Tuesday, Feb. 01, 2011

Emomali Rahmon

Since 1992, just a year after its independence, the small Central Asian state of Tajikistan has been governed by Emomali Rahmon. The former Soviet apparatchik came to power at the onset of a bloody civil war in the country, pitting a faction led by Islamists against a ruling bloc of more secular, Russian-backed forces, among them Rahmon. Tens of thousands died, but Rahmon came out victorious, and, as with leaders of other regimes in Central Asia, he has justified his authoritarianism in part as a hedge against the threat of extremist radicals. But experts describe Rahmon's Tajikistan as poor and lawless and a key conduit for opium from neighboring Afghanistan. After the financial recession hit the wealthier nations of Russia and Kazakhstan, tens of thousands of Tajik workers — whose remittances form the lifeblood of the Tajik economy — went home to poverty-racked villages. In this climate, observers report the revitalizing of a long-dormant Islamist insurgency, backed in part with the arrival of fighters who once dwelled in Pakistan's tribal areas. All the while, Rahmon continues to govern Tajikistan as his personal fief, his family the beneficiaries of years of graft. His government may still stand, but dark clouds hover over the future of Rahmon's Tajikistan.