FURTHER TENSIONS IN TAJIKISTAN-UZBEKISTAN RELATIONS
On April 14, 2012, media in Tajikistan reported that local residents of the Mastcha district in Northern Tajikistan had observed multiple heavy military vehicles gathering on Uzbekistan’s territory close to its state border with Tajikistan. Observers believe that Uzbekistan’s concentration of military hardware on its border with Tajikistan is another sign of increased tension between the two neighboring countries.
On April 1, Uzbekistan halted its gas supply to Tajikistan without prior notification, which seriously affected large companies in Tajikistan like the Tajikcement plant and the Tajik Aluminum Company (TALCO). The former is the major supplier of cement to the Rogun hydropower construction site. Media reports indicate that the lack of natural gas has resulted in a halt to cement production. As for TALCO, a Counselor at Tajikistan’s Embassy to the Russian Federation, Suleyman Rashidov, stated on April 9 that TALCO is working only at 20 percent of its capacity due to gas shortages. In case TALCO halts its operation, Tajikistan will lose up to 75 percent of its currency earnings according to experts.
According to Uzbekneftgaz National Holding Company, gas supplies to Tajikistan were resumed on April 16. However, there is no official statement from the Tajik side and the details of the contract, such as timeframe, quantity of supply, remain unclear.
Another point of controversy in relations between the two countries is the railroad line between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. According to Uzbek authorities, a railway bridge between the Galaba and Amuzang stations in Uzbekistan exploded in mid-November 2011, severing one of three major rail links to Tajikistan. Due to the destruction of the bridge, a large number of wagons carrying goods headed for Tajikistan were stuck in Uzbekistan. According to Uzbek local media, the explosion was considered to be a terrorist act. However, some local observers doubted that version as Uzbek authorities kept the site closed to the public and made little progress in restoring the bridge and the operation of the railway.
At the end of March 2012, the Vice Chairman of Tajik Railroads, Vladimir Sobkalov, stated that Uzbekistan has begun dismantling parts of the railway line leading into southern Tajikistan (near the exploded bridge), rather than repairing the bridge and reopening the line as was promised. Uzbek authorities have not commented on the allegation.
This railroad served the Khatlon region in Southern Tajikistan, connecting a region of about 3.5 million residents to external regional railway lines. The railroad was vital for transporting fuel, food and other supplies to the Khatlon province, whose remoteness makes resupply via Tajikistan’s own infrastructure costly and impractical during winter. Furthermore, the railroad was the closest railroad connection for delivering goods to Tajikistan’s autonomous Gorno-Badakhshan province.
According to Tajikistan’s government as well as independent experts, this railroad blockage causes substantial shortages and financial losses for Tajikistan, and induces scarcity and increased food prices in the Khatlon province. The Khatlon province authorities report about US$ 3 million in losses starting from November 2011.
As for tensions around the border, according to a statement made by Tajikistan’s Embassy to the Russian Federation, Uzbekistan closed 14 out of 16 border crossings in 2011-2012, violating existing bilateral intergovernmental agreements about border crossing points. Also, Tajikistan reports that 54 zones of the joint border between the two countries were mined by Uzbekistan in 1999. Despite numerous requests by Tajikistan, none of these zones have so far been marked, which has resulted in 100 dead and 93 wounded local inhabitants.
Four border zones remain an issue in the demarcation process between the two countries. The major controversial point is the so-called Farhad dam border zone. The dam is situated on the Tajikistan side, but is used by Uzbekistan based on an agreement reached during Soviet times. Uzbekistan claims that the Farhad dam should be ceded to Uzbekistan. Tajikistan considers these statements by Uzbekistan as an attempt to annex Tajikistan’s territory.
On April 18, Tajik and Uzbek border officials met to discuss the current situation at the Tajik-Uzbek border. The meeting was attended by the border troop commanders of both countries. There is as yet no official statement about the outcomes of the meeting. It seems that the controversial border issue remains unsolved and just adds another point to the antagonistic relations between two countries.