Tajik-Uzbek relations are one of the cornerstone subjects in the analysis of situation in the region of Central Asia. None of the neighboring states have won from the confrontation lasting no less than quarter of a century, quite the opposite – it worsened economic development, especially in Tajikistan due to railroad blokade introduced by Tashkent. Plus, this state of affairs has worsened the main problem of the region – the lack of agreement for mutual use of its water-energy potential.
Despite all of the achievements of recent years, economy of Tajikistan is going through tough times. And in military-political sphere Tajikistan remains an unstable element of regional security, in large part dependent on goings on in Afghanistan. First of all, this refers to the fact that in case of widening of inter-ethnic conflict in Afghanistan a flow of migrants might come into Tajikistan – ethnic Tajiks which will lead to a drastic worsening of an already difficult situation. And this well understood by everyone.
Economy of Uzbekistan has a much larger potential. After the transfer of power there, necessary reforms have been started for purposes of development of the country. However, in Uzbekistan as well there are more than enough problems, and considerable times is needed for solving them.
Through the years of cooling off of relations between Dushanbe and Tashkent a number of unsolved issues has accumulated. Existence of visa regime between two countries and halt of aero and railroad connection doesn’t facilitate economic cooperation, which is just beginning to get out of the stage of prolonged nosedive. And the difference in approaches to the issue of using of hydro-energetic potential of cross-border rivers remains ones of the more serious reasons for existing contradictions, which in the past were exacerbated by troubled relations between two leaders Emomali Rahmon and Islam Karimov.
The level of cooling oof of relations between two countries until recently have been the reason for outsider observers to talk about a cold war. In the lte 90s Tajik authorities openly accused the regime of Uzbekistan in meddling into inner affairs and support of opposition of Rahmon in the face of Mahmud Khudoiberdiev, who for a long time remained in Uzbekistan.
In turn, Uzbek authorities acused Tajikistan in inability to control its territory and after the 2000 hike of Islamic militia through the Tajik-Uzbek border, on a unilateral basis mined a number of tracts of un-delimitized border. In Nov. 2011 bilateral contradictions lead to Uzbekistan completely shutting off the transit of cargo railroad transport via the branch of Termez- Kurgan-tebe , which in 2012 was partially demounted.
The character of contradictions for a long time didn’t allow two countries bordering Afghanistan to lead a coordinated policy in relation to this difficult neighbor country, due to which Afghan policy of each in large contradicts the other one, which also doesn’t facilitate recovery of trust.
Current situation in relations between Tajikistan and Uzbeksitan can be compared to a sudden warming: from the first days of his presidency Shavkat Mirziyoev announced his desire to reboot relations.
From the April of 2017 regular flights have been restored between Dushanbe, Bukhara and Samarkand. A coming opening of air travel between two capitals is expected. In January of current year work of two-sided inter-governmental commission on trade-economic cooperation was restored, during presiding of, aside other issues a matter of expanding of transporting of freight between two countries was discussed. I.e. hopes have risen for the seizing of transport blockade from the Uzbek side.
Also restored were the contacts in the line of law-enforcement. In early February a delegation has visited Tashkent headed by attorney of Tajiksitan Yusuf Rahmon. During the visit an agreement was signed on legal help in the matters of providing of protection of rights and freedoms of citizens, fighting of crime and cooperation of prosecutor’s offices of bordering regions.
Uzbek delegation headed by chairman of the trade-industrial chamber of Uzbekistan Asadov has visited Dushanbe, and he has discussed with his Tajik colleague Said Sharifov organizing of Uzbek exhibition at the high level. It is necessary to note that in 2017 analogous events have taken place in Dushanbe and Tashkent and they showed a presence of potential for growth of bilateral economic relations.
For now trade volume between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan remains quite modest (at the 100 mil. USD level) however in the past year it grew two-fold, which speaks of certain prospects. (It is worth noting that in 2005 trade volume between two countries was 220 mil USD).
In the current year a Tajik delegation headed by deputy prime-minister of the republic Azim Ibrohim has also visited Tashkent. A government visit of president Mirziyoev to Tajikistan is planned for March.
Thus, positive dynamic is evident, however, relations are being restored slowly and difficultly. This for example, is evidenced by the fact that since last fall there have been talks of export of Tajik electric energy into Uzbekistan, however there is still a long way until signing of agreement. During Soviet times, power grids of current post-Soviet states of the region were connected into a single network. Due to this, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan would transport electric power into the lower-laying countries during winter, and in the summertime would export it form there. Afterwards, this system was completely destroyed in 2009, and evidently won’t be restored anytime soon. It is expected that during the official visit of Uzbek president an agreement on the most controversial part of the state border – Farhad hydroelectric station could be signed.
This hydroelectric complex was under the management of Uzbekistan in accordance with the agreement of rent for 40 years from 1993. In 1944 a signing of agreement on exchange of territories took place, and the Uzbek side thought that water reservoir of hydro-electric plant has been completely transferred into its possession however Tajik side didn’t agree with such position and assumed that agreements on reservoir weren’t to be renewed past the date of expiration. On that ground in 2002 Tajik troops assumed the territory of disputable reservoir, which is of importance to both governments.
It is expected that territory on which the hydro-electric station is located will be official declared Tajik, and the HES itself the property of Uzbekistan. Thus, servicing of the HES will be done by the Uzbek side and its security will be done by the Tajiks. Possibly, such interdependence will facilitate the growth of mutual trust.
Also it is evident that it is futile to rely on normalizing of relations, without an active resolution of complex border issues. It is worth noting that despite the agreement on government border being signed in 2002 its delimitation and demarcation are still not completed. Dynamics of regulating of this issue allows to optimistically look forward: recently 107 kilometers of the border were agreed upon and talks are conducted on the remaining unmarked 93 kilometers.
Also pleasant is the beginning of recovery of humanitarian ties. At least a documentary film posted on the official website of foreign ministry of Uzbekistan on Tajik-Uzbek relations played a positive role in terms of de-escalation. Seemingly, it is not worth waiting for quick resolutions in such a complicated issue as mutually beneficial use of water-energy potential of cross-border rivers, resolution of which in the end will affect the stability of development of the region. Nonetheless, normalizing of relations is good for it.
On the other hand a slew of Tajik experts have some concerns regarding such a sudden impulse of two countries. Firstly, they are asking, how well does Tajikistan calculate the repercussions form a slew of initiatives, in which is intends to participate in its relations with Uzbekistan?
For example a certain degree of participation of Uzbekistan in Tajik economy may lead to deflation of monetary, and currency resources from the country, since Tajik experts assume that domestic goods as a rule cannot compete in quality and price with Uzbek ones. Incorrect behavior in this sphere may lead to economic losses for Tajikistan. These experts’ data are bolstered by the fact that of goods from Uzbekistan in the past year has increased by more than two-fold. For comparison: import of goods from China for the same period has fallen by 35%.
Other concern is the possibility of gradual buying out of Tajik assets by wealthy Uzbek businessmen, during the creation of certain mutual enterprises. But these theories also have their opponents, who state that there is no need to fear such developments of events. The specter of their arguments is quite wide – from low attractiveness of Tajikistan at the present moment as a place for investment of money, to a complicated and unpredictable economic policy of authorities. In any case, it is worth hoping that drawing together of two countries will give a positive push in the direction of common development of central-Asian region and will liquidate yet another point of contention in Central Asia.