Iran’s recent economic expansion in Tajikistan appears to be part of Tehran’s broader strategy to strengthen its influence in the country. In addition to pledging to invest more in the Tajik economy, Tehran has reiterated its calls for Dushanbe to foster closer cultural cooperation and announced plans to build universities and hospitals in the Tajik capital.
Iran has traditionally emphasized civilization and linguistic bonds as the foundation for a “special relationship” with Tajikistan. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad famously referred to Iran and Tajikistan as “one spirit in two bodies,” and Tehran has long pushed for the expansion of cultural ties with Dushanbe. Tajik President Emomali Rahmon’s trip to Tehran on March 27-28, to celebrate Novruz with the Iranian leader for the second year running indicates the Tajik leadership’s willingness to embrace closer cultural links (www.president.tj, March 27).
Private Iranian companies plan to build health clinics in the Tajik capital, Tehran’s embassy in Dushanbe announced on February 22. If the Tajik Ministry of Health approves the plan, three specialized clinics will be built in Dushanbe – for plastic and reconstructive surgery, for kidney and urological diseases, and for eye disorders (www.news.tj, February 22, 2011).
Iranian entrepreneurs see health clinics in Tajikistan as a sure way to cash in on the country’s failing health infrastructure. A recent report describes the Tajik healthcare system as being in a “steep decline” due to low government spending on health sector, acute shortage of skilled and dedicated health workers, corrupt and poorly maintained hospitals, and incomplete reform process. The public trust in the country’s healthcare system is increasingly low, with many better-off Tajiks preferring to seek care abroad. The Iranian embassy alone issues about 100 visas monthly to Tajik nationals, wanting to undergo medical treatment in Iran (www.news.tj, February 22, 2011). Other popular destinations include Russia and Kazakhstan.