The United States has for the first time formally designated Tajikistan as a "country of particular concern" with respect to religious freedom, while at the same time waiving any potential sanctions that could entail because the country is of "important national interest" to the U.S.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which annually reviews countries' religious freedom practices, has determined that Tajikistan violated the rights of Muslims, Protestants, and Jehovah's Witnesses. Since 2012 the commission has recommended Tajikistan be placed on the list of the worst violators of religious freedom around the globe. For the first time this year the State Department agreed, adding Tajikistan to a list that also includes Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. It's unclear what pushed the State Department to finally lose patience this year, but no doubt the dramatic crackdown on the country's only significant opposition political party, the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, contributed.
By law, this designation could require the U.S. to curtail various forms of aid to Tajikistan, including military aid. But the law in question gives the president significant latitude as to exactly what sorts of sanctions to apply -- they could be limited, for example, to a "private demarche" or the "delay or cancellation of one or more cultural exchanges."
But Tajikistan will escape even those mild consequences: "We have waived application of presidential actions with respect to Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan following determinations that the important national interest of the United States required exercising this waiver authority," State Department Mark Kirby announced.
In a statement to The Bug Pit, a State Department spokesperson explained the national interest that Tajikistan represents to Washington:
Stability and economic growth in Tajikistan are critical to achieving overall regional stability and to strengthening regional economic integration. Tajikistan faces many challenges, including a long border with Afghanistan that is difficult to manage as well as regional threats include extremism, radicalization, terrorism, and drugs. The United States and Tajikistan have a broad-based relationship, cooperating in such areas as counter-narcotics, counterterrorism, non-proliferation, and regional growth and stability. Tajikistan has been a strong partner to the United States and international forces in efforts to bring security and peace to Afghanistan, playing an important role in supply and transit routes.
As if to underscore that point, the top special forces commander in U.S. Central Command, Major General Darsie D. Rogers, visited Dushanbe on Monday, where he "discussed areas of continued military cooperation between the United States and the Central Asian States, including SOCCENT’s relationship with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan’s Special Operations Forces," a U.S. embassy statement announced. "Rogers also met with senior military officials and underscored the importance of a continued partnership as well as SOCCENT’s support to stability and security in Central Asia."
Earlier this year, the U.S. Defense Department announced that Tajikistan would be getting an additional $50 million in special military aid over the next two years in order to help the country fight terrorists.