A former Soviet republic, Tajikistan plunged into civil war almost as soon as it became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991.
A rugged, mountainous country, with lush valleys to the south and north, it is Central Asia's poorest nation.
Tajiks are the country's largest ethnic group, with Uzbeks making up a quarter of the population, over half of which is employed in agriculture and just one-fifth in industry. Nearly half of Tajikistan's population is under 14 years of age.
The Tajik language is very close to Persian, spoken in Iran, and to Dari, spoken in Afghanistan.
At a glance
- Politics: Elections have been marred by allegations of fraud since the 1990s civil war
- Economy: Tajikistan is Central Asia's poorest nation and it depends on oil and gas imports
- International: Russia helps Tajikistan with security and economic problems and has a military base in Dushanbe
Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring
The five-year civil war between the Moscow-backed government and the Islamist-led opposition, in which up to 50,000 people were killed and over one-tenth of the population fled the country, ended in 1997 with a United Nations-brokered peace agreement.
Tajikistan's economy has never really recovered from the civil war, and poverty is widespread. Almost half of GDP is earned by migrants working abroad, especially in Russia, but the recession in 2009 threatened that income. The country is also dependent on oil and gas imports.
Economic hardship is seen as a contributing to a renewed interest in Islam - including more radical forms - among young Tajiks.
Tajikistan has been accused by its neighbours of tolerating the presence of training camps for Islamist rebels on its territory, an accusation which it has strongly denied.
Tajikistan has relied heavily on Russian assistance to counter continuing security problems and cope with the dire economic situation. Skirmishes with drug smugglers crossing illegally from Afghanistan occur regularly, as Tajikistan is the first stop on the drugs route from there to Russia and the West.
Russia maintains military garrisons in Tajikistan and in 2004 took back control over a former Soviet space monitoring centre. These developments were widely seen as a sign of Russia's wish to counter increased US influence in Central Asia.
Russia is also mindful of the planned Nato pullout of Afghanistan in 2014 and is keen to maintain security in the region.
Economic ties with neighbouring China are extensive. China has extended credits and has helped to build roads, tunnels and power infrastructure. Chinese firms are investing in oil and gas exploration and in gold mining.