Uzbekistan Still Blocking Tajik Freight

Uzbekistan Still Blocking Tajik Freight

Despite pledging not to impede rail freight heading for Tajikistan, the Uzbek authorities are still holding up hundreds of wagons. 

As of August 2, NBCentralAsia sources said 215 wagons containing fuel and foodstuffs in transit across Uzbekistan were being prevented from continuing their journey to Tajikistan.

The Uzbek authorities did not offer an explanation.

Freight transit has suffered severe delays since February, and continues despite an apparent breakthrough reached at talks between the two countries’ presidents in early June.

In mid-July, 30 wagons containing bitumen intended for asphalt road surfacing went on fire at Kolkhozabad in southern Tajikistan. They had been held up in Uzbekistan since February and it is thought the delay and the summer heat caused the conflagration.

The Uzbek authorities have cited a number of reasons for the hold-ups, including the heavy burden on its rail network and the high cost of keeping trains running. The state railway firm says it is shifting the maximum possible amount of freight in transit to other countries.

Tashkent has an interested in facilitating rail transit not only because it earns fees, but also because if it makes things difficult of its neighbours, they may look around for alternative routes.

Many experts, however, believe the rail blockage has political rather than technical roots.

Tashkent has raised strong objections to Tajik plans to complete the Roghun hydroelectric scheme, which because of the effect a large dam might have on water levels in the Amu Darya river. It is also unhappy about plans to increase production capacity at the Tursunzoda aluminium plant, which it says already causes excessive pollution in Uzbekistan. 

Commentators say that at the June talks with Tajik president Imomali Rahmon, Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov said his country reserved the right to detain trains carrying construction materials for the Roghun dam.

“If they want to punish Tajikistan, then economic interests can easily be sacrificed for the sake of political ambitions,” Dosym Satpayev, a political analyst in Almaty, Kazakstan, said. “If the transit war continues, Tajikistan will have to find alternative railway routes to Kazakstan and Russia.”

Farhod Tolipov, a political scientist in Tashkent, says the rail dispute could harm attempts to boost integration among the Central Asian states.

This article was produced as part of IWPR’s News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.

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