Uzbekistan’s mismanaged damning of Roghun

by Mark on 4/5/2010 · 23 comments

By now everyone has no doubt heard of the Tajik government’s infamous program of “share selling” to finance the new hydro-electric dam Roghun. The Tajik people don’t seem to harbor any illusions that they won’t see any return on their investment. “I just bought an expensive piece of toilet paper” one friend quipped. Nor do most seem to have much confidence that an operational Roghun would help improve the country’s electricity situation. Instead they believe that IF (and it seems to be a pretty big if) Roghun is constructed the electricity it produces will most likely be exported to Afghanistan or other countries with a select few hire ups reaping the profits (which other countries would be sutible isn’t exactly clear but Pakistan is occasionally tossed around). Fears of unbalancing the environment or the security of the wider region are a bit too abstract for the average citizen to care about.

Strangely the prospect of angering Uzbekistan seems not to be a point of concern but rather a silver lining. Whether justified or not most Tajik’s seem to resent being held hostage to Uzbekistan for gas and electricity for the ostensible reason that they did nothing to deserve it other than having the good fortune to be on the right side of the border (in respects to infrastructure and natural resources) after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now water, a commodity that Uzbekistan is dire need of to fuel its cotton production, is the great equalizer.

Uzbekistan is not taking the prospect of losing a large percentage of it’s water supply lying down. Recently they have appealed to the United Nations, disrupted electricity and gas flows, and prevented the passage of train freight into Tajikistan (specifically wagons carrying raw materials for both Roghun and the giant Talco aluminum plant in Rigar, but also everyday imports). For their part Tajikistan has floated the idea of building a new train connection to Turkmenistan through Afghanistan, but the plausibility of this (financially if not practically) should make calling Dushanbe’s bluff on this one easy enough.

However Uzbekistan’s bluster and bullying over the issue could have the effect of strengthening domestic support for the project in Tajikistan. Just a few months ago if you mentioned the word “Roghun” everyone would immediately fall into a discussion of how much they, their neighbors, the gypsy with one leg, etc. had to cough up. Of course this was accompanied by no shortage of grumbling and cynicism. Now, as the initial financial pain of “investing” subsides the commiseration is often supplanted by discussion of bi-lateral relations with Uzbekistan.

If Uzbekistan pushes too hard in the wrong ways it will consolidate support for a project that Tajik’s didn’t want in the first place.It would be wiser for Uzbekistan to air their grievances through international venues while at the same time courting the disaffection of work-a-day shareholders instead of driving them into the arms of the “Roghunite’s” with de-facto embargos and border restrictions that hurt their pocket books as much as share buying. At least Uzbekistan should hold its chips until the feasibility building the dam becomes clearer (to date not even half of the money required for the first phase of the dam has been collected.) Rahmon on the other hand seems savvy to the fact that a boogy man in Tashkent is a boon for him domestically.

Uzbek-Tajik border tension is nothing new. Grazing disputes, landmines, and strict visa regimes have been common place since the fall of the Soviet Union (further exacerbated by Tajikistan’s civil war and the sporatic incursion of insurgents). Now Tajiks who routinely cross the Uzbek border (excepting those who live in adjunct regions) do so with the help of their Russian foreign passports which can be bought for about 5,000$. Others have to pay inflated prices for their visas and are subject to the arbitrary whims of the border guards and customs officials. One Tajik friend was refused entry for 4 days without much of an explanation except some vague excuse relating to the observance of international woman’s day (of course she was a women, an irony that no doubt passed by the male border guard.) Another friend of mine who transports cement told me that the border has been unusually hard for the past 5-7 weeks and he is worried about his livelihood if the situation persists.

I crossed the border the other day without any problems however I couldn’t help noticing the differences between the border posts. The Uzbek side was equipped with declaration forms, computers, metal detector, an X-ray machine and, most importantly the electricity to run them. The Tajik side however, had nothing except a kerosene lamp whose flame was at the mercy of gusting winds. At one point while an 19 or 20 year old soldier was looking over my passport the flame was extinguished and I had to help him out with my ever ready flashlight. A poignant example of the disparities between the two countries. Uzbekistan may not be responsible for all (or any) of Tajikistan’s problems, but perceptions are some times more relevant than reality.


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{ 23 comments }

Ekspeditsya April 6, 2010 at 2:46 am

At the risk of sounding like a bot, what an excellent and absorbing post. Oliver Twist-style, I say ‘please, sir, I want some more.’

Toaf April 6, 2010 at 5:29 am

Totally agree. Nice work.

Metin April 6, 2010 at 1:26 pm

normally everyone with sense of self-respect never leaves any unfriendly act unresponded. Government of Uzbekistan is obviously concerned about ecological/economic risks of the project and insists they need to be considered. It also demonstrating the capacity to influence the Roghun project by not only empty words, but also economic sanctions. These seem to have achieved desired outcomes – tajiks agreed for international audit of the project.

Brian April 6, 2010 at 8:43 pm

You act as if Uzbekistan doesn’t pull these kind of strong-arm tactics all the time – not just on Tajikistan but on all its neighbors. Is everyone crazy except Uzbekistan?

I agree they may have concerns, but on the one hand Uzbekistan consistently cuts off energy to Tajikistan because of nonpayment of funds (and has gone so far as to pull out of the regional grid), yet is outwardly resisting its attempt at self-sufficiency. Feasibility and practicability of the project aside, you’d think Uzbekistan would have much to gain from a neighbor that could better sustain itself.

Metin April 8, 2010 at 4:52 am

I think Uzbeks are doing a good job for their fellow Tajiks. In a poor country like Tajikistan contributions of people are very likely to end up in pockets of a few corrupt rulers. International audit could be good for not only economic/ecologic feasibility but also better control of funds management.
@mark – you’re welcome to osh in Uzbekistan, any time 🙂

Brian April 8, 2010 at 8:43 pm

It’s good to know that not only is the Uzbek government managing its own country impeccably, but in its spare time is watching out for its Tajik brothers. Man, when do they ever sleep?

Toryalay Shirzay April 6, 2010 at 10:34 pm

Rivers which have been flowing for eons have been the source of sustenance for Uzbeks way before there were such entities as Tajikstan and Kyrgyzistan.The Russians created these artificial borders.Now Tajiks and Kyrgiz want to dam the rivers so that the water flow will probably go down to a trickle.So what’s the Uzbeks to do??Can anyone blame them for defending their water rights??

Tajik April 11, 2010 at 12:47 am

History of Uzbekistan. Enlighten yourself.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Uzbekistan

me April 14, 2010 at 2:09 pm

You certainly need to do more reading!!! You seem to know nothing about the Uzbeks’ history. They came along only in the 15th century whereas the Tajiks have existed since 2500BC!!!!! Read more before making any statements!!!

Brian April 14, 2010 at 7:51 pm

Does it really matter as far as this dam is concerned who was there in 1500 AD or 2500 BC? And who was there before 2500 BC? Do they have a right to build something too should they decide to come back? This kind of argument just obscures the real issues and doesn’t contribute anything constructive.
And taken to its extremes these kinds of arguments have been and are being used all over the world as excuses to oppress or kill other ethnic groups.

Khurshed April 7, 2010 at 12:01 am

For my friend Mark: The DOG barks, the Caravan move! Tajiks will survive and solve all the problems without your helps. Don’t worry…

mark April 8, 2010 at 3:41 am

Too bad, I was going to pitch in at the hashar to build the phase one. Can I at least come for the osh?

Tajik April 11, 2010 at 12:49 am

Mark:
It seems you are in a dire desire to help Uzbaks to prevent the construction of Roghun as you’re writing rather vague stories and posting some made-up statistics. The remark that Russian foreign passport is $5,000 and Tajiks would buy or could afford to have one to go to Uzbakistan is ridiculous at best.
Nevertheless, you’re more than welcome for palav when Roghun is built.

Could not help laughing at Toryalay Shirzay’s comment and his “deep knowledge” of history. Honestly, I do not expect more from someone like him blinded by hatred that he is even ready to distort the facts of history.

We all know too well that there is no such a nation as Uzbaks. The true term of reference to these people would be “a conglomerate of Turkic-speaking ethnicities living in the territory of Central Asia”. Today’s Uzbaks should be thankful to a Tsarist Russia that by the second half of of 19th century (thanks to the then russians’ ignorance in history and anthropology) Uzbaks were given a proper name and an administrative territory. Prior to that Uzbaks were nomads who would follow their herds of sheep and goats on the deserts of Central Asia.

Anyways, wish good luck to Tajiks and Tajikistanis with Roghun.

Tajik April 11, 2010 at 12:25 am

Mark:
It seems you are in a dire desire to help Uzbaks to prevent the construction of Roghun as you’re writing rather vague stories and posting some made-up statistics. The remark that Russian foreign passport is $5,000 and Tajiks would buy or could afford to have one to go to Uzbakistan is ridiculous at best.
Nevertheless, you’re more than welcome for palav when Roghun is built.

Could not help laughing at Toryalay Shirzay’s comment and his “deep knowledge” of history. Honestly, I do not expect more from someone like him blinded by hatred that he is even ready to distort the facts of history.

We all know too well that there is no such a nation as Uzbaks. The true term of reference to these people would be “a conglomerate of Turkic-speaking ethnicities living in the territory of Central Asia”. Today’s Uzbaks should be thankful to a Tsarist Russia that by the second half of of 19th century (thanks to the then russians’ ignorance in history and anthropology) Uzbaks were given a proper name and an administrative territory. Prior to that Uzbaks were nomads who would follow their herds of sheep and goats on the deserts of Central Asia.

Anyways, wish good luck to Tajiks and Tajikistanis with Roghun.

mark April 11, 2010 at 10:59 am

“It seems you are in a dire desire to help Uzbaks to prevent the construction of Roghun”

I’d wager that Metin and Toryalay Shirzay would disagree with you.

BTW Buying Russian foreign passports for the express reason of travelling to Uzbekistan would be absurd. Those who can afford them do so for a variety of other reason, wanting dual citizenship as a safety net, inporting cars from the Baltic states, ferrying goods from Urumchi, etc. The easier travel to Uzbekistan is a side benefit.

Your respone to Toryalay Shirzay underlines the wider point of my post.

Metin April 11, 2010 at 11:23 am

Tajik is right that Mark is in dire desire to help Uzbaks 🙂
well-done Takik man/woman(?!).

I wish you Tajiks every success with Roghun. Let your glorious nation prosper with your heroic Roghun construction!
Viva Tajiks – pure Arians!

Nick April 11, 2010 at 6:10 pm

Metin: ‘In a poor country like Tajikistan contributions of people are very likely to end up in pockets of a few corrupt rulers.’

What – like Uzbekistan, you mean?

Toryalay Shirzay April 11, 2010 at 10:22 pm

Hey Tajik, give me a break,i don’t hate the Tajiks ,to the contrary,i wish them every success and happiness.But we need to be fair about the water issue.The Uzbeks are asking for a competent international body to assess the impact of such an humongous dam on the surrounding environment and inhabitants before construction.What is so unreasonable about this?? Why the Tajiks are refusing to come to the negotiation table to discuss and settle this critical issue to the mutual benefit of all parties involved??
You know very well that this water issue is a matter of life and death to the people downstream.They are not going to just sit there and suffer.I say to the Tajiks,let cool heads prevail here instead of being insensitive to your neighbors before it gets too late.I come from a water deficient area and we fight and die over water as it is our lifeblood.I do not want my Uzbek and Tajik neighbors get into a war over this issue;we all must do everything to prevent this from happening now,now!! This is a very emotional issue for people down stream and I assure you the Tajiks will gain far more by showing some sensitivity to their neighbors than starting a conflict which can be very costly and devastating to both Uzbeks and Tajiks The enemies of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are waiting to see these countries go to war and get weakened so that they will ultimately control both the Uzbeks and the Tajiks.This issue is that serious!!

Tajik April 13, 2010 at 12:12 am

As humans when we speak about issues, we tell them from our respective point of view, not our neighbors’. Its amazing that we try to see the world the way we want to see it. And its quite normal. You are right that ‘water is a matter of life and death’ and you should probably know that it has been so to the people of Tajikistan for the past 19 years, if not more.

It is not right to have literally dysfunctional hospitals, schools and other paralyzed institutions throughout the country, and come to a table to discuss mutually beneficial terms, which for many good reasons, is unattainable.

Now, when it comes to international auditors, I believe they are still subjects of one or another viewpoint, and tend to incline to respective skewed conclusions, depending on their interests in the region or in a particular country. They see their interests first before offering a “competent view”. I think the only competent view about this particular issue is the one not offered by an international body.

I’d like to refer you to the article below, which discusses a glimpse to what we Tajikistanis go through and will continue to do so when the status quo prevails.

http://www.rferl.org/content/article/1079348.html

Its not that we are insensitive to our neighbors, its an urgent need that we as a nation have to do what is right to preserve what is left of us. Its that serious, as you rightly noticed. Opposite would be far worse.

davejon April 13, 2010 at 7:03 am

you forgot about heart-beat detectors uzbek border police uses…

although, in the conclusion you sound like to say tajiks are not capable of anything, let alone building a dam, i however support that international evaluation should be there.

of course, as long as it does not mean that some international corporations from the west will have a stake in the building of the dam and thus influence the judgement over the rationality of Roghun construction. cause this would mean nothing but that same nepotism and clientilism everyone speaks about in central asia.

itch April 19, 2010 at 8:51 am

Tajiks should definitely start requesting an international Environmental Impact Assessment of the Uzbek cotton growing practices:

Uzbekistan reportedly makes about US$1 000 000 000 generated by cotton industry annually.

The latter accounts to about three dollars per month per capita for Uzbeks. That is a small amount, and Uzbeks spend more on the mobile phones every month. Moreover, if one considers all the ignored environmental externalities, then even this funny amount will become not only a smaller but actually a NEGATIVE value.

Uzbekistan causes too many externalities for the region and itself:
Aral Sea problem (salt from dried seabed pollutes and melts not only Tian-Shan ice but could probably be traced in the Polar regions as well), child labor, water intensiveness, corruption, you name it.

Metin April 19, 2010 at 9:14 am

@itch,
your math is wrong. $1 billion cotton fiber exported accounts about $40 per capita (= 1 billion / actual population – about 25 million). Note, that only half of the total population is at working age, of which just one third works in agricultures. Simple multiplication puts per worker (in agriculture) revenue at about $250.

This ‘funny’ amount is still might or might be not a negative value; it is up to experts to make such an assessment, certainly not up to you.

Metin April 19, 2010 at 9:24 am

Uzbeks spend more on the mobile phones every month.
interesting comparison. Could you please tell what’s per capita mobile phones expenditure in Uzbekistan?

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