BBC Note: Commenting on the growing tension between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, prominent Russian pundit Andrey Grozin says that it is unlikely to lead to a serious armed conflict between the two Central Asian nations, as neither is interested in an open military confrontation. The pundit suggests Uzbekistan's actions against Tajikistan might eventually yield some positive results for Tashkent and compel Dushanbe to make concessions to its more powerful neighbor in an attempt to somehow alleviate serious consequences of the Uzbek blockade for the struggling Tajik economy. The following is an excerpt from an article titled "Where will the conflict between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan lead to?" and posted on the website of the privately owned Tajik news agency Avesta on 12 April; subheadings have been inserted editorially:
In March, Uzbekistan unilaterally adopted a decision to suspend gas supply to Tajikistan. The decision prompted a serious reaction from Dushanbe, which accused the Uzbek authorities of "deliberately provoking public tension in Tajikistan." The Tajiks' claims toward their northern neighbors also include a "transport blockade" by Uzbekistan, the blocking of cargo intended for the construction of the Roghun hydroelectric power plant and not allowing the transit of electricity from Turkmenistan to Tajik territory. Dushanbe also accuses the Uzbeks of refusing to clear up the mine fields along the two countries' border and closing down the majority of border crossing points. Apart from that, over recent years the two nations have been involved in a number of spy scandals. What will be the outcome of the protracted conflict between the two former Soviet republics? Will Russia be able to influence relations between Tashkent and Dushanbe? The head of the Central Asia [and Caucasus] department at the CIS Institute, Andrey Grozin, has given answers to these and some other questions by Lenta.ru readers.
SUCCESSION IN UZBEKISTAN
Saodat (06.04 16:27): Andrey, is it true that the situation surrounding the re-election in Uzbekistan is the main reason for the escalation of the conflict situation?
Saodat (06.04 16:19): Hello, Andrey! Does the exacerbating situation represent a well thought-out move in light of either [Uzbek President Islam] Karimov prolonging his term in office or his successor coming to power?
[Passage omitted: Grozin says Uzbekistan's relations with its immediate neighbors are not going to change remarkably even with the arrival of a new leader.]
Andrey (04.04 21:21) Is pressure on Tajikistan connected to its future plans on joining the Customs Union [of Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan]? Bearing in mind the above-mentioned developments, is Uzbekistan's entry into the Customs Union in the foreseeable future possible?
[Grozin] I do not think Uzbekistan really sees a threat to its interests in the possibility of Tajikistan joining the Customs Union and then the Eurasian Union. This is simply because that is a very distant probability. As a matter of fact, Tajikistan's leadership in the person of its foreign minister has already indicated that it would consider the possibility of joining the Customs Union only after Kyrgyzstan will have joined the organization.
[Passage omitted: Grozin says for the time being, Tajikistan's geographic location makes its Customs Union membership highly unlikely.]
Andrey (05.04 18:23) Hello Andrey, what would you recommend/tell the governments/presidents of Russia, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan in order to improve the current/future relations between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan?
[Grozin] I am afraid we are facing an absolute deadlock here. Given the current approaches, it would be unrealistic for one to expect that the countries will manage to quickly overcome the conflict. Honestly speaking, it is very unlikely that we will witness any serious long-lasting improvement in the two countries' relations under the current leaders of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
Apart from that, this is a very long and old story. It is not just about Roghun, the environment, the extensively discussed disputed reservoir, nor is it about mutual claims concerning security and the inability to ensure security along the border. The situation is much more complex: the mutual claims that turn into mutual accusations and the very complicated relations between the states that have existed for the past nearly 15 years.
[Passage omitted: Grozin says although Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are connected by multiple social, community, economic bonds and etc., the ideologies and sentiments that have formed in both countries are in contrast to each other.]
POSSIBILITY OF MILITARY CONFLICT
Safar (04.04 20:15) Is a military conflict between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan probable? If yes, then please describe possible scenarios. Does an option of a compromise solution exist? If yes, please describe its economic (transit of goods, supply of natural gas and electricity) and political (some sort of an interstate body) components.
[Passage omitted: similar questions by a number of other readers]
[Grozin] I do not think the sides would drive the situation to a military conflict. Although one cannot entirely rule out a localized conflict. But the problem is that the current crisis is not the first one. Unfortunately, every now and then, once in a half a year, such conflicts do take place in relations between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. But the current conflict is the most acute one. Uzbekistan has never before exercised such complex economic pressure on its neighbor. Just last autumn there was talk that Uzbekistan was deploying heavy armor and artillery close to the Tajik border. At the time, there were discussions that one single ill-considered move by one of the sides would lead to a localized military conflict.
Nevertheless, so far these problems have always found their resolution, as neither Tashkent nor Dushanbe is interested in resorting to military solutions in dealing with this issue. It seems to me this is because both Tashkent and Dushanbe clearly understand that although at the moment the international community is making every effort to avoid getting involved in the conflict between these two states, pretending that it is not their business, that this is an internal affair of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – as nobody wants to take up the role of arbiter – not Russia, nor Europe, nor the United States and nor, all the more so, China, as everyone hopes that everything will somehow straighten itself out – should the situation escalate into a phase of armed conflict, external interference is going to be inevitable. And that is probably going to happen within the framework of the CSTO [Collective Security Treaty Organization]. I reckon that the UN and our western friends will happily try to lay the burden of such peace-keeping on Russia. In case there is going to be an external peace-keeping mission in relation to this hypothetical armed conflict, then, as I am fully convinced, there is going to be a new president in both Tashkent and Dushanbe with the elites undergoing a serious transformation. I guess both Uzbekistan and Tajikistan understand this, and precisely because of such thoughts they will try not to take things to actual gunfire and military actions against one another.
[Passage omitted: Grozin says Tashkent will try to avoid getting involved in an open military conflict with Tajikistan because if Uzbekistan decides to invade its neighbor, the ensuing war will definitely turn out to be exhaustive and protracted despite Tashkent's obvious economic and military superiority.]
[Grozin] As far as the possibility of finding a political solution to the current situation is concerned, it seems to me the global centers of power that I have mentioned earlier will try to lay the burden of finding a solution to the conflict on the shoulders of these states themselves. In other words, the same way as it happened half a year ago, a year ago, when such aggravations occurred but eventually everything somehow straightened itself out and until the next crisis. I believe this time too everyone will try to pretend that these are the problems of strictly two individuals – the president of Tajikistan and the president of Uzbekistan – and these individuals are stealthily delegated an opportunity to resolve the conflict into which they have driven their countries.
I guess now we are facing a different type of a problem. The problem is that Uzbekistan, taking the steps it has taken in relation to its neighbor, has brought the situation to a level of a very serious intensity. Tajikistan's strategic aluminum plant Talco is already encountering problems. According to latest information, it currently operates at just 20 percent of its project capacity. There is no natural gas, which used to be supplied by Uzbekistan, so Tajikistan's leading cement factories have ceased operation. There are problems with the supply of foodstuffs, especially in the southern regions of Tajikistan blockaded by the Uzbek side, which maintains this is due to purely technical reasons.
I think it will be more difficult to forgive this type of offense than the ones inflicted in the past. On the other hand, when somebody is hit where it hurts most, there emerges a probability that he or she will develop a more sensible approach to things. In other words, Uzbekistan has been seeking Tajikistan's complete abandoning of plans to build the Roghun hydroelectric power station. In addition, it is the president and the financial interests of his inner circle that are hit too. Therefore, there is a chance that Uzbekistan will, one way or the other, achieve what it wants. Thus, we will come to the normalization of relations between the two states and the end of the political and economic crisis that we have been witnessing at present.
[Passage omitted: asked whether Moscow still possesses necessary "levers" to influence the leaderships of Central Asian nations, Grozin says Russia still remains a major player in the region and is capable of ensuring the realization of its objectives if it wishes to do so.]
CHANGE OF POWER
LNK (04.04 21:54) What are the chances that the worsening living conditions in Tajikistan because of Tashkent's actions will lead to the removal of Rahmon and Islamists coming to power?
I think the political regime in Tajikistan is quite strong. It is true that there is a colossal number of those discontented with the existing configuration of political power in the country, but this discontent is latent and it has not yet transformed into some sort of practical actions. Over the years that followed the inter-Tajik settlement in 1998, the Tajik leader has managed to create a political system that, in a however distorted, rough, and ugly form, brings the elites of Tajikistan's different regions together. This has been done through the marriages of the Tajik leader's numerous daughters and through diverse family bonds. Furthermore, today Tajikistan is no longer witnessing the absolute domination of natives of one single region, which was the case at the end of 1990s.
It is true that there is a government system currently in place there that can be described as a family system, but this family is not concentrated around one single region – Kulob and, more specifically, Danghara District [Imomali Rahmon's birthplace] of former Kulob Region, as it used to be in the past. Now there is no "Danghara holding," which could serve as a cause of an allergy among the elites of all the other regions. At the moment, discontent is caused not by somebody's dominance along the regional lines, which, in fact, at the time brought about the civil war in Tajikistan in (1992), but by the dominance of the president's relatives – those who are linked to the president by various, at times very distant kindred relationship. This means that the discontent is far more personified. On the one hand, this represents a bigger danger to political stability, because everything negative happening in the country, the population automatically attributes to the incumbent head of state. This, in turn, serves as a growing burden of a negative image of the president and his relatives.
[Passage omitted: Grozin says the memories of the atrocities and killings during the bloody Tajik civil war of 1992-1997 are still fresh in the minds of Tajik people, and that largely holds people back from resorting to radical actions and measures.]
I do not agree with the view that in case Rahmon is replaced, Islamists will necessarily occupy his place. It is not necessarily so. It is a cliché that Dushanbe tries to impose on the Russians, the Europeans, the Americans, and experts, saying you have to choose: either a family regime headed by the current president or bearded men with guns. And there can be no third option. As a matter of fact, there exist a lot of other scenarios, if we may, more [likely] than brutal scenarios of some Afghan mujahedeen coming to power on Tajik soil. There can be something similar to a palace coup, something along the lines of a change of power in Turkmenistan, where after Saparmurat Nyazov's death, practically without any casualties power was transferred to one of the deputy prime ministers, who was considered by those who had made him president as the most weak and most manageable person without any political ambitions. In other words, back then transfer of power was carried out not in line with the constitution but on the results of a meeting of the Security Council. Theoretically, something like this could happen in Tajikistan in the event of the Tajik economy's total collapse and due to the problems we are witnessing at the moment.
[Passage omitted: Grozin says none of the Central Asian states is interested in the current Tajik-Uzbek tension growing into a full-scale military conflict.]
Source: Avesta website, Dushanbe, in Russian 07:25 gmt 12 April 2012