Dushanbe, Tajikistan (CNN) — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton thanked Tajikistan’s president Saturday for his country’s support of efforts to defeat al-Qaeda and bring security to neighboring Afghanistan.
Clinton later flew to Uzbekistan, where she discussed Afghanistan, human rights and economic ties.
In her first visit to the central Asian country of Tajikistan, she also addressed concerns about human rights and the need to bring more economic opportunities during a town hall meeting earlier in the day.
Clinton and President Emomali Rahmon “talked about our work to improve Tajikistan’s security, particularly along the border with Afghanistan, and to combat drug trafficking,” Clinton told reporters Saturday.
She praised Tajikistan’s progress in stopping human traffickers who force women and children to work in cotton fields without pay. But Clinton said the country still faces important challenges.
“Tajik citizens deserve the opportunity to receive a decent education, own land, practice whatever religion they choose, enjoy a free and independent media, and participate equally in the political process,” Clinton said at the town hall meeting, sponsored by the Aga Khan Development Network. “And it is up to their leaders to ensure that fundamental freedoms, including religious freedom, are protected for all people: men and women, young and old.”
Several reporters have been arrested in Tajikistan for reporting on corruption or the arrests of religious activists, a senior U.S. State Department official said.
Clinton also said the barriers to increased trade are significant, “but so is the potential.”
“That is why the United States supports what we’re calling the New Silk Road: a network of transit and trade connections that will open new markets for raw materials, energy, and agricultural products for every nation in the region, including Tajikistan,” she said.
Tajikistan is one of the poorest countries in the region and was embroiled in civil war until 1997. It shares a 1,400-kilometer border with Afghanistan, “large parts of which are quite porous,” making the country vulnerable to extremists, a senior state department official said.
“The New Silk Road holds the potential to help spur growth, create jobs, invigorate the private sector, and integrate Tajikistan into the South and Central Asia economy,” Clinton said. “It would also help bring stability to your neighbors in Afghanistan by expanding their economic ties throughout the region.”
Clinton said the United States is working with the Aga Khan Development Network to support Pamir Energy in building an integrated energy grid along the Tajik-Afghan border. Pamir Energy is a cross-border electricity transmission project that is helping to light up two very remote provinces of Afghanistan and Tajikistan, the State Department said.
Later, in Uzbekistan, President Islam Karimov expressed support for the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, a senior U.S. State Department official told reporters.
Clinton told Karimov that improvements were needed in the area of human rights, the official said.
“President Karimov commented that he wants to make progress on liberalization and democratization, and he said that he wants to leave a legacy of that for his — both his kids and his grandchildren,” the official said.
They also discussed Clinton’s planned visit to a General Motors plant and Uzbekistan’s desire for more U.S. investment and technology.