Tajik Officials Increase Security at Dams and Other Strategic Facilities
Tajik officials believe there is a credible threat of a terrorist act against a non-military target in their country. A EurasiaNet source in Dushanbe reports that in recent weeks, officials have tightened security at potential terrorist targets, including Lake Sarez, a reservoir holding about 17 cubic kilometers of water.
Security concerns are connected with Tajikistan's participation in the US-led anti-terrorism campaign against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden's terrorist network in Afghanistan. Taliban leaders have indicated that they will try to retaliate against Central Asian states that assist in the US war effort. While that threat was directed primarily at Uzbekistan, Tajik officials are concerned that their country might also face retaliatory terrorist acts. [For more information, see EurasiaNet's Environment department.]
Tajikistan has proven vulnerable to infiltration from Afghanistan, both by drug traffickers and by insurgents of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which has training bases in Afghanistan. The IMU has used Tajikistan as a transit country in its three-year campaign to oust Uzbek President Islam Karimov's government in Tashkent. Russian troops guard Tajikistan's frontier with Afghanistan, but the mountainous terrain facilitates undetected crossings.
The Lake Sarez reservoir has been the object of past terrorist threats. On several occasions during Tajikistan's 1992-97 civil war, anti-government military commanders in the United Tajik Opposition threatened to blow up the Usoi dam, which hold back Lake Sarez's waters. The lake is situated at an altitude of almost 4,000 meters in the Bartang Valley of Tajikistan's remote Gorno Badakhshan region.
A catastrophe involving the collapse of the Usoi dam could endanger up to 5 million people in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. It could also destroy large tracts of some of Central Asia's most fertile agricultural land, and threaten the infrastructure along the Amy Darya River.
Prior to September 11, governments and international organizations had been primarily concerned about the danger posed by a natural disaster, especially a strong earthquake. Some experts say that years of neglect have dangerously weakened the dam's infrastructure. The World Bank and the government of Switzerland recently provided funding for risk-assessment and disaster-prevention projects.
A series of international meetings have attempted to establish early warning mechanisms that would help authorities minimize the human suffering and environmental consequences potentially arising from Lake Sarez-related flooding.
One Tajik Academy of Sciences expert, Anatoly Ishchuk, believes the Usoi Dam is in better shape than many fear. He insisted that recent data indicates the dam could withstand a powerful earthquake. He added that it would be difficult for terrorists blow up.