Tajikistan Defense and Foreign Policy

Foreign policy and defense

Tajikistan is a nation in Central Asia. Its capital city is Dushanbe. The world’s great powers have all interests in the security-unstable region in which Tajikistan is located. Russia and China belong to the immediate area, and the United States has an extensive military presence in the region. With the Central Asian neighbors, Tajikistan has a partially strained relationship.

tajikistan military spending and defense budget

Across the border with Afghanistan, much of the heroin that eventually reaches Europe is smuggled in, and the drug trade largely funds extremists active in the area.

Following the terrorist attacks against the United States in September 2001, the US military was allowed to use air bases in Tajikistan for the ensuing war in Afghanistan. That cooperation brought economic benefits to Tajikistan.

Relations with Russia

The collaboration also disrupted relations with Russia, which opposed the US presence. It contributed to the withdrawal of the Russian border border against Afghanistan in 2005. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia had left a large border force to prevent drug smuggling and the infiltration of militant Islamists. Now, the Tajiks themselves took over the assignment, albeit with contributions from both Russia and elsewhere to accomplish the task.

Russia was also given the right to set up its first permanent military base in Tajikistan. With its 7,000 men, the military base in Dushanbe is one of Russia’s largest abroad. The Russians also regained control of a former Soviet space surveillance center in Nurek. Moscow also agreed to write off most of Tajikistan’s debt.

The countries agreed in 2012 that the Russian military may stay in the country until 2042. Russia will also help modernize Tajikistan’s defense. In 2017, cooperation with Russia strengthened again in guarding the border with Afghanistan. The backdrop was the Taliban’s success there.

The difficult situation of the Tajik guest workers in Russia creates some tension in relation to Moscow.

Relations with Uzbekistan

Tajikistan has cooperated politically and militarily with Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan to fight extremists. The efforts have been directed, among other things, at the Taliban-allied Uzbek Islamist movement (IMU), which has waged guerrilla war against several regimes in the region. Another extremist movement moving across borders is Hizb ut-Tahrir. The extensive troop retreat from Afghanistan launched by the United States and its NATO allies in 2014 raised concerns that Islamists in the region would be given new leeway and in the long term threaten not only the Kabul government but also the neighboring countries. However, a deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan slowed the troop retreat and in 2017, US President Donald Trump pledged more troops to Afghanistan.

Relations with Uzbekistan were very strained until the death of Uzbek President Karimov in 2016. Uzbekistan saw Tajikistan as a weak link in the fight against terrorism. The neighboring country also protested against Tajik’s plans to build hydroelectric power stations that it believed would threaten downstream water supply, in Uzbekistan. It led from 2009 to recurring blockades of rail transport to Tajikistan across the border, to prevent equipment from reaching the dam project Rogun (see Natural Resources, Energy and Environment). From 2012, Uzbekistan also stopped the important supply of natural gas to Tajikistan, which protested against high gas prices. The countries have accused each other of espionage and environmental destruction across the border.

Following the change of president in Uzbekistan, a gradual approach has taken place between the two states. One of President Mirzijoyev’s main election promises when he was elected Uzbekistan’s president in 2016 was to improve relations with neighboring countries. In 2017, flights between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan resumed after a 25-year hiatus. In March 2018, a number of border crossings were opened which have been closed since 2001. When Mirzijoev visited President Rahmon in Dushanbe the same month, the two leaders agreed to scrap the visa requirement that has existed since 2000 for travel between the two neighboring countries. Uzbek and Tajiks should be able to spend 30 days in each other’s countries without a visa.

Unlike Karimov, Mirziojev does not oppose Tajikistan’s construction of the dam project Rogun. As a result, Tajikistan began to re-export electricity to Uzbekistan after an interruption since 2009, while Uzbekistan resumed gas supplies to Tajikistan. In September 2018, for the first time, the two neighboring countries conducted a joint counterterrorism exercise, in Tajikistan.

Other important relationships

Also with Kyrgyzstan there are tensions regarding water and land use along the largely unmarked border in the Fergana Valley and in two Tajik exclaves located in Kyrgyzstan. Smaller screen savers occur regularly.

With China, there has been a protracted dispute over the border crossing in the Pamir Mountains. It was reported to have been resolved in 2011, through an agreement that means that Tajikistan will relinquish more than 1,000 square kilometers or close to 0.8 percent of its territory to its neighbor. China has become Tajikistan’s largest bilateral lender. The neighboring giant has provided favorable loans for major road construction and expansion of the electricity grid, and has invested mainly in Tajik gold mining. During the 2010s, China has shown increasing interest in the security situation in Central Asia due to fears that militant Islamism will spread to the Uighur minority in the Chinese Xinjiang region.

Relations with Afghanistan improved significantly after the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. To Iran, Tajikistan has strong ethnic and linguistic ties and the countries cooperate on economic and military issues. However, relations with Iran were strained from 2015 when the Iranian government received a notorious militant Islamist leader.

Tajikistan participates in several regional cooperation bodies, in addition to the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which consists of the majority of former Soviet republics. The country was part of the Eurasec Economic Community (Eurasec), which was formed in 2000 between Russia, Belarus and four Central Asian states (Turkmenistan stood outside). Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan agreed in 2014 to move forward and form the Euro-Asian Economic Union (EEU) from January 1, 2015. Tajikistan does not belong to the countries that are in turn to join the EEU. China (but not Belarus) also participates in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) security cooperation. However, the various attempts to increase integration in the region have so far not yielded a major dividend.


Tajikistan’s defense is poorly equipped. Two years of general military duty prevails, but those who can afford can often buy themselves free, which is why most of the soldiers are from poor families. It is reported that students who are really excluded and men who have passed military service are kidnapped and forced to join the army. Systematic violence against conscripts is also a problem. The military is often accused of involvement in the extensive drug smuggling operation.


Army: 7,300 men (2017)

The air Force: 1,500 men (2017)

Military expenditure’s share of GDP: 1.2 percent (2015)

Military spending’s share of the state budget: 3.8 percent (2015)



Russian military base

Russia opens a military base and takes control of the former Soviet space center in Nurek.



Rachmonov can remain until 2020

A constitutional amendment is approved in a referendum, which means that President Rachmonov can remain in power for two more seven-year terms from the 2006 election.



The United States is offered support

Tajikistan provides support for the alliance against terrorism created by the United States following the attacks in New York and Washington on September 11.



Rachmonov’s party wins elections

Elections for a new two-chamber parliament are held. Rachmonov’s party The People’s Democratic Party wins big.