Uzbekistan’s mismanaged damning of Roghun
5, 2010, Mark Vinson
By now everyone
has no doubt heard of the Tajik government’s infamous program of “share
selling” to finance the new hydro-electric dam Roghun.
The Tajik people don’t seem to harbor any illusions that they won’t see any
return on their investment. “I just bought an expensive piece of toilet paper”
one friend quipped. Nor do most seem to have much confidence that an
operational Roghun would help improve the country’s
electricity situation. Instead they believe that IF (and it seems to be a pretty
big if) Roghun is constructed the electricity it
produces will most likely be exported to Afghanistan or other countries with a select few hire ups reaping the
profits (which other countries would be suitable isn’t exactly
clear but Pakistan is occasionally tossed around). Fears of unbalancing the
environment or the security of the wider region are a bit too abstract for the
average citizen to care about.
prospect of angering Uzbekistan seems not to be a point of concern but rather a silver lining.
Whether justified or not most Tajik’s seem to resent being held hostage to
Uzbekistan for gas and electricity for the ostensible reason that they did
nothing to deserve it other than having the good fortune to be on the right
side of the border (in respects to infrastructure and natural resources) after
the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now water, a commodity that Uzbekistan is dire need of to fuel its cotton production, is the great
Uzbekistan is not taking the prospect of losing a large percentage of its
water supply lying down. Recently they have appealed to the United Nations,
disrupted electricity and gas flows, and prevented the passage of train freight
into Tajikistan (specifically wagons carrying raw materials for both Roghun and the giant Talco aluminum plant in Rigar, but also everyday imports). For their part
Tajikistan has floated the idea of building a new train connection to
Turkmenistan through Afghanistan, but the plausibility of this (financially if
not practically) should make calling Dushanbe’s bluff
on this one easy enough.
However Uzbekistan’s bluster and bullying over the issue could have the effect of
strengthening domestic support for the project in Tajikistan. Just a few months ago if you mentioned the word “Roghun” everyone would immediately fall into a discussion
of how much they, their neighbors, the gypsy with one leg, etc. had to cough
up. Of course this was accompanied by no shortage of grumbling and cynicism.
Now, as the initial financial pain of “investing” subsides the commiseration is
often supplanted by discussion of bi-lateral relations with Uzbekistan.
If Uzbekistan pushes too hard in the wrong ways it will consolidate support for a
project that Tajik’s didn’t want in the first place. It would be wiser for
Uzbekistan to air their grievances through international venues while at
the same time courting the disaffection of work-a-day shareholders instead
of driving them into the arms of the “Roghunite’s”
with de-facto embargos and border restrictions that hurt their pocket books as
much as share buying. At least Uzbekistan should hold its chips until the feasibility building the dam
becomes clearer (to date not even half of the money required for the first
phase of the dam has been collected.) Rahmon on the other
hand seems savvy to the fact that a boogy man in
Tashkent is a boon for him domestically.
border tension is nothing new. Grazing disputes, landmines, and strict visa
regimes have been common place since the fall of the Soviet Union (further
exacerbated by Tajikistan’s civil war and the sporadic incursion of insurgents). Now Tajiks who routinely cross the Uzbek border (excepting
those who live in adjunct regions) do so with the help of their Russian foreign
passports which can be bought for about 5,000$. Others have to pay inflated
prices for their visas and are subject to the arbitrary whims of the border
guards and customs officials. One Tajik friend was refused entry for 4 days
without much of an explanation except some vague excuse relating to the
observance of international woman’s day (of course she was a women, an irony
that no doubt passed by the male border guard.) Another friend of mine who
transports cement told me that the border has been unusually hard for the past
5-7 weeks and he is worried about his livelihood if the situation persists.
I crossed the
border the other day without any problems however I couldn’t help noticing the
differences between the border posts. The Uzbek side was equipped with
declaration forms, computers, metal detector, an X-ray machine and, most
importantly the electricity to run them. The Tajik side however, had nothing
except a kerosene lamp whose flame was at the mercy of gusting winds. At one
point while an 19 or 20 year old soldier was looking over my passport the flame
was extinguished and I had to help him out with my ever ready flashlight. A poignant example of the disparities between the two countries.
Uzbekistan may not be responsible for all (or any) of Tajikistan’s problems, but perceptions are some times more relevant than