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Series: Central Asia and Japan: Part 5 Tajikistan Land of Mountains with Water in Silk Road Recovering from Civil War | Fumiaki Inagaki Senior Visiting Researcher Keio Research Institute at SFC [Date of Issue: 30/August/2013 No.0222-0902]

Date of Issue: 30/August/2013

Series: Central Asia and Japan: Part 5
Land of Mountains with Water in Silk Road Recovering from Civil War

Fumiaki Inagaki
Senior Visiting Researcher
Keio Research Institute at SFC

Tajikistan is recovering steadily from civil war, but many issues will need to be resolved if it is to develop further, including the country's dependence on Russia on the economic and security fronts and its wrangle with Uzbekistan over hydropower generation.

Ethnic Tajik: Only Persian People in Central Asia

Ismoil Somoni Statue

Ismoil Somoni Statue

A vast 93 percent of Tajikistan's territory is, in fact, mountainous. In the east lie the Pamir Mountains, known as the "Roof of the World". Towering above the rest of the range at 7,495 meters-"Ismoil Somoni Peak", named after an Amir Ismail Somoni in the Samanid dynasty which flourished in the 10th century, is the highest peak in the former Soviet Union. The Amir's name is also used for the currency of Tajikistan, the "Somoni", and a large bronze statue of Somoni stands opposite the Supreme Assembly building, as befits a hero of the Tajik people and a symbol of national unity.

In addition, as is apparent from the perception of the Iranian Samanid dynasty as a symbol of national unity, different from the Turkish peoples of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, the Tajik is one of Persian ethnic group (although dissimilar to Iran, the dominant Islamic sect in Tajikistan is Sunni). Their ancestors are Sogdians and Bactrians, Persian farming peoples who have lived in Central Asia since ancient times, forming key Eurasian trading routes such as the Silk Road. The Silk Road, of course, has deep connections with Japan, including the transmission of Buddhism.

Only Central Asian Country to Experience Civil War

The civil war into which Tajikistan slipped from 1992 to 2000 is the only such conflict to have occurred in Central Asia. Japan was involved in trying to end the war, which killed 50,000 people and produced 250,000 refugees. Japanese involvement took the form of repatriating refugees and other confidence-building exercises focused on reconciliation, in the course of which Dr. Yutaka Akino, a former associate professor at Tsukuba University, was killed by the armed group in July 1998 while on active service as a Civil Affairs Officer of the "United Nations Mission of Observers in Tajikistan (UNMOT)".

Tajikistan's civil war was an interregional conflict. During the Soviet era, Tajikistan's governance structure took the form of the southern Kulob province (now eastern Khatlon) supporting the northern Sughd province, birthplace of many of the First Secretaries of the Communist Party of Tajikistan. The civil war took the form of the opposition alliance of central Gharm and the Gorno-Badakhstan Autonomous Province in the Pamir Mountains in the east challenging this Sughd-Kulob dominance. The civil war came to an end following the transfer of one third of key government posts to the opposition pursuant to a peace agreement concluded in June 1997. However, given that Kulob's Emomali Rahmon has been President since 1994, the impact of the civil war on the governance structure appears to have been the transferal of leadership to Kulob. Presidential elections are scheduled for November this year. While President Rahmon's re-election for a second term is regarded as a certainty, resolving the public's long-standing dissatisfaction with the administration will be a key issue.

Steady Recovery and Tajikistan's Industry: An Economy Reliant on Migrant Labor

Since Tajikistan relied on Soviet government subsidies for half of its budget, its economy virtually destroyed by the breakup of the Soviet Union and civil war virtually. The economic growth, however, has improved steadily since the end of the civil war, with GDP more than quadrupling from US$1.55 billion in 2003 to US$6.99 billion in 2012. Looking just at the city of Dushanbe, no traces of the war remain.

Tajikistan's main industries are aluminum and cotton, which accounted for 61.5 percent and 16.7 percent respectively in 2010. Key trading partners are Russia, China, Kazakhstan and Turkey, with China and Turkey absorbing around 70 percent of Tajikistan's exports. Most of the country's imports are of raw materials-petroleum products and aluminum oxide-around 50 percent of which come from Russia and Kazakhstan. Around 50 percent of GDP is drawn from the remittances of migrant workers, and 90 percent of the remittances are from Russia. As a result, economic trends in Russia impact directly on the Tajikistan economy. The Tajikistan government also needs to maintain good relations with Russia to protect its own people. The customs union, which Russia is promoting, is consequently a key foreign policy issue. However, with Tajikistan becoming the 159th member of the World Trade Organization in March 2013, the customs union negotiations are expected to run on to tricky ground.

Security Issues: Afghanistan and Russian Forces in Tajikistan

Tajikistan's greatest security concern is Afghanistan, with which it shares a 1,344 kilometer border. Stabilizing Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in 2014 is a particularly pressing issue. The most critical players in Tajikistan security are the Russian forces stationed there. The 201st Military Base in Tajikistan, originally deployed back in 1945 as the 201st Rifle Division, is Russia's largest foreign base, with more than 7,000 personnel within its walls. The deployment period for the Russian forces, which administered the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border until the transfer of control to the Tajikistan military in 2005, was originally 2014. In October 2012, both Presidents agreed in to extend that through to 2042after a year of negotiations.

However, while the Russian Federal Assembly ratified the agreement in May 2013, the Tajikistan parliament is dragging its feet because Tajikistan wants Russia to assist the modernization of its army and protect the position of the Tajik migrant workers who support the Russian economy. This bullish position on Tajikistan's part despite its economic dependence on Russia arises from the presence of "OKNO", a Russian space surveillance station, in Tajikistan. OKNO is a key facility in terms of Russia's security, so Russia cannot afford to let Tajikistan destabilize. Tajikistan is using its position as a linchpin in Russian security as a negotiating tool with Russia to expand its economic profit.

Tussle with Uzbekistan over Water Resources and Discovery of Fossil Energy

Nurek Dam

Nurek Dam (3,000 MW generating capacity), currently Tajikistan’s biggest dam

The mountainous country of Tajikistan has 55 percent of Central Asia's water resources, with a potential power generation capacity from that water power of 52,825 kWh, or around four times Japan's capacity. Tajikistan is working to bolster its hydropower stations to secure energy, but faces fierce opposition from Uzbekistan downstream. Confrontation is particularly intense over the construction of the Rogun Dam, planned back during the Soviet era, which would be one of the world's highest dams at 335 meters and generate 3,600 MW of power.

Concerned about a decline in water volume, Uzbekistan is pressuring Tajikistan in a number of ways, including severing transmission network connections, holding up freight trains, and raising the price or suspending the supply of natural gas. However, the dam is a key power source for the World Bank-led Central Asia and South Asia power transmission project "CASA 1000". The project, designed to supply cheap electricity to Afghanistan and Pakistan from hydro power stations in Tajikistan (and Kyrgyzstan), also highlights the close link between the Rogun Dam and the situation in Afghanistan. The World Bank is currently undertaking a feasibility study including issues such as the downstream impact, with Tajikistan shelving construction temporarily.

In July 2012, the British company Tethys Petroleum discovered an oil and natural gas deposit estimated at 27.5 billion bbl of oil equivalent. In June 2013, the China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) and France's TOTAL put up funds to lay a gas pipeline through to China. If the development of this deposit proceeds smoothly in fossil fuel-poor Tajikistan, it could change not only relations between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, but also the dynamics of Central Asia as a whole, and as such will merit close attention.

Relations with Japan: From Peace Promotion to Economic Assistance and Local Operations

Due partly to the Akino incident, in 1998 Japan began providing assistance to promote the peace process, taking in over five years 500 trainees who would go forward to contribute to peace and democracy in Tajikistan, and holding three democratization seminars as part of this program. As at 2011, Japan had provided grants amounting to some 20 billion yen, cultural and grassroots projects included, as well as 4.4 billion yen in technical cooperation, with Japan's active engagement in transport infrastructure and regional development earning considerable praise in Tajikistan.

Unfortunately, unlike other Central Asian countries, no network has yet been set up to improve Tajikistan's investment environment, but Japanese companies are still establishing presence there. Cokey Co., Ltd, which manufactures glycyrrhizin from licorice root, established the joint venture "Avalin" in September 2011 to take advantage of Tajikistan's abundant licorice supply. Where Japan's relations with Tajikistan have advanced from promotion of the peace process through to economic assistance, the further evolution of that relationship as far as investment will require the early establishment of an investment environment improvement network.

(original article : Japanese)
(For the Japanese version of this article)

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