Tajikistan and Uzbekistan Show More Signs of Thaw
The thick ice that has long coated relations between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan continues to thaw. Last week the Tajik parliament announced the establishment of a Tajik-Uzbek “friendship and cooperation group.” Officials have not disclosed details of what this body would do, and the Uzbek side has yet to confirm its participation, but the symbolism is accompanied by growing cross-border links.
The same day, April 24, a delegation of Uzbek border guards led by the chief of the Border Service's General Staff, Major-General Nosirbek Usmonbekov, visited northern Tajikistan to discuss cooperation.
Despite a common 1,300-kilometer border, border guards from the two sides had never before officially met, according to authorities in Khujand, Tajikistan’s second city. The two countries have long been at odds over the border, much of which remains undefined. Uzbekistan has mined sections of the frontier and shootings remain common.
The talks produced a woolly statement, but even that is progress given how poor relations had become. “The parties noted the willingness and interest in further development of cooperation on all issues of mutual interest in ensuring the reliable protection of the Uzbek-Tajik state border,” a press officer for the Uzbek Border Service told Uzbekistan’s 12News.uz.
Tajik-Uzbek relations have been strained since independence from the Soviet Union was dumped on the countries in 1991. Uzbekistan is furious over Tajikistan’s plans to build the world’s tallest hydropower dam, Rogun, upstream, claiming it will give Tajikistan unfair control over regional water resources and could harm the environment. Tashkent has responded by imposing a de facto transit blockade on Tajik goods and by cutting off natural gas supplies to its neighbor. Bilateral trade plummeted from $300 million in 2008 to $2.1 million last year, according to Tajik president’s office figures cited by Asia-Plus last September.
For several years, Dushanbe and Tashkent had barely spoken with one another. But last September Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov made his first official visit to Tajikistan in seven years. Soon after, local media started reporting that connecting flights would resume for the first time in over twenty years. That hasn’t happened.
It will certainly take many bilateral meetings to address the myriad tensions between the two. But recent developments indicate that both sides are creeping toward amicability, perhaps urged on by common concerns over Russian agression in the region.