Policy Memos

Tajikistan's New Trade: Cross-border Commerce and the China-Afghanistan Link

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The official Tajik narrative on cross-border relations with Afghanistan focuses on security concerns, namely the spread of drug trafficking and Islamic militancy. Presenting these threats as entirely external in origin is useful for Tajik elites as it attracts the attention of the international community. However, these issues can in large part be explained by elements of Tajik society itself, including interregional balances, rivalries between influence groups, patrimonial sharing of riches, and the recurrent poverty of the majority of the population. Moreover, the security and defense aspects of relations with Afghanistan are counter-balanced by commercial opportunities offered by Tajikistan’s geographical location. A parallel development of trade with both Afghanistan and China is transforming the social fabric and economic strategies of Tajik elites. In Central Asia, Tajikistan has benefitted the most from Chinese investments in road infrastructure, the aim of which is to integrate Tajikistan better into Beijing-led regional trade dynamics involving Afghanistan and Pakistan. Tajikistan is also subject to growing pressure from Afghan partners to open up its borders so that Afghan businessmen have road access to the Chinese market. Pro-Chinese and pro-Afghan lobbies are thus going to structure Tajik trade, particularly in Tajikistan’s eastern Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO). The pattern of border openings contradicts a more security-oriented approach. [...]

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About the author

Research Professor, The Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies
George Washington University