The visit to Tajikistan was the last on Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s good neighborhood tour of Central Asia. It was the first such visit in as many as 27 years and a really extraordinary event even for those who was not aware of years-long tensions between the two nations.
There was a lot of oriental symbolism during Mirziyoyev’s meeting with his Tajik counterpart Emomali Rahmon: the host granted the guest mock-up gates without doors and called him “my brother.” As a result of the meeting the leaders signed almost 30 cooperation agreements and swore allegiance to each other. Uzbekistan has been given access to the Tajik market and has opened its territory for the transit of Tajik goods.
Has Mirziyoyev’s visit opened a new cloudless page in the history of Uzbek-Tajik ties? Director for Cultural, Educational and Scientific Projects of the Center for Traditional Cultures Alexander Sobyanin sees several aspects here: “Uzbekistan is becoming open politically, economically and mentally - a factor that will prevail over geopolitical games in Central Asia in the next two years. In this light, we may expect Uzbekistan to improve its relations with all the four Central Asian nations and also with Russia as Russia is not just present in the region but is the key economic and political player there. Without personal agreements between Mirziyoyev and Rahmon, there could be no progress in Uzbek-Tajik relations. The presidents have come to terms on the threat of Uzbek separatism in Tajikistan’s Sughd region and the threat of trans-frontier Islamism along the Uzbek-Tajik border. This means that now the sides will handle these problems on a state level.”
According to Sobyanin, Tashkent is trying to find for Dushanbe an acceptable formula of cooperation in hydropower engineering and mining and wants to be co-investors in some projects in Tajikistan. “The sides’ conflicts in hydropower engineering are in the past as both of them are interested in developing the sector. Very soon, the Central Asian nations will start consultations for creating regional and Eurasian transport networks. Russia will certainly be involved in this process as it has military monopoly in the region,” Sobyanin says.
Tajik expert, lawyer Shakir Khakimov believes that Mirziyoyev’s visit to Dushanbe was successful. “A lot of documents have been signed but now the sides should ensure their realization. The leaders appear to be committed to do it. The change of the leader in Uzbekistan has led to significant improvements in the country’s internal and external policies. Today Uzbekistan is ready to take the initiative and to make Central Asia’s integration a real process. This meets the interests of both the Uzbeks and the Tajiks as we all have the right to a better life and a better economy,” Khakimov says.
He does not support the opinion of those fearing Uzbekistan’s political and economic expansion. “We export lots of goods from China and this is a good alternative for preventing the Uzbek expansion. But our economy will have to do a lot to become a match to the Uzbek economy. So, we are talking about ‘good expansion’ – a stimulus for our producers rather than a scheme aimed to restrict our sovereignty,” Khakimov says.
Expert on Central Asia and the Middle East Alexander Knyazev advises the Uzbek and Tajik mass media not to be too enthusiastic yet as the agreements reached by the Uzbek and Tajik leaders are still on paper. “But we have also good news: the leaders have decided to lift visa regime for up to 30-day visits. It is a revolutionary decision for thousands of relatives living on both sides of the border. It is unusual for present-day politics to see two nations that have lots of serious political and economic contradictions giving preference to a humanitarian problem,” Knyazev says.
The Rogun Dam project is one of the most painful problems on the Uzbek-Tajik agenda. The website of the Uzbek Government says that Uzbekistan is ready to take part in the project in line with all international norms. This is an interesting tactical step on Tashkent’s part: the Uzbeks have launched a program to establish their dominance in Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. “As far as this project is concerned, the Tajik leaders hardly have answers that would satisfy their Uzbek counterparts. The Uzbeks had a choice: either to get caught up in this conflict or to continue its expansion into the region. And they chose the latter. In Central Asia, Uzbekistan is beginning to act like China. It has lent Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan $100mn apiece. It is clear that neither of the borrowers will be able to repay the loans in near future but the Uzbeks’ profit here is that this money will help their neighbors to develop their markets, but it will also make those markets dependent on Uzbekistan and this will enhance the latter’s chances to become the region’s leader. So, Mirziyoyev’s visit to Dushanbe was the last sentence of the first paragraph of Uzbekistan’s new regional policy. For the time being, that policy looks to be quite effective, which does not mean that there will be no problems and contradictions in future,” Knyazev says.
EADaily’s Central Asian Bureau