Tajikistan – Fulcrum for Regional Connectivity
Muhammad Asif Noor
Director, Institute of Peace and Diplomatic Studies
Lying across the heart of Central Asia, Tajikistan is the lynchpin to regional connectivity and integration by providing a link to Central Asia and beyond through its outstanding geographical location, renewed economic and trade policies and promising regional and global partnership endeavors. Famously known as “Roof of the World” bordering Kyrgyzstan, China, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, Tajikistan is situated at a strategic geographical position where the world’s major civilizations are melting together including Turkish, Russian, Indus, Persian and Chinese. Being the smallest in terms of geography, Tajikistan has actively built its strength not only on its terrestrial location but also by capitalizing on the people of the country by building on the internal system of peace and stability since its inception. The country led by the Founder President Emomali Rahmon is galvanizing its strength to develop and reinforce its bilateral, regional and international cooperation through global trade. With its growing economic and regional significance especially after the advent of the Belt and Road Initiative of China, Tajikistan is truly a gateway towards the economic and trade route of the region. During his inaugural speech at the highest level as the first head of the state at the UN Summit in 1993, President Emomali presented the contours of the domestic, foreign and regional policy objectives by declaring individuals with rights and freedom as supreme while contributing and building on the strength of global and regional peace and stability. Since nearly three decades of independence, Tajikistan has evolved itself to construct a promising future by sailing through the challenges of the past and converting them into opportunities. Over the years, Tajikistan has transformed itself as a gateway to the Central Asian region by providing the countries across the region and globe the opportunities through its promising open doors policy.
After independence in the early 90s, Tajikistan, formally the Republic of Tajikistan has set forth its national, international and regional priorities on the solid grounds by not only recognizing the UN charter but also become part of the prestigious international and regional forums including UN, CIS, SCO, and CAREC along with score of others. During the initial years until 1997, although civil war has led to the challenges and losses to the country however Tajikistan built internal peace and political stability with the introduction of reforms and development agenda. The country has remained steadfast in building a promising future for its citizens through the compliance of international standards. Tajikistan has made tremendous progress in social, cultural, economic and political development for the last thirty years. By being an important member of the international community with solid base in the region, Tajikistan has a lot to offer to the international community especially for those who are interested not only to invest in the country but also to those who are interested to make the best of Tajikistan’s location to reach to the all the regional countries and beyond. As a result of the timely efforts of the country’s leadership, there is internal peace and stability especially by taking strategic measures of building governance pillars, post-civil war reconstruction efforts, building and capitalizing on national unity, sending the refugees back to their homes, building democratic institutions.
The foreign policy of Tajikistan is widely recognized and known as “open doors policy” based on the aspiring peace and objectives of the foreign policy set forth by the leadership of Tajikistan to deal with the challenges and threats to national sovereignty and stability. Based on this, Tajikistan always stands ready for friendly and cordial relations with all the countries of the region and beyond and recognizes the shared interests based on reciprocity, equality and mutually beneficial cooperation. As a result of this pragmatic, progressive and aspiring foreign policy dimension, Tajikistan has put forward its strong commitment to international treaties and international law. This has also made the country rose to the regional connectivity hub.
At the regional level, over the years, the country has maintained good relationships with neighbors including Uzbekistan. Quite recently both President of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan met in the historic summit of the two heads of states to build and strengthen connectivity with opportunities. President of Uzbekistan visited Tajikistan and later Tajikistan President also visited Uzbekistan. Air and connectivity linkages have also been developed between the two countries in fact borders were also been opened for the quick movement of people, goods, and services. Both Presidents also signed a long-awaited Treaty of Strategic Partnership during this meeting. This new thaw between both countries is revolutionizing the connectivity drive. Along with Uzbekistan, Tajikistan is building cordial relations with Kyrgyzstan as well. Recently, both Presidents met to devise a common strategy to deal with the issues of borders and other related to mutual interests. Tajikistan is an important and crucial country as one of the firm supporters of the Belt and Road cooperation and among the first countries to sign the cooperation MoU with China on Silk Road Economic Belt. BRI is a multidimensional and advantageous opportunity for Tajikistan and is providing roads and railways to building pipelines and power plants.
Tajikistan has remained at the forefront of the regional integration efforts including building multilateral organizations. For instance, Tajikistan was among the founding members Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC), Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the Economic Cooperation Organization, the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC), and the Transport Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Asia (TRACECA). Apart from these important regional organizations, Out of 6 Corridors of CAREC program, 5 of the corridors are transiting through Tajikistan hence making the goods and services from South Asia and Central Asia to connect from Tajikistan to regions and beyond. Almost 28 projects of CAREC have been implemented in Tajikistan which is helping Tajikistan to facilitate the movement of people, businesses, and trade across the borders with great ease and with lesser cost hence improving the jobs and services across the regions.
Pakistan and Tajikistan are also enjoying deep-rooted relations since inception. As a geographical neighbor, only a distance of the thin Wakhan strip, both countries are juxtaposed in religious and cultural affinities of the past with aspiration for the future together. Pakistan and Tajikistan also signed 30 agreements, protocols and MoUs to extend cooperation in the fields of energy, banking and financial, communications, transport and constructions of roads, insurance, air transport, investments and industry, agricultural and food industry, science and technology, health, tourism, education, and culture based on mutual equality, and increased the level of trade. One of the important projects between Pakistan and Tajikistan is the Central Asia South Asia-1000 energy project. Apart from Pakistan and Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan are also part of the quadrilateral cooperation and dialogue to execute this historic project. CASA-1000 involves building a 1,222-kilometer power-transmission line to carry some 1,300 megawatts of electricity from hydropower plants in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan into Afghanistan (300 MW) and on to Peshawar in Pakistan (1,000 MW). During the project, 1,222-kilometer power-transmission lines will be established to carry some 1,300 megawatts of electricity from hydropower plants in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan into Afghanistan (300 MW) and on to Peshawar in Pakistan (1,000 MW). Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was in Dushanbe during the launching ceremony of the project scheduled to be completed in few years. CASA-1000 may be termed as a peacebuilding project making the countries to build each other and through economic interdependence develop synergies to deal with the challenges together.
While Tajikistan is proving as a gateway for Pakistan and the other regional countries to reach Central Asia and beyond, Pakistan is a connecting point for Tajikistan and other Central Asian states to access the shortest route through Sea port of Gwadar and Karachi to boost cheaper trade. Tajikistan is a hub and has a huge resource of hydropower and electricity with having the cheapest rates in the world. Pakistan with having chronic energy dearth can be resolved in working with the Tajikistan which is assuring the supply of electricity requirements and is willing to export to the regional countries, of which Pakistan can get the benefit. It is significant to note here that since Tajikistan is the world’s third-largest producer of hydroelectric power after the US and Russia, Pakistan is expecting the transfer of electricity from Tajikistan via CASA-1000 Project. Keeping in view the context and background, both Pakistan and Tajikistan through their collaborative efforts can build regional connectivity. Through coherent efforts, both states can bring peace and prosperity in the region and beyond.
The writer is Founder Director, Institute of Peace and Diplomatic Studies.