workers travelling to Russia, a main focus of our visit was on the efforts of the Government to grow their economy and the support needed from, and provided by, international partners including the UK. We saw that there had been much progress, especially in the country’s second city, Khujand, and that the economy was growing but increasing restrictions on Tajik workers in Russia was having a significant impact.
International partners were very concerned at the health of Tajikistan’s public finances and the need for action to strengthen the banking sector and implement reforms to support the private sector. The Tajik government were keen for UK support, especially in the area of strengthening their tax capability. We urge the UK government to make progress on the various projects that are currently under consideration.
From Khujand we visited projects where UK aid money has been used to help rural communities develop their economies including an irrigation scheme that has reduced tensions across the border with Kyrgyzstan and a plant that processed local agricultural produce. We saw the success of these projects but were concerned that, due to the way the funds had been delivered through partner organisations, there was little awareness that the UK had been involved at all. We urge DFID to structure its support to work directly with those delivering projects rather than rely so much on third parties and ensure that UK involvement is always fully transparent.
We were impressed with the respect our small embassy in Tajikistan commands, and the level of influence it has. However we were concerned that UK interest in the country and region was perceived to be declining. We believe this would be a serious mistake given the importance of ensuring stability in this region and the key role Tajikistan plays given its long border with Afghanistan.
Tajikistan is a country that faces many challenges but with a young, and growing, population has the ability to succeed. UK engagement in building the capacity of government institutions, supporting the delivery of much needed economic reforms, and effective use of aid money to grow the economy and strengthen democratic systems would represent a sound investment and help to deliver the stability and security in this region that is in everyone’s interest.
The trip consisted of various meetings with parliamentarians and government officials as well as visits to villages and DFID projects in the Isfara Region, as well as a stop at the border between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. The first appointment upon arrival in Tajikistan was a briefing lunch with HMA, DHM and the Head of DFID, followed by a meeting with the equivalent APPG Group, the Tajik-British APPG. The subsequent days included a series of meetings with Deputy Foreign Minister Mr Muzafar Khuseinzoda, Chairman of the Committee on Religious Affairs, Regulation of Traditions, Ceremonies and Celebrations Mr Sulaimon Davlatov; the Deputy Minister of Economic Development and Trade Umed Davlatzod; Head of the Tax Committee Mr Aybjon Soliev; Mrs Nigina Anvari, Deputy Head of the State committee of investment and state owned property management and Mr Abdurahmon Qodiri, the Governor of Sughd Region. The visit also included discussions on human rights with other Ambassadors and representatives of the international community, including the OSCE and DFID.