February 17, 2010, Denis Kim



At the end of 2009 a new round of conflict between the neighboring countries, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, flared up. On December 8, 2009 Emomalii Rahmon, Tajik President, severely criticized Uzbekistan’s authorities during the meeting with local journalists. According to the journalists, who were present at the meeting, President Rahmon said that he had wrangled and even fought with Uzbek President Islom Karimov several times. Emomalii Rahmon said that in the past he had had a good opinion of Islom Karimov, but then his opinion of the Uzbek President had changed. “This man struggles against all the Tajik things, he does not want our country to develop, sets up roadblocks and cuts off the electric power to Tajikistan in the cold winter”, stated Emomalii Rahmon. Apart from that, the Tajik President advanced a claim on two Uzbek cities – Samarqand and Buxoro. Those cities became part of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic in the 1920s, but the Tajikistanis regard them as their cultural and historical heritage.


The problems in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan relations could be solved if the sides were ready to make a compromise with each other. If Emomalii Rahmon and Islom Karimov made any concessions to each other, it would ease tension between the neighbouring countries. However this does not happen. Uzbekistan does not make concessions in the supplies of its gas to Tajikistan, does not offer a laxer visa regime for the Tajikistani citizens, does not open its markets for the Tajikistani businessmen and does its utmost to block the goods delivery, etc. Tajikistan, in its turn, persistently promotes the project of construction of the Roghun hydropower plant on the Vakhsh river, which, in the event of its implementation, would allow Dushanbe to control the water flow of the river. So, Emomalii Rahmon would get leverage over Uzbekistan.


Therefore, one can suppose that the two Presidents conflict with each other because of their hostile relations. It is possible that the conflict reason is that Islom Karimov has always believed that Emomalii Rahmon owes his power to the Uzbek President and should rule over Tajikistan under the guidance of Islom Karimov. But the Tajik President follows his own policy, thus showing that he is not going to obey Tashkent’s orders. This was most likely to put Islom Karimov against Emomalii Rahmon, whom the Uzbek President “had turned from a collective farmer into the President”.


Some observers say that the Uzbek President has the Tajikistani roots. Islom Karimov’s father, Abdugani Karimov, was born in the Tajikistani city of Kulob. More than that, Islom Karimov’s wife, Tatyana, is also an ethnic Takikistani in the line of her father, Akbar Yuldashev, who was also born in Kulob. Tajik President Emomalii Rahmon belongs to the “Kulob clan” too. Apparently, the Uzbek President failed to long control a representative of “his clan” at a distance. As a result, Islom Karimov became the most irreconcilable enemy of Emomalii Rahmon, and his main purpose is most likely to remove Emomalii Rahmon from the post of President of Tajikistan.


In December 2009 Tashkent came out against Tajikistan’s “national project”– construction of the Roghun hydropower plant. Shavkat Mirziyoyev, Prime Minister of Uzbekistan, send his Tajikistani counterpart, Oqil Oqilov, a letter where he called on Dushanbe to make a detailed, independent expert examination of the hydropower plant construction. If Uzbekistan’s request is ignored, Shavkat Mirziyoyev promised to turn to the international community and organizations. Shavkat Mirziyoyev explained in his letter that Uzbekistan had taken the principled stand on this issue because the Roghun hydropower plant project was worked out almost forty years ago on the basis of the out-of-date designed and technological solutions.


Oqil Oqilov, Prime Minister of Tajikistan, responded to Uzbekistan’s attack. He told Shavkat Mirziyoyev in the reply letter that he was ready to receive the Uzbek delegation and to discuss all the issues of the Roghun hydropower plant construction. The Tajikistani Prime Minister emphasized that Dushanbe’s position remained unchanged and that no project is implemented against another side.


While engaging in polemics with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan hoped to draw the international players’ attention to the problem. The letter was addressed to them rather than to Oqil Oqilov. So, Tajikistan’s response is of no importance to Tashkent. One can forecast that no Uzbek delegation will be sent to Dushanbe to examine the Roghun issue.


One can say that Tashkent’s hopes were realized. Pierre Morel, EU special representative on the Central Asian countries, said that construction of small hydropower plants would help the Central Asian countries to avoid a conflict over the use of water and energy resources. The EU is ready to give Tajikistan $60 million to construct several small hydropower plants. Then the USA expressed the same point of view. “We understand the importance of energy security for Tajikistan and support the government’s efforts to make sure its citizens, enterprises, and institutions have access to adequate and reliable power”, said Robert Blake, Deputy Secretary of State on South and Central Asia. He also encouraged Tajikistan “to take into consideration the views of their neighbors when pursuing hydropower development plans” and to invent an alternative way of the small hydropower plants development.


Meanwhile, some experts say that Dushanbe and Tashkent came to clash with each other on the eve of the parliamentary election campaigns in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Emomalii Rahmon had made his statement in December, on the eve of the Uzbek election that was held on December 27. Uzbekistan started its polemics on the eve of the Tajikistani elections scheduled for February 28. The experts believe that in this way the sides seek to discredit the elections as much as possible in the eyes of the world community. The experts’ suppositions are based on the fact that both Tashkent and Dushanbe are primarily concerned about the international observers’ recognizing the elections rather than who will be elected to the Parliament. The Tajikistani and Uzbek authorities are not worried about the outcome of the elections, since the Presidential People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan has the overwhelming majority of the seats in the Tajikistani Parliament, while Uzbekistan has no registered opposition parties at all. But here Islom Karimov also gained an advantage over Emomalii Rahmon, as he held the elections when the West celebrated the Christmas. Few international observers wanted to interrupt their Christmas holidays.