Uzbekistan has after a long pause broken its silence on Tajikistan’s plan to build a giant hydropower dam long resisted by Tashkent.
Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov was pushed off the fence on July 5 in a likely carefully choreographed television Q&A session. Reading a note submitted via the internet by a viewer, the moderator asked whether “Tashkent’s silence represents a change of position on the construction of hydro-technical infrastructure on the upper transboundary rivers of Central Asia?”
Komilov’s answer was similarly technical.
The United Nations proposes two conventions on the use of the Amu-Darya and Syr-Darya rivers that are deemed suitable by Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, he said.
“The position of principle remains that during the construction of such dams, the interests of both upstream and downstream countries should be considered. We do not say that our Tajik friends should stop the construction of the Roghun Dam. Go ahead and build it, but we hold to certain guarantees in accordance with these conventions that have been signed by you,” Komilov said.
The foreign minister pointed out that the international conventions to which he alluded detailed the mechanisms for resolving contentious issues and provided guidelines for compensation in the event of harm being caused.
“It is an excellent convention. It is in this way that disputes between the US and Canada and between the US and Mexico were resolved. Even in the Middle East disputes are resolved this way,” he said.
While he mainly spoke in Uzbek throughout the televised event, Komilov made a point of addressing the issue of Roghun in Russian, so that he might be more easily understood by foreign listeners, particularly those in Tajikistan.
Roghun has been a stop-start affair since the 1970s, when the idea was first given the green light. Work on the hydropower facility resumed with gusto in October when Tajik President Emomali Rahmon personally oversaw the start to efforts to dam the flow of the Vakhsh River.
The biggest roadblock to the project historically lay in the person of the late Uzbek President Islam Karimov. His death last year has done much to restore amicable relations with Tajikistan and other nations in the region.
After providing his answer on the Roghun dam, Komilov went on to speak about a newly made documentary on the history of relations between Uzbeks and Tajiks. The film was broadcast on Uzbek television earlier this month. Komilov gushed at what he described as an “excellent film” and suggested that after it was distributed and seen widely, the two nations might well come to an agreement over yet another disputed item of infrastructure — the Farhad Dam.