MAY STOP WATER FLOW AS UZBEKISTAN
PULLS PLUG ON POWER
30, 2009, Konstantin Parshin
For more than a
decade Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have had a rocky relationship. But now, following an announcement
by Tashkent that it is withdrawing from the Central Asian electricity grid,
bilateral ties may take a dangerous nosedive.
Uzbekistanís decision hits Tajikistan hard, denying Dushanbe much-needed power imports at the onset of winter. Some in Dushanbe are
signaling that the Tajik government is not going to be pushed around by Uzbek
President Islam Karimovís administration. If Uzbekistan does not quickly reverse its decision, some Tajiks
suggest Dushanbe will retaliate by restricting water supplies that Tashkent
desperately needs to keep the countryís cotton sector afloat during the spring
A big bilateral
spat at this time could create a major headache for US military operations in Afghanistan. Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are both key cogs in the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), a
supply line that funnels military supplies overland from Europe to US and NATO troops in
Afghanistan. If Dushanbe and Uzbekistan arenít cooperating, the flow of supplies into Afghanistan could experience disruptions.
In the brewing
crisis over power, Tajikistan has no choice but to make a stand. Uzbekistanís departure from the grid completely isolates Tajikistan, making it impossible for Dushanbe to import
power from other Central Asian states, especially Turkmenistan.
also will obstruct Tajikistanís ability to export electricity during the flush summer months,
when Tajik hydropower plants - thanks to snowmelt-fed rivers - are working at
grid was built in such a way that Tajikistan would be a seller of hydro-electric power during the summer and an
importer during the winter months. Generating lots of hydro-power in the spring
and summer had the additional benefit of releasing a vast amount of water
needed to irrigate Uzbekistanís cotton fields.
Uzbekistanís departure from the grid is completely upending the supply-and-demand
calculus. Uzbek officials justify their action by saying Tajikistan regularly steals power and that Tashkent must
protect its interests. On November 23, Uzbek Ambassador Shokasym
Shoislamov told journalists in Dushanbe that his
government was abandoning the grid because the system was falling apart. He
also alleged the "fragile and vulnerable" Soviet system allowed
members to "uncontrollably and with impunity steal energy in their own
Isolated Tajikistan has long grappled with crippling energy shortages. A serious
failure in early November left much of the country without power for several
days. At the time, Tajik energy officials blamed Uzbekistanís undeclared exit from the unified network in late October.
speculate the reason Uzbekistan may be leaving the grid is the completion of a 500-kW power
transmission line linking Tashkent with the southern Surxondaryo region over
a route that bypasses Tajik territory. The line is expected to be operational
on December 1, Uzbek and Tajik media outlets have reported.
With all energy
imports now blocked, officials at the Tajik energy monopoly, Barki Tajik, say they will be forced to release more water
from the countryís reservoirs this winter to create power - water Uzbekistan needs for irrigation next summer. Barki
Tajik representatives also have suggested they will stockpile more water
throughout summer 2010, meaning that downstream supplies could be significantly
lower than normal.
the withdrawal from the unified energy grid, Uzbekistan has broken off our water and energy agreements. [...] Accordingly,
the Tajik energy system is forced now to make the most use of our hydropower
plants to cover domestic needs," the deputy head of Barki
Tajikís control center, Sergei Tkachenko,
said in comments distributed November 25 by the Asia-Plus news agency.
analysts in Dushanbe say Tashkentís annual machinations, and now its departure from the grid, are
political moves designed to keep Tajikistan isolated and weak, and thus unable to construct more hydropower
plants. Tashkent has long protested Tajik plans to exploit the energy potential of
under different excuses, Uzbekistan impedes the transit of energy to
Tajikistan, as well as the export of Tajik power in the summer period when we
have a surplus of hydropower," Alexei Silantiev,
an advisor to the head of Barki Tajik, complained in
comments widely carried by local media outlets. "Uzbekistan is perfectly aware that Tajikistan suffers from power deficits in winter, putting pressure on our
suggested that Tashkent may be trying to weaken the government in Dushanbe.
Uzbekistanís decisions "have a bearing on Tajikistanís economic and domestic political situation," the Digest Press
weekly quoted Tajik political analyst Shokirjon Khakimov as saying in its November 26 edition. Uzbekistan will "undermine Tajikistanís energy security, which, in turn, might undermine the trust of
[Tajik] people in the authorities." In retaliation, Khakimov
suggested Dushanbe should consider withdrawal from the Interstate Commission for Water
Coordination of Central Asia, "in charge of distribution, rational use and
trans-boundary water management."
One project Tashkent has
vehemently opposed is the Rogun hydropower station on
the Vakhsh River. Uzbek officials have complained that the dam could limit water
available for irrigation downstream. But Dushanbe sees the
construction of the proposed 335-meter giant as a solution to its constant
shortages, and as a means to generate much-needed import revenues.
for the dam complex range from $1.5 to $6 billion, but Tajik authorities,
unable to raise foreign capital, now appear to be tempering expectations, and
claim they can partially construct the facility for $500 million.
As they did
during the record cold winter of 2008, officials are again passing the hat.
Senate Speaker and Dushanbe Mayor Mahmadsaid Ubaydulloyev recently appealed for ordinary Tajiks to donate to the project, promising to-be-printed
shares. The project could be completed "if each of the countryís 2.14
million working citizens transfers their average monthly salary, amounting to
$80, to the Rogun fund," he said on November 19.