The country of seven million went from being the poorest Soviet republic to being one of the world's poorest nations. Independence brought the end of state farms, mines, irrigation channels, transport networks and energy plants.
Some Western analysts celebrate the locals' return to "ancestral traditions", but many adapting to the realities of the free market see it quite differently.
"I wouldn't be here if I didn't have to," says Timurbek, formerly a Russian philologist and now a pensioner who has taken to animal husbandry. "Before, nomadism was a matter of choice, now it's one of necessity," he told IPS.
Timurbek set up his yurt, a big tent made of wool and with an interior richly decorated with wall coverings, horse bags and carpets, on one of the few grassy fields left on the Pamir's high plateaus, at an altitude of 4,100 metres.
The Pamirs lie mostly in the Gorno Badakhsan province. The province is home to a mere 3 percent of Tajikistan's population - little more than 210,000 - but which constitutes almost half the country's territory.
The Pamirs are among the highest mountain ranges in the world, with altitudes ranging from 3,000 to 7,500 metres. Extreme climatic conditions make this one of the least densely populated areas on the planet.
Living conditions are dire.
"Under the Soviets we had all sorts of food in the shops, cheap fuel, buses and roads in good shape," says Aziz, a semi-nomadic farmer at the yurt camp, as his wife quietly runs a rudimentary machine producing butter and yoghurt from Yak milk.
"It doesn't mean we liked Stalin, but everyone here misses the Soviet Union," Aziz, a Kyrgyz of Sunni Muslim confession told IPS. "We couldn't practice our religion freely, but there was food and work."
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At Murgab's "bazaar", where people often cover their faces with veils as strong winds lift clouds of dust, shopping choices are limited to imported cookies, bread, chocolate bars and mostly expired fish and meat cans sold at exorbitant prices.
The poverty affects education; some children do not go to school because their parents cannot afford school material and uniforms.
Fuel is scarce, and locals are forced to use the scarcely available tersken bush to heat households, leading to desertification.
Remittances from migration to Russia, permanent or otherwise, might be the only things keeping the country afloat.