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Wednesday, 19 September, 2001, 22:57 GMT 23:57 UK
Tajikistan's new-found fame
Russian soldiers man the Tajik-Afghan border
Security has been tightened since the US attacks
Remote Tajikistan has never before enjoyed such foreign media interest. Journalists from all over the world have descended on the former Soviet republic in case it becomes involved in US military strikes on neighbouring Afghanistan. But that is unlikely, says the BBC's Sarah Nelson.

At the Ministry of Communications, they are running out of mobile phones.


More than 300 foreign journalists have applied for permission to enter this former Soviet republic, and this basic part of the world media's kit will only work if it is supplied locally.

So every day the friendly staff make tea and offer apple buns to the incommunicado and increasingly desperate reporters who fill the offices.

Tajikistan has never seen foreign interest like it.

Tajikistan's own problems

Never mind that this country is suffering from its third year of drought, and a sixth of the population, roughly one million people, are at risk from starvation because of food shortages this year.

This country borders Afghanistan, and what help it may give the United States if there are military strikes against the Taleban has suddenly put it in the spotlight.

But that help is likely to be limited.

The president has expressed his sympathy and said that Tajikistan supports America.

Northern Alliance soldiers in the village of Saricha, some 160 km from Kabul, Afghanistan
The Afghan opposition: Seen as a buffer against the Taleban
But his government is a weak coalition which relies on the Russian army to secure its border from Taleban forces to the south.

And Russia is making it clear that it does not envisage American use of its bases in the region.

But the president is unlikely to complain at that.

People here fear the consequences of military action.

They don't believe that US ground forces in Afghanistan would be any more successful than the disastrous Soviet campaign in the 1980s.

They are concerned that military strikes in Afghanistan could encourage many more Afghanis to try and escape across the border into Tajikistan, giving the government another problem it can ill afford.

And while they see the Taleban as a threat, they don't believe that the best way to tackle terrorists is through armed attack.

It is not difficult, for example, to find people who know those who have gone through Osama Bin Laden's training camps.

No one will admit publicly to it now, but during the civil war in Tajikistan, which only ended four years ago, it was commonplace.

A lucrative fight

And the government is only too aware that the attraction for some is still there.

The average monthly wage is $9, but there are reports that the Taleban offers up to $500 a month to Tajiks who will fight.

The government's response is support for the main Afghani opposition group, the Northern Alliance, which has an embassy in the capital Dushanbe.

Anti-government demonstration in Tajikistan
Tajikistan already has its own internal stresses
The Tajiks, and Russia too, see the Northern Alliance as a buffer to militant extremism on the border. But the threat within is still real - in the past year three senior government figures have been murdered.

So political stability is very fragile in Tajikistan, and the people know it.

In Dushanbe, everyone from shopkeepers to taxi drivers to government workers go about their business and try to help the foreigners who are suddenly descending on their city.

And running out of mobiles is one of the least of their concerns.

See also:

19 Sep 01 | South Asia
On edge: Afghanistan's neighbours
16 Sep 01 | Americas
US prepares for war
17 Sep 01 | South Asia
Afghanistan - a tough military option
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