Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Tajik Road Deaths Mount
Casualties are mounting in Tajikistan where a deadly combination of bad driving and bad roads has claimed hundreds of lives.
Almost 100 people have died on the countries’ highways since the beginning of the year, 18 of those children. On average, there are three serious, often fatal, accidents each day.
The April 13 crash that killed four people on the main road linking southern and central Tajikistan is fairly typical of the reckless driving that traffic police blame for the majority of crashes.
Four passengers in a Honda travelling from Dushanbe died instantly when the car’s driver crossed into the opposite lane, lost control and smashed into a truck. The truck driver escaped with minor injuries.
In the countryside, lack of lighting on roads is the scourge of almost all regional highways. Mountain roads that linking one region with another are particularly perilous and sometimes trucks and public transport vehicles fall into deep ravines.
Most traffic accidents occur in the capital Dushanbe, however, where foreign cars crowd poorly maintained roads that are incapable of meeting the demand. Hundreds of vehicles that come into the city each day from around the country only add to the chaos which has left many Tajiks fearing for their safety.
Zarina told IWPR that she is afraid to cross the road in Dushanbe where uneven surfaces have not been repaired since Soviet times. There are also no pedestrian footpaths and few streetlights, only adding to the danger.
“Drivers don’t see anything around them,” she said. “Recently, my neighbour’s sons, 12-year-old twins, were killed by a reckless driver who was driving a foreign car.” The boys’ parents declined to speak with IWPR about the incident.
Tajikistan traffic police colonel, Khabibullo Munavarov, agrees that irresponsible driving is responsible for many of the accidents and blames young people aged 18-24 for much of the increased road carnage.
Munavarov also cites Tajikistan’s “obsolete” traffic lights and road signs for contributing to the problem.
Dushanbe residents, however, accuse the traffic police of condoning bad driving, saying many look the other way in exchange for bribes or selling licenses to young, unqualified drivers.
“Young guys buy licenses without even completing a driving course. For many, it’s enough to have a vague idea about how to sit behind the wheel,” said Sharif, a taxi driver in Dushanbe.
Fellow taxi driver Said insists such drivers are a real problem on the road, “They think that if they have rich fathers who bought their licenses, that means they can knock over pedestrians?”
Munavarov agrees with much of the criticism levelled against the country’s traffic police, saying collusion between bad drivers and certain officers creates “an atmosphere of impunity, which leads to serious accidents”.
Even President Emomali Rakhmonov has criticised the traffic police.
In his yearly speech to parliament last April, Rakhmonov told the interior ministry to bring order to the system. When this failed in January, he ordered the traffic police force to be cut in half, with many of the officers redeployed to guard the Tajik-Afghan border.
However, the interior ministry has delayed implementing this decision. One ministry official told IWPR, “Traffic police do not really want to face deprivations and danger on the border. They are trying to stay in their old jobs any way they can. Bribes, family relations and friendships are all being used again.”
All this leaves Rano Igamberdiev – whose 25-year-old son died last spring after being hit by a speeding Mercedes driven by a young student - doubtful she’ll ever see justice done.
The prosecutor’s office has refused to open a criminal case against the underage driver, so Igamberdiev has written to a local newspaper appealing directly to her son’s killer.
“I know that you are the victim of your parents’ wealth, your upbringing and the times that we live in,” she wrote.
“The eyes of justice in this country are blindfolded with dollar bills, but there is divine justice and divine retribution, and neither you nor your high-ranking relatives will be able to buy them off.”
Akbar Sharifi is an IWPR contributor in Tajikistan
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