Ashgabat, 27 August 2012 (nCa) — President Emomali Rahmon visited Turkmenistan, 22-24 August 2012. It was an important visit, built around a heavily laden agenda.
In fact, ‘heavily laden’ is an apt description in this case, bringing to mind the image of a heavily laden ship, only less than half of which is visible to the eye.
The summit talks between the presidents of Turkmenistan and Tajikistan on 23 August led to the signing of six documents and a joint communiqué:
- Agreement between the chamber rof commerce of Turkmenistan and the chamber of commerce of Tajikistan
- Agreement between the ministry of finance of Turkmenistan and the National Bank of Tajikistan on cooperation in countering the legalization of proceeds from crime and terror finance
- Agreement between the academy of science of Turkmenistan and academy of sciences of Tajikistan on cooperation
- Programme of cooperation between Turkmenistan and Tajikistan in the field of culture and arts for the period 2013-2014
- Programme of cooperation between the ministries of foreign affairs of both the countries for the period 2013-2014
- Agreement between the governments of Turkmenistan and Tajikistan on mutual provision of land to house the embassy of Turkmenistan in Tajikistan and the embassy of Tajikistan in Turkmenistan
- Joint communiqué signed by presidents of both the countries
Here are some important points of the joint communiqué that show the areas where the two countries could be interacting more in near future:
- The Republic of Tajikistan once again expressed support for the initiative of Turkmenistan on the development of an international legal instrument on the transit of energy taking into account proposals of interested countries and international organizations in the UN.
- The Heads of State recognized the need for further cooperation in the fight against cross-border threats such as terrorism, religious extremism, organized crime and drug trafficking on a bilateral basis and within the framework of regional and international organizations.
- During the talks, the Presidents discussed the pressing regional issues, and stressed that early stabilization and reconstruction of Afghanistan is crucial for the security and stability in the region. They confirmed the readiness to continue cooperation with the international community for active restoration of peace in Afghanistan.
- The president reaffirmed the importance of the joint Turkmen-Tajik intergovernmental commission on trade-economic and scientific-technical cooperation and noted the need for efficient use of existing capacity and capabilities of the two countries to deepen and expand bilateral cooperation.
- Focusing on the most important priorities of Turkmen-Tajik cooperation, two presidents named [several areas] including production, transportation and transit of electric power, petroleum, nonferrous metallurgy, transport, telecommunications and textile industries. They also underlined the need for closer links between the agricultural agro-industry.
As is evident, the stress was broad-based economic cooperation with emphasis on trade and transit corridors.
Rahmon said that the removal of the existing barriers and obstacles to the free movement of goods, services, capital and labour will help double the GDP of the regional countries. It was a generally applicable remark but in the context of what has been happening in the region during the past year or so, it seems addressed to Uzbekistan.
It is strange that in every region there is at least one country that plays the role of a spoiler. In Central Asia this honour goes to Uzbekistan.
Rahmon also called for more active role of the UN Centre for Preventive Diplomacy (UNRCCA) in dealing with the regional problems. The main problem is the management and use of shared water resources and this again is an area where Uzbekistan is a regional odd man out.
Berdymuhamedov said that in the next year and a half there is the potential to increase fivefold the electrical supply to Tajikistan. At present Turkmenistan supplies about 1.2 billion kWh of electricity to Tajikistan in the autumn/winter season when the Tajikistan faces acute shortage of electrical energy. Increasing the supply by fivefold will ensure that Tajikistan gets free of any other sources such as Uzbekistan.
These were the publicly discussed areas. Then, there must have been the topics not open to the media.
Based on the current regional situation and the plausible projections of post-2014 scenario, here are some points that must have come up in the in-camera conversations between the two presidents:
Shortest connection between Turkmenistan and Tajikistan
The territory of Afghanistan provides the shortest connection between Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. Depending on how far one prefers to traverse from the border of Uzbekistan, the distance between Turkmenistan and Tajikistan would be just 150-200 km.
This is the ideal solution for energy, trade and transportation routes between Turkmenistan and Tajikistan and it will benefit immensely the transit territory – Afghanistan.
[This idea was first floated by nCa during a private conversation with the then-minister of mines of Afghanistan, Professor Hakim Taniwal some six years ago.]
China and Afghanistan have already expressed the desire to establish such a connection, basically to open another route for transit of Turkmen natural gas to China. This was discussed on the sidelines of the recent SCO summit.
It is logical that the Turkmen and Tajik presidents must have discussed the practicalities of this idea during the visit of Rahmon.
In addition to the obvious benefit of bypassing an unpredictable country like Uzbekistan, the direct connection between Turkmenistan and Tajikistan through Afghanistan would quickly help stabilize the northwestern areas of Afghanistan. This would in turn bolster security and stability in Central Asia.
The areas of Afghanistan through which this corridor would pass are comparatively peaceful. Whatever disturbance is taking place there is mainly because of the irritation caused by NDN and the presence of the US-NATO forces. As soon as these irritants are removed, peace would be restored automatically.
This should be a corridor for rail and road transportation, oil and gas pipelines, power transmission lines, duty free zones and dry ports.
Tajikistan at present is in the grip of internal unrest. The government is trying to describe it as terrorism and religious extremism. It means that Rahmon has forgotten the lessons from the civil war.
There were two important lessons that are worth remembering for all processes of decision-making:
- It is possible to start a war against Islam but it is not possible to win that war.
- No government has the capacity to succeed in a war against its own population.
The basic trouble here is that Rahmon, because of his very long stay in power, has lost touch with the ground realities. He is not the Rahmonov of 1997 who could appreciate the wisdom of coming to terms with Abdullah Nuri and sharing power with him.
Instead of trying to identify and address the reasons of internal discontent, he is cracking down on Islam.
Terrorism, in whatever form it manifests itself, is invariably a symptom of something else. It is never an independent phenomenon on its own. Fighting terrorism with state terrorism is a non-solution. In fact, it is surefire recipe for destruction.
Since Rahmon is bogged down with what he calls terrorism and what some observers consider internal discontent, it is commonsensical that this topic must have been discussed during his visit to Ashgabat.
It is difficult to guest as to what advice Turkmenistan gave on this issue. Based on the past experience, we can surmise that Turkmenistan must have advised him to explore the path of reconciliation.
The US-NATO are not going anywhere after 2014. They will dig deeper in Afghanistan and simultaneously hunt for bases in Central Asia. The long term policy goals of US have crippled NATO and there are no signs that despite massive setbacks Europe has learned anything from its lopsided relationship with Uncle Sam.
Uzbekistan is ready to serve as American policeman in the region and this is a source of concern for the whole of Central Asia.
The United States has no legitimate interests in this region. When all the fancy rhetoric is peeled off, the ugly truth emerges that America is the source of all the miseries and misfortunes in this region. It must leave but the shortsighted policies of countries like Uzbekistan and the lack of regional cohesion provide it with enough room to stay and continue with its machinations.
Countries like Turkmenistan and Tajikistan that are not big military powers and that want to live peacefully, must be trying to figure out a way forward – a path of least resistance.
This may possibly have been an important point of discussion during the Berdymuhamedov-Rahmon talks out of the earshot of the media.