Tapping into Central Asia
Tajikistan develops regional strategy
|Interview with: Hamrokhon Zarifi
9 January 2011 – Issue : 917
Following a high-level co-operation meeting at the European Council in Brussels, the Foreign Minister of Tajikistan, Hamrokhon Zarifi, spoke to New Europe about the meeting, EU-Tajik partnership, the security situation in central Asia and the growing importance of energy for the economy of Tajikistan.
You have just had a high-level meeting at the European Council. What did you discuss?
This was the first meeting in the history of Tajikistan and the European Union, so it is very important. Now, because of some small problem that rises in central Asia, it impacts on Europe also; for example, drug trafficking. Afghanistan is the country of production, Tajikistan is transit country, and country of destination is in the European Union, and this is where ewe should do some serious work on how to create some mechanism to protect people from these kinds of issues. This was one part of our discussion. Of course; we should be fighting drugs in the country of production and transit, but also in the country of destination, so there is no demand for production. And so we were discussing how we can enhance our co-operation in this way.
Did the EU offer any support in this?
Yes; several projects in Tajikistan for border issues have assistance from the European Union, through projects of the EU central Asia co-operation. Through such projects we are enhancing the border with Afghanistan. For example, we are providing some technical equipment. We have built five bridges to Afghanistan to help with trade development, but at the same time we must also protect these bridges.
Drug trafficking is also one of the main source of finance for terrorists. So a second issue is the fight against terrorism, how can we do it? To cut off terrorist from financial sources, we must stop drug trafficking. We should enhance our relations to fight terrorism. Terrorist live in Pakistan, in other countries, they receive finance from many countries, and for this reason we should have a very good plan of action to fight terrorism.
How about economic development?
We also discussed economic development. Tajikistan, despite its size, for hydro power resources is second biggest in the former Soviet Union, after Russia, and 8th in the world. It is ecologically clean under the Kyoto protocol, and is our most important source of energy. We are now constructing several hydro power plants, but despite the large potential, in winter we have limited electricity. Existing hydro power stations are not enough for fulfilling all the demands of Tajikistan, also in winter, usually we are gathering water for downstream countries; Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, to provide water for irrigation in summer. To fulfil all demands, we should build additional hydro power stations. We haven’t got oil and gas, well, we have it, but it is very deep! So, we are co-operating in this way, and also in the agriculture sector, where we are changing our production from cattle to fruit and vegetables, for instance.
It seems that hydro power is very much tied up with the economy, how is the infrastructure in terms of hydro, particularly in relation to exporting power to neighbouring countries?
During the Soviet time, it was designed that there would be 22 medium and large hydro power stations. We have already built seven, eight. And now we are building the Rogun plant on Vakhsh river. Uzbekistan demanded an international, independent feasibility study, we applied to the World Bank, and I hope after feasibility study, we will start working. This is a large project; it is 3,600 megawatts, with a dam of more than 300 metres. This started in Soviet times, and on existing infrastructures. From this station we now plan to draw an electricity transmission line to Afghanistan and Pakistan, a 1,000 megawatt transmission line, because Pakistan suffers very seriously from a shortage of energy, and Afghanistan needs a lot of electricity for its development. We are working with the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, Islamic Bank, to construct this line. It is increase significantly the export of electricity from Tajikistan. The situation now is that in summer we have large potential for export, but in winter we need energy imports. In this we should increase co-operation with the south – Iran, Afghanistan, India. These are ideas on which we are working, but it needs a lot of investment, of course.
Energy, transport and communications are very important to have, and here we have several ambitions. One project, for example, is a railway from China through Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, the north part of Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and into the Persian Gulf. It is a challenging project; it needs a lot of investment, and a lot of negotiations. We have spoken with Iran, with the Chinese, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, several Arabic countries like Qatar, Bahrain, Oman; it also has political significance. For example, it will be very interesting to see co-operation between the Arabic world, Iran and former Soviet countries.
Although this is a transport issue, it touches on foreign policy, too. Presumably, one of the ambitions behind this is for socio-economic change in the region.
Cross-border trade in central Asia is not in bad shape, but it needs improvement. The existing border management during Soviet times has collapsed, and we need to create a new one. Actually, we have created several, but they have not worked 100%.We need more negotiations to create checkpoints, to sign new agreements, and to make some kind of assistance to each country. But most important is the road going through the north of Afghanistan. Here, security becomes more and more important, but, however, a lot of hope exists. By military action alone, we cannot solve all the problems of Afghanistan, we need economic improvement. How can we do this? By projects like road, railway, transmission of electricity lines, creating a lot of infrastructure, so people will have jobs and income – it will be an improvement.
You mentioned Uzbekistan earlier. How are relations right now?
We do not have bad relations with Uzbekistan. In fact, I would like to say, we have excellent relations with all our neighbours. We have with Uzbekistan several disputes, normal political disputes, around water and energy. Unfortunately, we have not yet reached full agreement or understanding, because Uzbekistan is afraid that if we build a hydro-electric power station there will be a shortage of water. We have another opinion; water in central Asia is quite enough. We should, therefore, improve water consumption, and the irrigation system. The system in the former Soviet Union in central Asia is very old, it is really not sufficient. To solve this dispute, we should continue our negotiations to improve irrigations systems in these countries.
Can the EU help in this?
Yes, of course. A lot of independent institutions are within the European Union, and the EU has good experience, for example in the Danube river agreements between several countries; it is good experience. Of course, nothing can be implemented 100% form one region to another, it will be difficult, but in general the same.
How committed is central Asia as a whole to improving the security situation, particularly in Afghanistan?
Actually, I think the wider world is trying to find a security framework for Afghanistan. The Tajik point of view is that without strong security in that country, there will be no stability in central Asia. We need to improve the situation in Afghanistan, and we do have several frameworks for discussion. For example; we created two years ago our Quartet: Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, and we meet annually.
On the other side; how are relations with Iran?
Historically, culturally, linguistically, we have along history with Iran. Iran has very positively impacted on Afghanistan, and we are encouraging because Iran has a lot of possibilities to assist Afghanistan, and we are trying to co-ordinate our efforts. We recognise the full rights of the Iranian people for peaceful use of nuclear power; but at the same time, we support Western ideas to keep Iran away from atomic weapons. We believe there is just one way forward: diplomatic negotiations with Iran for solving these problems.