U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently made her first visit to Tajikistan. The country is at a critical moment in history, she said. The effects of post-Soviet rule can still be felt. But there are signs that things are improving. There are successful efforts underway to stop traffickers who have forced women and children to work in the cotton fields. And farmers are beginning to exercise their right to own land and to choose which crops grow. Moreover, more people in rural communities have access to safe drinking water.
Since establishing diplomatic relations in 1992, the United States has provided nearly one billion dollars in assistance to Tajikistan. The U.S. strongly supports the rights of Tajik citizens to own land, enjoy a free and independent media, participate equally in the political process, and enjoy all of the universal rights that should be available to any man or woman.
Fundamental freedoms, including religious freedom, should be protected for all Tajiks. Restrictions on religious expression, such as Tajik rules against Muslims wearing veils or beards, "could build up discontent," said Secretary Clinton. "We don’t want to do anything to breed extremism," she said, adding that Tajik leaders should rethink "any restrictions going forward, because we think they could increase sympathy for extremist views."
Speaking at a gathering of Tajik civic leaders, women and youth, Secretary Clinton said Afghanistan’s neighbors have suffered economically from regional instability caused by the Afghan war. She said the concept of a "New Silk Road" linking Central Asian nations is a way to boost economies and living standards throughout the region. "A network of transit and trade connections," said Secretary Clinton, can open up new markets for raw materials and energy and agricultural products that can be traded among all nations in the region.
In order to take advantage of these opportunities, Tajik laws need to change. To attract foreign investment, the government must demonstrate a strong commitment to human rights, the rule of law and an independent judiciary. It must also be prepared to take on corruption and abuse.
The United States encourages Tajikistan to modernize its economy and protect the fundamental rights of citizens.