Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Central Asia: July/Aug ‘07

Tajik officials say an IWPR report has helped them gain important insights into problems faced by Tajik travelers passing through Uzbekistan.
An IWPR story about Tajik travellers experiencing difficulties while passing through
neighbouring Uzbekistan “Tajik
Travellers Have Tough Time in Uzbekistan
” has helped Tajik officials
to see the problem through the eyes of ordinary people.

Most of the hundreds of thousands of Tajik nationals who work as seasonal migrants
in Russia, and increasingly in Kazakstan, cannot afford prohibitively expensive
air fares, so travel by road or rail through Uzbek territory instead.

The harassment of Tajik travellers on trains passing through Uzbek territory
on their way to Russia is a very sensitive issue. It is just one example of
how strained political relations between Dushanbe and Tashkent affect the lives
of ordinary people on both sides of the border.

Reports highlighting diplomatic tensions between the two countries and their
consequences for the wider population can provoke reactions from officials on
both sides.

There have been cases in the past when the Uzbek embassy in Dushanbe protested
over some media reports in the local press perceived as critical of Uzbekistan’s
policies. Sometimes, Tajik officials respond cautiously to these reports for
fear of provoking trouble with Tashkent.

Therefore, it is not easy for Tajik journalists to raise controversial issues
and report on them. The featured report was only possible due to the personal
contacts of IWPR long-standing contributors who were able to get wide range
of views on the topic.

On this occasion, the Tajik authorities have responded positively to our report,
which might be explained by the fact that at the time it was published officials
in Dushanbe were working on the issue.

According Khushnud Rahmattulaev, press secretary of Tajik State Border Defense
Committee, his colleagues on the committee were pleased that IWPR had publicised
the problems, as it helped them to understand what was going on in more detail.

Publication of the report has contributed to pushing an issue that has been
simmering for some time higher up the official agenda.

The issue of train delays due to what Tajik transport officials call “unauthorised
searches” of trains passing through Uzbekistan has been raised repeatedly
at regional meetings. But while representatives of Uzbekistan railways have
reportedly promised to improve the situation, little has been done.

Publication of the IWPR report coincided with a special Tajik governmental
group’s visit to Uzbekistan to discuss the situation on the border, conditions
at checkpoints and ways of simplifying border crossing to make traveling easier
for citizens of both countries.

Following the visit, it was agreed that the problems faced by Tajik travellers
will also be raised during a planned trip by the Tajik prime minister Akil Akilov
to Uzbekistan in October 2007.

Commenting on IWPR reporting, the head of Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan,
Muhiddin Kabiri said, “IWPR has brave journalists that bring controversial
issues to the public’s attention - issues that the Tajik media are afraid
to address.”

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