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Uzbeks Try to Head Off Tajik Power Plans

By News Briefing Central Asia

A long-running dispute over water and energy between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan has taken another turn as Tashkent tries to persuade Pakistan not to buy Tajik electricity. NBCentralAsia experts say the move shows how plans for regional economic cooperation are being blocked by complex political relationships.

A March 24-25 visit to Tashkent by Pakistani prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani took place in the wake of a formal protest note which the Uzbek ambassador in Islamabad handed over in early March. According to the March 13 edition of the Dawn newspaper, which broke the story, the letter expressed Uzbek opposition to Pakistan’s plans to import electricity from Tajikistan under the Central Asia-South Asia Regional Energy and Trade project, known as CASA-1000 for short.

The note said the CASA-1000 project was in breach of international law because Tajikistan had not consulted its neighbours on an impact assessment report for the Roghun hydroelectric scheme, which when complete should generate enough electricity to allow some to be exported. CASA-1000 envisages a 750-kilometre power line carrying electricity initially from Tajikistan and later also from Kyrgyzstan to Pakistan via Afghanistan.

The Roghun dam, reservoir and power plant will sit on a tributary of the Amu Darya, a major waterway which runs through Uzbekistan and also supplies Turkmenistan via a canal. Under construction for decades with many stops and starts, the scheme is now nearing completion.

Kyrgyzstan, meanwhile, plans two new power plants called Kambarata-1 and -2 on the Naryn, a tributary of the Syr Darya, which runs through Tajik and Uzbek territory to reach Kazakstan.

The Uzbek government argues that the Tajik and Kyrgyz dams would deprive downstream Central Asian states of much-needed irrigation water. Uzbekistan is heavily dependant on cotton, which is a lucrative source of export revenues, but requires large amounts of water.

In return for abandoning CASA-1000, Uzbekistan reportedly promised to consider funding hydropower projects on the river Swat in Pakistan.

Although the issue was expected to come up during the Pakistani prime minister’s visit, an official statement which Tashkent released afterwards did not mention it.

After the Uzbek protest note was delivered, Tajikistan’s ambassador in Islamabad met Pakistan’s water and energy ministry on March 16, and was told the country was committed to all projects that would help it overcome its electricity shortage.

Relations between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have deteriorated since the former began pressing for an environmental assessment of the Roghun project and voiced its objections to the scheme at various international meetings.

Analysts interviewed by NBCentralAsia agree that implementing cross-border energy projects will not happen without massive diplomatic efforts from all parties concerned.

They differ in their views of why Uzbekistan is so hostile to the Roghun scheme. Kazakstan-based analyst Eduard Poletaev believes Tashkent wants to block the scheme because of the risk of serious water shortages.

However, Nuriddin Karshiboev, head of the National Association of Independent Media in Dushanbe, believes Uzbekistan’s recalcitrance has more to do with retaining its hold over weaker neighbours. CASA-1000 could allow Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan not only to become self-sufficient in energy, but to generate revenue from exporting the surplus. Currently, both countries have to fill the energy gap with Uzbek natural gas, for which they have to pay international prices.

Abdurahmon Tashanov, an analyst in Tashkent, said Uzbek president Islam Karimov simply wanted to have a say on how shared water resources are used, and to be consulted before major decisions were taken.

Dmitry Abzalov of the Centre for Political Trends in Moscow said external players like Russia could play a valuable role in facilitating regional agreements and bringing Uzbekistan on board.

Rovshan Ibrahimov, head of the Energy Research Centre in Azerbaijan, cautioned that the CASA-1000 project would take time to implement, and there were doubts it would happen at all since the route through Afghanistan made it vulnerable.

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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