A former Soviet republic, Tajikistan plunged into civil war almost as soon as it became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991. A rugged, mountainous country, with lush valleys to the south and north, it now faces the challenge of strengthening peace and reviving its ruined economy.Tajikistan photos
Nearly half of Tajikistan's population is under 14 years of age. Tajiks are the largest ethnic group, with Uzbeks making up a quarter of the population, over half of which is employed in agriculture and just one-fifth in industry.
The Tajik language is very close to Persian, spoken in Iran, and to Dari, spoken in Afghanistan.
The five-year civil war between the Moscow-backed government and the Islamist-led opposition, in which up to 50,000 people were killed and over one-tenth of the population fled the country, ended in 1997 with a United Nations-brokered peace agreement.
Tajikistan has been accused by its neighbours of tolerating the presence of training camps for Islamist rebels on its territory, an accusation which it has strongly denied.
The republic has relied heavily on Russian assistance to counter continuing security problems and cope with the dire economic situation. Russian forces guarded sections of the border with Afghanistan until mid-2005 when their withdrawal was completed and the task handed over to Tajik border guards.
Skirmishes with drug smugglers crossing illegally from Afghanistan occur regularly, as Tajikistan is the first stop on the drugs route from there to Russia and the West.
In October 2004 Russia formally opened a military base in Dushanbe where several thousand troops will be stationed. It also took back control over a former Soviet space monitoring centre at Nurek. These developments were widely seen as a sign of Russia's wish to counter increased US influence in Central Asia.
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