Tajikistan Neweurasia Net
by Alexander (pseudonym)| October 23rd, 2006
politics is gradually becoming a major element of Central Asian politics.
With Tajikistan seeking to become a leading power exporter, energy politics
can cause tensions with Uzbekistan.
Asia’s Water Disputes
Central Asia’s oil and gas reserves have not attracted international
attention until recently, the region’s abundant water resources have been
an important resource – and often a source of conflict– in this arid area
throughout its history.
than 90 percent of the region’s water resources are concentrated in
Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. These upstream states control the heads of
Central Asia’s major rivers. However, most of the region’s water is
consumed by the downstream countries of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and
Uzbekistan, with the latter consuming more than half of it.
endowed with oil and gas and facing energy deficit, the two upstream states
have always sought recognition of water as a commodity that should be
bartered against their neighbors’ coal and gas. But Kazakhstan and
Uzbekistan maintain that water flows across boundaries and is thus a shared
rather than private good.
1990s, water-related disputes pervaded relations in the region. The source
of tension was the downstream states’ growing consumption of water, while
the upstream states sought to withhold water in warmer months to generate
much of their power needs in autumn and winter. Despite Tajikistan and
Kyrgyzstan’s repeated calls to work out a comprehensive water use mechanism
involving adequate compensation for the upstream states’ energy losses,
their neighbors in the region opted for preserving the status quo.
failing to make Uzbekistan either compensate for seasonal energy losses or
barter water for power, Tajikistan decided to go unilateral and revitalize
Soviet hydropower projects.
rivers possess enormous energy resources. Home to over a half of the
Central Asia’ total hydropower potential, Tajikistan still faces acute
shortage of electricity and has to cover the shortfall with energy imports
from Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
government’s new strategy aims to make Tajikistan a major exporter of
hydropower by finishing the stalled Soviet power projects and building
newer ones. Over the last several years, Tajikistan has managed to attract
foreign investors to its energy sector. In 2004, RUSAL, Russia’s
world-class aluminium producer signed a deal under which it will finish the
Rogun power station on the Vakhsh River. Later that year, Russia’s company
United Energy Systems started constructing Sangtuda-1, while Iran started
construction of Sangtuda-2 power station, both downstream the Vakhsh River.
the start-off of the ambitious projects, China, Japan, United States, some
European states and Kazakhstan expressed their interest in investing in
Tajikistan’s energy sector. Several smaller-size power stations are now
constructed throughout Tajikistan.
the power stations currently under construction into operation will allow
Tajikistan meeting the domestic demands and exporting the excess
electricity to neighboring markets. In February 2006, Tajikistan, Iran and
Afghanistan signed a deal under which they will build a power line from
Rogun and other power stations on the Vakhsh River to Afghanistan. Iran,
Pakistan, India and eventually China are also expected to consume Tajik
electricity in the future.
of all projected hydropower plants, as well as economic benefits of
exporting the surplus energy and expanding energy-consuming aluminium
production – the main source of Tajikistan’s revenues so far – present a
unique chance for impoverished Tajikistan to solve its energy and economic
problems at a stroke.
on Tajik-Uzbek Relations
ambitious energy plans have immediately caused serious tensions with its
water-starved neighbor. Uzbek government is equally displeased with the
prospects of altered status quo in the region’s water politics and
emergence of a stronger in both economic and strategic sense Tajikistan.
power projects aim not only to make the country a leading energy exporter,
but also to secure a greater say for it in Central Asia’s politics. When
finished, Rogun, Sangtuda-1 and Sangtuda-2 power stations, together with
the currently operating giant Nurek, Baipaza and several smaller size
projected power stations – all on the Vakhsh River – will allow for
long-term control and manipulation of the flow of the Vakhsh. This river is
a major tributary of the Amu Darya, one of the two great rivers providing
Uzbekistan with water.
Tajikistan is seeking to attract investors to an even larger project, the
Dashtijum hydropower station on the Panj River – another tributary of the
Amu Darya – and refurbish the Kayrakkum power station on the Syr Darya, the
second major river flowing to Uzbekistan.
with the projected several smaller-size power stations on the Zerafshan –
another river flowing into Uzbekistan – these projects produce a nightmare
key to Uzbekistan’s water supply, Tajikistan will gain a significant
leverage over the Uzbek economic and domestic affairs. This is something
that neither Uzbekistan’s national security agenda, nor Islam Karimov’s
authoritarian mentality can tolerate.
of energy sector will also have an enormous positive impact on Tajikistan’s
economy. The sector will create many jobs and provide cheap electricity for
the domestic industries. The country will no longer need to import power
from neighbor states and will secure a stable flow of revenues from
exporting the surplus power to other markets. Cheap hydropower and
increasing revenues will allow expanding aluminium and cement production.
As part of its two billion US dollar investment package, RUSAL plans to
open new production units at Tajikistan’s huge Tursunzade aluminium plant,
modernize the plant and build a new plant at Shaartuz in southern
Tajikistan. Add to this Tajikistan’s intentions to use the reservoirs
created by Tajikistan’s dams to irrigate vast areas of land, and the
economic benefits to Tajikistan are obvious.
an economically strong nation on its borders is another thing Uzbekistan
hates to allow and tries to prevent. It was not until RUSAL announced its
plans to modernize the Tursunzade plant and build a new one that Uzbekistan
– not previously noted as an advocate of environment – launched a massive
media campaign accusing Tajik aluminium industry of causing damage to the
Tajikistan’s expected economic boom is perceived as humiliation by
president Islam Karimov, known to have tense personal relationships with
president Emomali Rakhmonov.
hydropower plans have thus created potentially volatile water security
environment in the region. Aware of Uzbekistan’s sensitivity towards even
minor curbs of trans-boundary rivers, experts suggest that water in
Tajik-Uzbek relations has been elevated from a political dispute to a
potential cause of conflict.
certain that Tashkent will now take steps to hinder implementation of
Tajikistan’s projects or at least seriously curb their benefits.
steps have already been taken with generally deteriorating Tajik-Uzbek
relations and a growing flow of accusations and counter-accusations serving
as the background.
experts and observers suggest that Tajikistan’s ongoing disagreement with
RUSAL over the height and type of Rogun dam has been caused by Tashkent’s
interference. In particular, RUSAL suggested building a 280-meter-high dam
instead of the projected 335-meter-high one immediately after its head Oleg
Deripaska’s meeting with Islam Karimov, following Tashkent’s geopolitical
shift towards closer relations with Russia.
measures will certainly follow. However, Tashkent will not use threat of
force against Tajikistan, as it did in the 1990s. Russia, China, United
States and other external powers interested in the stable development of
the broader region will not allow it doing so. Moreover, aggravating
tensions will only add to Tajikistan’s firm resolve to secure strategic
advantages over its unfriendly neighbor.
situation Tashkent will have to admit that the only rational avenue for it
to follow is cooperation and compromise in managing and sharing the
region’s transnational water resources. This approach will be more than
welcomed by Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, advocates for collective water
management, and Kazakhstan, determined to foster closer cooperation in the
fundamental issue of water – once a major source of tension in Tajik-Uzbek
relations – can thus lead to an open region-wide dialogue, capable of
managing other deep-seated political differences. A mechanism for such
dialogue can be found in a durable but unsuccessful so far idea of Central
Asia’s Water and Energy Consortium.