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.
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.
The country's economy has never really recovered from the civil war, and poverty is widespread. Almost half of Tajikistan's 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. Russian forces guarded sections of the border with Afghanistan until mid-2005 when their withdrawal was completed and the task handed over to Tajik border guards.
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.
In October 2004 Russia formally opened a military base in Dushanbe where several thousand troops will be stationed. It also took back control over a former Soviet space monitoring centre at Nurek. These developments were widely seen as a sign of Russia's wish to counter increased US influence in Central Asia.
* Population: 7 million (UN, 2010)
* Capital: Dushanbe
* Area: 143,100 sq km (55,251 sq miles)
* Major languages: Tajik, Uzbek, Russian
* Major religion: Islam
* Life expectancy: 65 years (men), 71 years (women) (UN)
* Monetary unit: 1 Tajik somoni = 100 dirams
* Main exports: Aluminium, electricity, cotton, fruit, textiles
* GNI per capita: US $800 (World Bank, 2010)
* Internet domain: .tj
* International dialling code: +992
Emomali Rakhmon, a former cotton farm boss, was elected chairman of the Supreme Council of Tajikistan in 1992 after the country's first post-Soviet leader, Rahmon Nabiyev, was forced to resign.
He was elected president in 1994 and re-elected in 1999 when his term was extended to seven years.
In 2006 he won a third term in office in an election which international observers said was neither free nor fair. Opposition parties boycotted the vote, dismissing it as a Soviet-style staged attempt at democracy.
Mr Rakhmon was instrumental in the pro-Communist effort to remove Islamist rebels from Dushanbe in the early 1990s. He led troops from southern Kulob District and supported the intervention of forces from other former Soviet republics. After years of civil war and violence, some stability returned to Tajikistan.
The president has a firm grip on power. His People's Democratic Party holds virtually all seats in parliament. Western observers said legislative elections in 2005 and 2010 failed to meet international standards.
Mr Rakhmon does retain substantial public support. Tajikistan is still very poor, but many people are thankful they no longer have to face the civil war of the 1990s which killed tens of thousands and caused more than 10% of the population to flee the country.
Mr Rakhmon was born in 1952. His surname was Rakhmonov until 2007 when he ordered his countrymen to drop Russian-style surnames, in a break with the nation's Soviet past. He removed the Russian suffix "-ov" from his surname.
From : BBC News