Our Man In Istanbul Goes Top Gear in Tajikistan

Border country. Smallest of the ‘five ‘Stans’ Central Asian republics, Tajikistan is 90% mountains and 50% above 9,800ft. At nearly 4,200 miles by road from London – via Moscow – strictly speaking this is not Europe… but it is only just east of the mythical line drawn south from the Urals.

We tag along with a Foreign Office delegation on the 195 mile drive from capital Dushanbe in the west to second city Khudzand in the north. Click here for the route.

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The first ever UK trade mission to Tajikistan visited last week. Leigh Turner and colleagues are there to follow up. The Tajik government has also just signed an agreement to allow UK military equipment from Afghanistan to transit the country. Notionally democratic, President Rahmon has been in power since 1994.

The first ever UK trade mission to Tajikistan visited last week. Leigh Turner – Regional Director for Trade & Investment for Turkey, Central Asia and South Caucasus – and Foreign Office colleagues are there to follow up. Here, on a visit to the economic advisor to President Rahmon, in power since 1994.

Bordered by three of the other ‘Stans (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan) and also Afghanistan and China, Tajikistan also comes literally within a few miles of Pakistan. Tajiks are one of the Persian speaking peoples, like Iranians and Afghans. The dominant religion is Sunni Muslim.

Bordered by three of the other ‘Stans (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan) and also Afghanistan and China, Tajikistan also comes literally within a few miles of Pakistan. The Tajik government has recently signed an agreement to allow British military equipment from Afghanistan to transit the country. Tajiks are one of the Persian speaking peoples, like Iranians and Afghans. The dominant religion is Sunni Muslim.

Dushanbe, pop. 680,000, is 2,316ft above sea level and four hours ahead of London. Currently 22°C and sunny.

Dushanbe, population 680,000, is 2,316ft above sea level and four hours ahead of London. Currently 22°C and sunny. The Tajik climate varies depending on the elevation. In general summers are long and hot with short cold winters. In common with other Central Asian countries the issue is lack of rain.

Running west east through Dushanbe is the M41 Pamir Highway, a northern section of the ancient Silk Route and the world’s second highest international road. The M34 road north from Dushanbe to Khudzand crosses the western edge of the Pamirs where they reach a maximum 15,000ft.

The M34 road north towards Khudzand crosses the western edge of the Pamir mountains. The Pamirs are at the junction of several ranges including the Himalayas and the Hindu Khush. Despite peaks reaching around 15,000ft, the western part of Pamir is significantly lower than the east.

"Spectacular scenery and roads generally good despite terrain," reports Turner.

“Spectacular scenery and roads generally good despite the terrain,” reports Turner.

A lorry gets stuck at the entrance to the Istiqlol Tunnel, known locally as the Anzob Tunnel or the ‘Tunnel of Death’. Three miles long, 50 miles north west of Dushanbe. Opened in 2007. Built and financed mainly by Iran.

A lorry is stuck at the entrance to the Istiqlol Tunnel, known locally as the Anzob Tunnel or the ‘Tunnel of Death’. Three miles long, 50 miles from Dushanbe. Opened in 2007. Built and financed mainly by Iran.

Istiqlol is still to be paved, drained and ventilated but these are mere details when the tunnel means people can drive between the two largest cities in all weathers and without having to detour through Uzbekistan as previously.

Istiqlol is still to be paved, drained and ventilated but these are mere details when it means people can drive between the two largest cities in most weathers without detouring through Uzbekistan as previously.

"Another driver's manoeuvre... Evasive action... We're in the ditch : ( "

“Another driver’s manoeuvre… Evasive action… We’re in the ditch : ( “

What do the English do when stranded in a ditch? Have a cup of tea of course. Served by HM Ambassador to Tajikistan, Robin Ord-Smith.

Time for a nice cup of tea, organised by HM Ambassador to Tajikistan, Robin Ord-Smith. They didn’t have to wait long for a tow.

Poppies in Fergana valley. Tajikistan is a major transit route for opium products from Afghanistan. Legitimate business includes cotton and aluminium. Tajikistan is landlocked and has no navigable waterways but a major export is hydroelelectricity. At nearly 1,000ft high the Nurek Dam, 47 miles east of Dushanbe, is the world’s highest. Remittances from the one million Tajiks who work abroad make up over a third of GDP.

Poppies in Fergana valley. Tajikistan is a major transit route for ‘opium products’ from Afghanistan. Legitimate industry includes cotton, aluminium and hydroelectricity. The 1,000ft tall Nerak Dam, 47 miles east of Dushanbe, is the world’s highest. Over a third of GDP comes from money sent home by the one million Tajiks who work abroad. The total population is 7.3 million in a country just over half the size of the UK.

Khujand second largest city Khudzand - or Khujand, formerly Leninabad - on the Syr Darya river at the mouth of the Fargana Valley, capital of the northern province, Sughd. Major staging point on the Silk Road. 100 miles south of Tashkent and 175 miles east of Samarkand. Height 1,000 ft.

Khudzand – or Khujand, formerly Leninabad – sits on the Syr Darya river at the mouth of the Fargana Valley. Capital of the northern province Sughd. Major staging point on the ancient Silk Road. 100 miles south of Tashkent and 175 miles east of Samarkand. Height 1,000 ft.

Tajikistan was devastated by a civil war after the collapse of the Soviet Union but since 1997 has been at peace. Deputy Governor of Khudzand tells HMA Dushanbe and me region grew 8.2% in Q1 2012 and the country by 7%.

Tajikistan was devastated by a civil war after the collapse of the Soviet Union but has been peaceful since 1997. This year, according to the Deputy Governor of Khudzand, left, the region grew 8.2% in Q1 2012 while the country as a whole grew by 7%. Leigh Turner is third from right.

The visit includes a visit to the Free Economic Zone near Khujand where they visit factories making Solar panel factory, paint factory, window frames. Businesses tell Leigh Turner they are ‘desperately short of trained staff’, one area in which the UK can help.

The visit takes in the Free Economic Zone near Khujand which includes factories making solar panels, paint and window frames. Businesses say they are ‘desperately short of trained staff’, one area in which the UK can help.

The VSO charity - Voluntary Services Overseas - has been working in Tajikistan since 2008 with ‘with marginalised youth and women from low income households to make sure vulnerable people and communities are benefiting from economic growth.’ VSO also runs an ‘ethical tourism’ programme.

The VSO charity – Voluntary Services Overseas – has been working in Tajikistan since 2008 ‘with marginalised youth and women from low income households to make sure vulnerable people and communities are benefiting from economic growth.’ VSO also runs an ‘ethical tourism’ programme.

Silver mining has been ongoing in Tajikistan for over a thousand years though these mine tailings are more modern. An existing Western investor in Tajikistan is Silverhill Resources, a Swiss based company, which holds a licence for the Kanjol Ore Field in northern Sugd.

Silver mining has been ongoing in Tajikistan for over a thousand years though these mine tailings are more modern. An existing Western investor in Tajikistan is Silverhill Resources, a Swiss based company, which holds a licence for the Kanjol Ore Field in northern Sughd. Tajikistan also has deposits of gold, antimony and a long list of other metals as well as coal.

Like many of its neighbours, an important industry in Soviet times was uranium mining but it has substantially diminished since. The size of Tajikistan’s remaining uranium deposits is a state secret. The US has been closely involved in combating nuclear trafficking. Tajikistan is a signatory to all the international treaties and organisations. The biggest problem is dealing with its 55 million tons of radioactive waste.

Like many of its neighbours, an important industry in Soviet times was uranium mining but it has substantially diminished since. The size of the remaining uranium deposits is a state secret. The US has been closely involved in combating nuclear trafficking. Tajikistan is a signatory to all the international treaties and organisations. The biggest problem is dealing with the 55 million tons of radioactive waste..

For more information on the UK in Tajikistan click here.

For more information on VSO in Tajikistan and tourism click here.

All photos © Twitter/ @LeighTurnerFCO but all research and text solely by DriveEurope. For our previous coverage of Leigh Turners travels see ‘Across the Sea of Marmara with Our Man in Istanbul’.

2 thoughts on “Our Man In Istanbul Goes Top Gear in Tajikistan

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