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Tajikistan’s border markets: which bank is more profitable?

Border markets were set in Tajikistan to improve the lives of people on both sides of the border, but Afghans work better and get greater benefits from these points of trade.


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Вход пограничный рынок Тем. Фото CABAR.asia
Entrance to the border market Topics. Photo: CABAR.asia

Bejoda Saidbek is a resident of Afghan Badakhshan. She has been mowing grass for the whole summer, grazing cattle, collecting mulberries, and spinning yarn. Every Saturday, along with other Afghan citizens, she crosses border and customs checkpoints, crosses the bridge across the Pyanj River heading to the border market, located in the mahalla of Tem, the city of Khorog.

Bejoda sells skullcaps, “jamolak”, on the market, – hair ornaments that are woven into pigtails by girls, dried mulberry, “kurut” (dried balls of sour milk) and other handmade goods.

This time, Bejodah brought medicinal herbs to the market, such as licorice root, rosemary, yarrow, mountain mint, pepper and antimony, which women use to paint eyebrows. She laid it all out on the ground at the market’s entrance to attract potential buyers.

Bejoda said she would be glad if she earned 100 or at least  50 somoni (10 and 5 USD) while trading in the border market. With this money, she usually buys bakery products and macaroni, and returns home.

“Tajik-Afghan markets are especially significant and unique”

Currently, there are four border markets between Tajikistan and Afghanistan in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO), in the Tem microdistrict of the city of Khorog, in the center of Ishkoshim district, in the villages of Ruzvai – Darvaz and Khumrogi in Vanj region.

These markets are full of all kinds of merchants from Kabul, Tahor and Fayzabad who also bring their goods to trade with customers who come from other side of the border. In addition to local residents, you can see foreign tourists here as well.

Abakhon Sultonazarov, head of the representative office of the Institute for the Reporting of War and Peace in Central Asia, shared his impressions of the cross-border market. He said that although there are many cross-border trade points in Central Asia, the markets between Tajikistan and Afghanistan are particularly significant and unique. In this market, rural residents on both sides of the border sell their handicrafts and at the same time learn from each other’s professional experience.

Абахон Султоназаров, глава представительства Института по освещению войны и мира в ЦА. Фото: CABAR.asia
Abakhon Sultonnazarov, IWPR Central Asia Programme Director. Photo: CABAR.asia

“It is a pity that the capabilities of a major project to expand cross-border trade have not been fully utilized. Business in the market is still not fully operational, and many traders sell their goods under the open sky, in the heat and cold, ”Sultonazarov added.

Despite the fact that international organizations allocated significant funds for the construction of this border market, but for over ten years of its existence, it has not been able to comply with international standards of such sort of trade points.

Sultonazarov noted that the market infrastructure is still underdeveloped and requires wider changes for full-fledged development. For example, there is an apparent lack of spacious and comfortable rooms where business partners could discuss cooperation issues.

According to the respondent of CABAR.asia, despite the unstable situation in Afghanistan and the long-term war, the business skills of Afghan citizens are very high, and they are very skilled in the handicraft manufacture.

– Therefore, Afghan merchants benefit greatly from this cross-border market; their products are in high demand. Ours fellow-citizens can supply them only with Chinese products,”Sultonazarov believes.

But Boymamad Alibakhshev, the head of the public organization “Millal Inter”, believes that the market was previously in a “primitive” state, when there were no proper conditions for trade, sellers laid out their goods directly on the ground.

Боймахмад Алибахшев. Фото с личной страницы в Facebook
Boymamad Alibakhshev. Photos from your personal Facebook page

– However, today all the necessary conditions have been for cross-border trade and business has taken more civilized form. Traders have the choice to display their goods for sale in enclosed spaces or in open areas of the bazaar, Alibakhshev said.

Afghan goods replace Iranian and Pakistani

Saidkadam, a resident of the village of Bashor, the Afghan province of Shugnon, sells manufactured goods on the border market, including goods from Afghanistan, such as plates, steamers, pots, iron teapots and pans.

Saidkadam says that he used to sell only goods that were made in Pakistan and Iran, but now industry in Afghanistan is developing and Afghan goods are in a great demand.

According to Saidkadam, such “merchants princes” as himself pay 20 somoni (about 2 US dollars) and conveniently trade in the covered premises of the market. However, there are many small merchants who earn somewhere between 100 and 200 somoni (from 10 to 29 dollars) every day and they are not ready to spend extra money for more comfortable conditions.

Most of the interviewed Afghan traders said that border officials and customs officers did not exert any pressure on them, and did not require anything from them, but traders voluntarily donate 1 to 20 somoni to border inspectors, depending on the size of their income.

For example If there is a large cargo of brooms coming through the border, the owner can voluntarily give several of them, but, as a rule, there are no problems with crossing the border on market days.

However, one Afghan businessman who wished not to be called, complained about the actions of Tajik customs officers. He added that every time they cross the border, customs officers pick up part of their goods and sometimes require money.

Some Tajik citizens said police and security forces do not always allow to take pictures in the market, although taking photos should be free, it would attract more tourists and customers.

The market is more than the market

A cross-border market is not only a commodity exchange, but also cultural integration. Many relatives who have been separated by a border wall for centuries meet here, talk to each other and find out the news.

A group of German and Dutch tourists whom the correspondent of CABAR.asia came across in the market said that they had visited border markets on their way to Badakhshan. Because, according to tourists, markets are not only of commercial importance, but they are like a sightseeing that allows everyone to observe the local culture.

Which Panj bank is developing faster?

Border markets were created to help improve the socio-economic conditions for rural communities on either sides of the border. Nevertheless, it seems that Afghan residents are more interested as they benefit more from these markets.

Sultonazarov values  the entrepreneurial abilities of Afghan businessmen. He sees them as successfully following the global trends and estimates them higher than their neighbors on the other side of the coast. Afghan villagers immediately adjust their trading strategies to market demands and take every opportunity to maximize their profits, he says.

“Watch how skillfully Afghan craftsmen make carts of different sizes. They find the wheel in one place, weld all kinds of glands in another and make these carts so good that people buy them in almost for every house in Khorog and Shugnan for up to 350 somoni (about $ 35) and use them in every household, ”said he.

It is expected that in the near future another major border market will open in the village of Langar in Ishkoshim district.

According to Alibakhshev, the cross-border markets in Gorno-Badakshan Autonomous Region of Tajikistan were mainly funded by international organizations. Nowadays cultural trade is established here, and now it is time for private capital, which can further stimulate cross-border trade.


This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project implemented with the financial support of the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial or donor.

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