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.

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.