Tajikistan: Progress on Rogun Dam Risks Renewing Tension With Uzbekistan

Courtesy of STRATFOR (subscription required), analysis of potential risks arising from the construction of a controversial dam in Tajikistan:

Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have made an effort to improve their relationship in the past few months, but recent advances in the construction of a controversial dam could undo some of the progress they have made. According to a report by the Moscow-based Ferghana News Agency, Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon will attend a ceremony Oct. 29 for the Rogun Dam project at which the Vakhsh River’s flow will be rerouted. Uzbekistan has objected to the dam’s construction for decades because the river it sits on serves as an important source of irrigation for the Uzbek agricultural sector. Now that further steps toward its long-stalled construction are being taken, it could put the two countries’ attempts to warm ties to the test.

At this stage, efforts to complete the dam, which eventually will be equipped with turbines that have the capacity to generate 3,600 megawatts of electricity, will not reduce the river’s downstream flow. Diversion tunnels will be used to keep the base of the dam dry as it is being built. Nevertheless, the Rogun Dam and the shared waters it affects are sensitive topics in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and the latest development could well throw a wrench in their efforts to overcome their differences.

It is possible that Tajikistan secured Uzbekistan’s cooperation before moving forward with the project. After all, both sides have used friendlier rhetoric toward each other in recent months. On Sept. 29, Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov paid a surprise visit to the capital, Dushanbe, becoming the first Uzbek minister to travel to Tajikistan for talks since the late 1990s. During his meeting with Rakhmon, Komilov conveyed Uzbek Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s hopes for a renewed friendship between the two countries. After the meeting concluded, Rakhmon’s office issued a statement saying Uzbekistan and Tajikistan were entertaining the idea of opening a dialogue on the difficult question of sharing water resources. And indeed, regulating the Vakhsh River’s use could prove beneficial to both states.

Tajikistan, however, may also be acting unilaterally. Uzbekistan is currently preoccupied with preparing for upcoming elections and settling succession issues, problems Dushanbe is well aware of. The Tajik government could be taking advantage of Tashkent’s distraction to forge ahead with its massive hydropower project. If that is the case, it would highlight the insurmountable obstacles that still exist to mending ties between the two countries.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 25th, 2016 at 12:35 pm and is filed under Tajikistan, Uzbekistan.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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