Tajik-Uzbek talks held to ease tensions

Tajik-Uzbek talks held to ease tensions

Tajikistan’s president, Emomali Rahmon, has visited Uzbekistan for talks seen as an important step towards mending the bilateral relationship.

His Uzbek counterpart Shavkat Mirziyoev apparently wanted Rahmon’s visit “to be historic”, stressing that the neighbours “had managed in a short time to resolve issues that had been topical for many years”.

Mirziyoev visited Dushanbe in March, saying that trip “restored ties between our nations and boosted the development of bilateral cooperation”.

His current visit to Tashkent is the first by the Tajik leader since 1998.

Uzbekistan’s role in Tajikistan’s devastating 1992-97 civil war and the use of Tajik border territory by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) in the late 1990s marred bilateral relations.

Mirziyoev became president after the death of his predecessor Islam Karimov in 2016 and has made establishing better relations with Uzbekistan’s neighbours a priority for his administration.

During Karimov’s 27-year dictatorial rule in Central Asia’s most populous state, its relations with Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan were hampered by disputes over transit routes, border security, water resources and other issues.

The neighbours intended to jointly build two hydropower plants, Mirziyoev said after talks.

He said dams with a capacity of more than 320 megawatts would be constructed on the River Zarafshan.

The Zarafshan, also known as Sughd Durya, starts from Pamirs in Tajikistan, and provides water to Samarkand and Bukhara and then disappears into the Karakul desert.

They did not say if the dams would disrupt water supplies to the two key Uzbek tourist attractions.

Mirziyoev said an intergovernmental commission between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan would study the issue while Rahmon was quoted saying that both countries would use the electric power produced to develop their economies.

The Uzbek leader also said they discussed the use of fresh water from the lake at Sarez in Tajikistan.

“I think that the project of the hydrotechnical construction will be a very serious issue within our regional cooperation,” Mirziyoev said.

Rahmon said they discussed the use of 17 billion cubic metres of fresh water.

“I have many times said and will say once again that we will never leave our neighbours without water,” Rahmon said, according to the state-controlled media.

Dushanbe has previously accused Tashkent of blocking train tracks and roads and Uzbekistan opposed the construction of the Rogun dam in Tajikistan, saying it would threaten its agricultural sector. In 2001 Uzbekistan introduced a visa requirement, followed by Tashkent with reciprocal measures.

But now flights between Dushanbe and Tashkent have resumed, 10 border checkpoints have reopened, meetings of the commission for border delimitation and demarcation have been held.

Border residents can now visit each other for up to five days without a visa.

The trade increased by 20 per cent and totalled US$240 million last year with a target of US$500 million by 2020.

The River Zarafshan’s source. Picture credit: Wikimedia

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