Since 2015, UNDP and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) have been working together to enhance security in the border areas of Tajikistan and Afghanistan to reduce the threat of terrorism and religious extremism, illicit narcotics trade and cross-border crimes, including human trafficking. Though they used to be true bottlenecks, these posts have become modern transit points, equipped with CCTV technology but also, interestingly, incredibly open and sophisticated.
In Tem, situated in Khorog town of Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region, I found the jewel in the crown of this whole network. There, Tajik and Afghan border officials have formally agreed on a simplified border crossing procedure, doing away with entry visas altogether. A day before the market, Afghan border officials submit a list of visitors to their Tajik counterparts, who verify that information.
Once at the market, I noticed many visitors carried different types of identification. They were allowed to use electoral cards, national IDs, or even driving licenses. This was truly progressive and incredibly helpful in terms of letting the most vulnerable people to access jobs and make income.
The people came to the market from the highly mountainous Badakhshan province of Afghanistan, which is remote, isolated and economically disadvantaged.
Needless to say, this is a life-saver. I met an Afghan woman who was selling a few bundles of dried medical herbs and many people who bought soap, clothing, oil and other agricultural and non-agricultural goods otherwise not available or not affordable in their own villages.
The numbers confirm how important these border posts are. In 2017 alone, via the six target border crossing points, hundreds of Afghan citizens crossed the border, and dozens got emergency medical aid in Tajikistan. Those were mostly women seeking medical aid following complications in giving birth.
The border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan was drawn in 1895, dividing entire communities. But the people I met refused to take it as a fait accompli. It was touching to watch them reconnect despite their many limitations. And rewarding to see our work is clearly paying off.