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Each time he appears to near the prize, difficulties caused by external events seem to snatch it away.
The ‘small stans’ will spend another year striving to recalibrate political and economic relations with Russia and China – and other players Turkey, Iran and the West – amid the geopolitical maelstrom triggered by Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
Winston Churchill once alluded to Kremlin power struggles as 'bulldogs fighting under a carpet' but the barking was remarkably audible when Tajik President Emomali made a rare and emotional speech calling on Russia for "respect"
The only figure that the regime deems worthy of open adulation is President Emomali Rahmon.
As the government tries to pacify the region with investment, winners and losers are coming into focus.
Scores of influential Pamiri figures jailed or killed amid so-called anti-terrorism operation that has used drones and snipers.
Few defendants appear able to get legal representation.
Sniper used to kill Colonel Boqir, local leader long at top of hitlist. After brutal crackdown, GBAO region’s inhabitants fear they will be living under a securitised surveillance state.
Government explanations are hard to believe, and do not hide the poverty and abuse fuelling unrest.
Dushanbe wants obedience but treats the region as something to be exploited and ignored.
After so-called anti-terrorism operation in GBAO that may have led to the deaths of 40 or more people, many Pamiris said to be living in fear of return to violent 1990s conflict.
Restive region has seen series of protests since death in custody of activist arrested as kidnapping suspect. No evidence of terrorists in midst of protesters has been presented by authorities.