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Uzbekistan is ready for a complex game with high stakes: experts

An impressive delegation from Uzbekistan headed by Prime Minister Abdullah Aripov concluded a working visit to Tajikistan. During the visit, a meeting of the intergovernmental commission was held, and President Emomali Rahmon met with Aripov. During the talks, the parties reached agreements on visa and border issues, in particular, on the most controversial section of the interstate border, where the Farhad hydropower station is located.

Thus, from now on citizens of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan can be visiting each other without visas within one month. It is assumed that duration of a visa-free stay will be expanded with time. Tashkent and Dushanbe approached the Farhad HPP as constructively as possible: the territory in which the station is located was recognized as Tajik, and the facility itself is the property of Uzbekistan. Tajikistan will be responsible for security of the hydroelectric power plant, and the Uzbek side will provide technical services.

The sides also confirmed their intention to open and expand the bus and railway communication in the near future, equip the new checkpoints at the border.

"For the first time in many years, a very promising situation has developed between Tashkent and Dushanbe. The ministries and departments of the two states are instructed to start drafting agreements on cooperation in the fields of transport, communications, trade, economy, and state border. It seems that this year may be marked by a breakthrough in the uneasy relations between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. And the parties really want this, but not just declare their intentions. This is evident from the fact that sensitive issues such as the Rogun HPP were avoided during the negotiations, leaving decisions for later. The main thing is to move relations from the deadlock now, it will be possible to start discussing and solving problems, but in a more confident atmosphere that can only develop through fruitful cooperation," an informed source in Tashkent told EADaily.

According to the source, interstate and intergovernmental agreements on various issues will be signed during the state visit of Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev to Dushanbe, which is likely to take place in early spring.

Let us recall that the disagreements between Tashkent and Dushanbe were constantly arising over the past 25 years. The Tajik side blamed its neighbors for blocking the communication routes, and the Uzbek side opposed construction of the Rogun hydroelectric power plant in Tajikistan, which, in its opinion, is a threat to the whole agrarian sector of the region. Actually, that's why Uzbekistan imposed a transport blockade, blocking shipment of various components of the HPP by all means. In 2001, Uzbekistan introduced a visa regime for Tajik citizens. After some time, Dushanbe responded with a similar measure.

The new president of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, called establishment of good-neighborly relations with all countries of the region one of the main tasks. After this, he consistently paid visits to all neighbors. Tajikistan is the only country that remained "uncovered". And this gap will soon be filled. It seems that Dushanbe is also preparing to restart. In any case, President Emomali Rahmon assured at the meeting with Uzbek guests that "Tajikistan has never created problems for its neighbors and always strives to integrate the countries of the region and the world in the field of water resources and the environment."

Head of the Department of Central Asia and Kazakhstan of the Institute of CIS countries, candidate of historical sciences Andrey Grozin called the recent trip of the Uzbek delegation to Dushanbe preparations for President Mirziyoyev’s visit: "This visit is anticipated by all players having interests in Central Asia. In fact, nothing unexpected was said and done during the stay of the Uzbek government delegation in Tajikistan and Tashkent continued demonstrating good intentions in relations with its neighbors. Dushanbe adopted the proposed rules. And the discussions focus on why Mirziyoyev's visit has not taken place so far. "

According to the expert, in regard to the "topical" Rogun hydroelectric power plant, there is a noticeable softening of Tashkent's position. In any case, the rigid rhetoric of the late Islam Karimov is no longer there. Tashkent seems to expect that Dushanbe still does not find financial and technical opportunities and will not be able to complete this truly ambiguous project. But if Dushanbe finds reserves, then it is simply not clear what Tashkent will count on. Perhaps, Uzbekistan does not have a backup plan. The statements of the Uzbek side, in particular the vice speaker of the parliament Sodiq Safoyev, on this score are diplomatic, lengthy, but one thing remains in them invariable - the national interests of Uzbekistan must be taken into account without fail.

“Border issues can become the litmus paper in the Uzbek-Tajik relations. If they are solved in the same vein as the Kyrgyz-Uzbek issues, that is, quickly and constructively, we can really talk about warming in the relations. If the negotiations become controversial because of contradictions, there will be doubts about the proclaimed thaw between Tashkent and Dushanbe. Issues related to the border are the main indicator of good-neighborly relations," Andrei Grozin said, recalling that 25% of the Tajik-Uzbek border length remain unresolved.

The expert is convinced that the new line of Uzbekistan aimed at improving relations with its neighbors, in particular, with Tajikistan, is not based solely on some kind of humanistic basis, but it has a very concrete practical backup. "When one strategy does not succeed, they start using another one. Convinced that two decades of the policy of harsh pressure on neighbors using their advantages in different spheres do not give a positive result, do not lead to domination in the domestic and foreign policies of these countries, Tashkent changed its strategy, moving to a policy of good-neighborliness, detente, etc. This is correct, even if we proceed not from some abstract considerations, but from the usual administrative economic, or financial point of view. Through Tajikistan, Tashkent can expand its partnership in a southerly direction - a lot of communication between Tajikistan and Afghanistan looks tempting. Also, through Tajikistan, it is possible to establish ties with China, because placing all their chips on the Kyrgyz-Chinese-Uzbek route is too presumptuous given the long and complex history of this project," Grozin said.

Summarizing, Andrey Grozin noted that Uzbekistan expects to become a real center of influence in the region, become a hub, at least, for a logistics intersection of all Central Asian routes. And for this Tashkent is ready to start a complex game with high stakes. Thus, the idea is already informally pitched that the project of joint implementation of large-scale projects, including hydropower projects can be considered. "Maybe this is done with the expectation that sensible approaches to neighbors in the construction of their hydropower plants will also prevail in Tajikistan and it will be possible to really move the unsettled problem of the Rogun hydroelectric plant from the dead point," Grozin said.

EADaily’s Central Asian Bureau

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