Tajikistan gained independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991, and is ruled by a presidential system. More than 7 million people belonging to over 80 nationalities and ethnic groups reside in Tajikistan. 26.3 percent of the total population consists of urban dwellers. Tajikistan comprises of Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast, Sughd Oblast, Khatlon Oblast and 11 Districts of Republican Subordination. Tajikistan has borders to Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, China and Afghanistan and is considered the poorest country in Europe and the CIS Region: 46.7 percent of the population in 2012 was deemed poor (Human Development Report 2013). Tajikistan is undergoing severe domestic and external pressures. On the external side, with Al Qaida under pressure in Afghanistan and Pakistan, some of the militants are expected to end up in Tajikistan and other Central Asian countries. Domestically, there is public dissatisfaction with government efforts to resolve pressing social and economic problems. However, President Emomali Rakhmon is credited with restoring peace and stability following the civil war in 1992-1997.
Although the official unemployment rate is set at 2.5% (CIA World Factbook 2012), the number is estimated much higher. More than a million of Tajik’s currently work as labor migrants, predominantly in Russia and other former Soviet states. The global financial crisis has increased economic hardships, most notably through a major decline in workers’ remittances (which account for nearly 50% of GDP) (BBC Country Profiles 2012).
Between the 8th and 14th century Central Asia, including what is today Tajikistan, changes hands several times: First, Arab forces invade Central Asia and introduce Islam, then the Persian Samanid dynasty takes over control, followed by Genghis Khan and last but not least the Turkic ruler Tamerlane. Between 1860 and 1900 the country divides, the north comes under Tsarist Russian rule; the south is annexed by the Emirate of Bukhara. In 1921 the territory of Tajikistan is reunited again and becomes part of the Bolshevik-designated Turkestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (together with Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, northern Turkmenistan and southern Kazakhstan). Three years later the Tajik ASSR is set up and becomes a part of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR), but already in 1929 the status of the Tajik ASSR is changed again to upgrade it to an SSR and becomes distinct from the Uzbek SSR. In the 1960s Tajikistan becomes the third largest cotton producer in the Soviet Union. In 1991 the Supreme Soviet declares Tajikistan independent from the Soviet Union and Rahmon Nabiyev, Communist leader between 1982 and 1985, wins Tajikistan's first direct presidential election with 57% of the vote. One year later anti-government demonstrations in Dushanbe escalate into a full blown civil war between pro-government forces, Islamist and pro-democracy groups that costs 20’000 people their lives, displaces 600’000 and devastates the economy. During the course of the civil war Nabiyev is forced to resign and Emomali Rahmon takes his place. In 1997 the government and rebel United Tajik Opposition (UTO) sign a peace accord which ends the 5 year civil war. In 1999 Rahmon is re-elected for a second term with 96% of the vote and is awarded the order of Hero of Tajikistan. A new bicameral parliament is set up in March 2000 and a new national currency, the somoni, is introduced. In 2006 President Rakhmon wins a third term, after a referendum was passed in 2003, allowing him to run for further two consecutive seven-year terms. Tajikistan endures several domestic security incidents in 2010-12, including a mass prison-break from a Dushanbe detention facility, the country's first suicide car bombing in Khujand, and armed conflict between government forces and local strongmen in the Rasht Valley and government forces and criminal groups in Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (BBC Country Profiles, 2012).
Even though Tajikistan’s economy has grown fast in recent years, there remain challenges that hamper development. For one, Tajikistan remains the poorest country in the former Soviet sphere. Although Tajikistan’s economy has grown significantly since 2000, recent advances are at risk of being lost. Tajikistan’s economy is particularly susceptible to the global economic crisis, due to its reliance on labor migration. In 2008, 33% of the economically active population was engaged in external labor migration and remittances comprised approximately 50% of GDP. In 2009, a 30% decrease in remittance inflows is expected and will likely further increase the current rate of unemployment (presently at 33%, as stated by the World Bank.