Located at the crossroads of Asia, Tajikistan pursues a foreign policy designed to build cooperation across the region, Eurasia and the world. In this interview, HE Sirodjidin Aslov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Tajikistan, discusses the country’s strategic approach to international relations in depth.
What is the strategy behind Tajikistan’s multi-vector foreign policy and how does this influence its dealing both in the region and internationally?
Tajikistan’s Foreign Policy has been developed after gaining State Independence in 1992, at the times of crucial developments and changes in the international arena, times of horrible aftermath of the deadly domestic conflict, and overcoming difficulties and challenges of the first period of new state-building process. Later this policy has gone through a step-by-step reform, inserted with new essence and content aimed at promoting the status and prestige of the country in the world.
The multi-vector approach to the international system has been considered as the core of this policy and it, undoubtedly, meets the national interests of Tajikistan. Effective implementation of strategic goals, ensuring economic and social prosperity of the country, strengthening peace and stability, as well as gaining a worthy position in the international arena depends on such approach.
Back in 1993, in the 17th Session of Supreme Council of the Republic of Tajikistan, the Head of the State Emomali Rahmon stated that “The Republic of Tajikistan is committed to pursue a balanced and pragmatic foreign policy, and it has to be free of any unilateral approaches”.
Nowadays in the framework of its “Open Door Policy” Tajikistan is interested in conducting and developing friendly relations and mutually beneficial cooperation with all countries of the world and, in particular, it pursues friendly policy, good neighborliness and policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of another states. As the result of our policy we see that Tajikistan’s State Independence has been recognized by 147 countries, moreover, the country has established diplomatic relations with 128 states. Comprehensive bilateral relations with countries of near and far abroad have gradually been developing, and it provides a steady basis for constructive cooperation.
How does Tajikistan’s unique geographical position influence its approach to international relations?
You have rightly pointed out that Tajikistan has a unique geographical location and it, of course, influences the country’s approaches to international relations.
You might notice that Tajikistan is located in the southeastern part of Central Asia, in the West-East it borders with Uzbekistan and China, in the North – with Kyrgyzstan, while in the South it has a long border with Afghanistan.
First of all, it is worth to note that this factor causes Tajikistan to be at the center of geopolitical interests of great powers and, therefore, conducting and promoting relations with countries of near and far abroad becomes of great importance.
Not going into details I would just like to shortly dwell on the problems of our friendly neighboring country – Afghanistan. Tajikistan attaches great importance in implementation of efforts for social and economic rehabilitation of Afghanistan, particularly, in ensuring peace and security, combating terrorism, arms trafficking, and narcotic threats in the region and beyond.
Unfortunately, concerns over continuation of insecurity and instability and the chances for their expansion still remain, and these factors will negatively impact on the enhancement of multifaceted bilateral and multilateral relations.
In this context, the sooner Afghanistan will be involved in implementation of different infrastructural projects in region, the sooner country will get stronger and there will be fewer reasons for concerns. But to realize it we need major funding.
Taking into account construction of railways and highways, power transmission lines and oil/gas pipelines, enhancement of mutually beneficial multilateral relations in the region, especially, trade and economic cooperation – greatly increases the importance of Tajikistan in solving existing problems and regional development.
What have been the main achievements of Tajikistan during its chairmanship of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization?
As you know, at the previous meeting of the Council of Heads of SCO Member States on 13 September 2013 in Bishkek, the Republic of Tajikistan took over the chairmanship in the Organization and by hosting оn 12 September 2014 the SCO Summit in Dushanbe Tajikistan has completed its one-year chairmanship on a high note, which was held under the motto "Co-operation, Co-development, Co-prosperity".
According to the Plan of the Main Events of the chairmanship of Tajikistan, there has been over 50 important events held in various areas of cooperation at the Ministerial and other levels, which has made a worthy contribution to the progressive development of the Organization.
During our chairmanship we have conducted an inventory check of the legal base of cooperation, for the first time of the SCO existence. The Regulation on the symbol of the SCO was also developed and approved. It determines the procedure of using the symbol of the Organization.
Ten years of negotiations on the harmonization of the draft agreement between the governments of the SCO Member States on the creation of favorable conditions for international road haulage was completed, and an Agreement was signed in the framework of the Dushanbe Summit. The implementation of this Agreement will facilitate the development of automobile communication in the region, creating conditions for mitigation of interstate and transit transportation through the harmonization and simplification of rules and procedures, removing the existing barriers, increasing the transit potential of the states and trade volume.
The draft Strategy of Development of the SCO for the period of up to 2025 the necessity of developing of which for the first time was raised by the President of the Republic of Tajikistan, H.E. Mr. Emomali Rahmon during his statement at the SCO summit in Tashkent in 2010, has been developed (elaborated). The adoption of this document is scheduled for 2015.
Moreover, taking into consideration the growing significance of the SCO and the presence of request of a number of States on acceding to the Organization as a full member, the work on the preparation of relevant legal documents - the model Memorandum on the obligations of the state-applicant in order to obtain the status of a member state of the SCO in the new revision and the Procedure for granting the status of a member state of the SCO, which were approved in Dushanbe by the Heads of the SCO Member States has been completed.
The cooperation with Observer-States of the SCO has been noticeably intensified. In the Headquarters of the Organization the first meeting of National Coordinators of the SCO Member States with the authorized representatives of the observer states has been held. On the other hand, the Executive Committee of SCO RCTS (Regional Counter Terrorist Structure of the SCO) held the first conference with the participation of the counter terrorism bodies of the observer states to the SCO.
In general, based on the Summit results Headsof Member States stressed successful chairmanship of the Republic of Tajikistan in the SCO which promoted further strengthening of friendship between the peoples of the Member States and cooperation on the whole range of issues of the Organization agenda and we are, undoubtedly, proud of it.
How would you describe the importance of the Dushanbe Declaration for political and economic cooperation, regional security, counter-narcotics measures, and what have been the challenges in achieving the aims of this historical document?
The document turned out to be very informative and fully reflects the basic positions and the common desire of the Member States of the Organization, in particular, on further expansion and deepening of multi-sector practical cooperation in the framework of SCO, as well as approaches on topical issues of the international agenda of the Organization.
The full text of the Dushanbe Declaration can be found on the website of the chairmanship of Tajikistan in the SCO at: www.scosummit2014.tj.
What is the strategic importance of energy issues, including transit and generation, for the country’s regional relations?
Energy issues for the Republic of Tajikistan indeed have strategic importance. While the region's energy resources are delivered to foreign countries, Tajikistan is under conditions of severe power shortage for a long period of time during the winter. In this regard, the Government of Tajikistan included the issue of ensuring energy independence, along with the withdrawal of the country's transport and communication deadlock and food security protection into strategic objectives.
In pursuing the objectives of socio-economic development and poverty reduction in the country, as well as the achievement of all the Millennium Development Goals, Tajikistan is taking appropriate measures to ensure country’s full access to energy.
Tajikistan, in contrast to individual Central Asian countries with a developed network of thermal power plants, has a huge hydropower resources potential for the production of clean and cheap electricity equal to 527 billion kW/h of electricity annually, which exceeds the current demands of Central Asian countries in electricity more than three times. The current trend of the development of the situation with energy use in the country leads to the conclusion that the future of Tajikistan is depend on the effective and rational use of hydropower. It should be noted that so far the country has utilized only about 3.2% of mentioned capacity. Under favorable atmosphere in the region and adequate wide cooperation export potential of Tajikistan by 2020 can reach the volume of 30 billion kW/h, this approach would be consistent with the current requirements of energy and environmental policy, and would be conducive to the development of "green economy" in the country and the region.
Tajikistan, now, because of some disagreements among the countries of the region in matter of water use and development of hydropower faces difficulties, both political and financial-economic. These circumstances hinder the development of hydropower in Tajikistan.
Our country is taking systematic steps for the modernization, rehabilitation and construction of energy facilities, including the construction of power transmission lines in the country. At the same time, it will focus on the economical use of electricity and reduction of its losses, the use of low-cost electrical technologies.
With the purpose of development of the energy industry during the years of independence, efforts are under way to modernize the Nurek, Varzob and Kayrakkum HPP, Sangtuda-1 and Sangtuda-2 HPP were putted into operation, as well as important internal transmission lines. Within the framework of the state program until the end of 2013, 310 small HPPs with capacity of 29 thousand kilowatts have been built. We also continue to build another 10 with capacity of 14 thousand kilowatts.
Ongoing activities are aimed at implementing the Rogun HPP project with the capacity of 3600 MW, which in a constructive approach will be of great importance for all countries located in the Central Asian region. Taking into account its regional importance, Tajikistan initiated an independent international examination of the project with the support of World Bank, which has been already completed and its results are published. The examination has proved the consistency of the project and opened the way for its implementation.
These measures will enable our country to cover population’s need in electricity at all times of the year, give a serious impetus to the development of the national economy, increase the energy export potential of the country and through all these measures meet current social issues, including raising the standard and quality of life of the population.
The most relevant in this industry is to implement a global project aimed at developing a regional electricity market in Central and South Asia. A special role in the successful implementation of this concept plays the project implementation of its first phase: CASA-1000, establishing the necessary infrastructure and systems for the transportation of electric power to South Asia. At this stage an international tender (bid) was announced for individual projects of CASA-1000, which was scheduled to start in 2014.
At present, despite its energy problems, Tajikistan annually supplies electricity to Afghanistan of up to 500 million kW/h based on the transmission line (PTL 220) Sangtuda-Puli Khumri constructed in 2012. Electricity mainly supplies during the summer time. Some regional cooperation on energy exchange has been established this year between the Republic of Tajikistan and the Kyrgyz Republic. Tajikistan at this stage, subject to available ways of transportation, would be able to export its electricity to Kazakhstan and Russia during summer. As a result of the excess production of electricity in Tajikistan (during summer), every year due to lack of energy infrastructure, idle discharge of water from the reservoirs of HPS’s, the lost to the country is equivalent to more than 6 billion kW/h of electricity.
Under the favorable development of generation of hydropower, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan would be able to provide cheap electricity to neighbor countries.
Tajikistan also expresses its full readiness for dialogue and cooperation on the basis of fundamental principles such as the sovereign equality, mutually beneficial cooperation, good neighborly relations and faithful fulfillment of obligations in international agreements, etc.
This is supported by the real actions of country at the regional and global levels. Tajikistan is the initiator of several international events like the announcement of the year of 2003 as the International Year of Freshwater, the period of 2005-2015 as the International Decade for Action Water for Life and the year 2013 as the International Year of Water Cooperation.
How would you describe Tajikistan’s contemporary bilateral relations with the US, what are the key areas of cooperation and what efforts are being made by your Ministry to bolster ties?
The Republic of Tajikistan considers the United States as its important and reliable partner in the international arena and the relations with this country in the foreign policy of our state has a character of priority.
From the first days of independence of Tajikistan, the USA has established friendly relations and has provided valuable technical and humanitarian assistance in overcoming difficulties experienced by our country at the initial stage of state sovereignty, in particular in the years of civil war (1992-1997).
Today, thanks to the efforts of the parties, we successfully cooperate in such fields as economy, security, education, the strengthening of democratic institutions and etc. The mechanism of conducting the negotiations was established with regard to the planning of military cooperation between the US Central Command and the Republic of Tajikistan to strengthen border security, fight against illegal drug trafficking, terrorism and extremism.
In recent years there has been an increase in the exchange of students and teachers from both sides. Since 1993, with the support of the USA, Tajikistan implemented several training programs in accordance with which the government of the USA annually invites Tajik students and scholars to continue their studies in the United States.
Tajikistan cooperates with the United States in order to provide assistance in solving the problems of Afghanistan. In particular, facilitating the transit of non-military ISAF cargo in Afghanistan is not only favorable from an economic point of view for our state, but also contributes to the restoration of stability in Afghanistan and the creation of a market in the direction of North-South.
We have our own opinion on the solution of the Afghan problem, and at that we proceed from that together with the measures of ensuring security, it is necessary to take effective steps for economic rehabilitation of this country. And this will require the creation of an appropriate infrastructure, communication networks and power capacity.
Moreover, our country expresses the hope that the government of the United States of America will continue to pay attention to the implementation of regional projects, which will promote peace and security in Afghanistan's economic and social rehabilitation.
As you see, Tajikistan and the United States cooperate in many fields. However, in our opinion the parties have not used all the existing potential of cooperation between the two countries, particularly in commercial, energy and communication areas.
The political consultations are annually held between the Republic of Tajikistan and the United States of America, the last of which took place in June 2014 in Dushanbe. We think that these consultations will promote further deepening and expanding of our relations, due to untapped opportunity giving them a purposeful impetus and opening the new horizons.
How crucial is the UN system for achieving Tajikistan’s foreign policy goals?
Tajikistan sees the United Nations as the unique and universal international organization in the world that can play a crucial role in coordinating the international actions with the aim to properly meet contemporary challenges that humanity faces today. As for Tajikistan, the UN is an excellent partner and platform for discussing, coordinating and tackling existing issues both on regional and international levels.
As one of the active members of this large family, Tajikistan is efficiently and productively collaborating with the UN and its affiliates on the vitally important issues such as: water, energy, mining, climate change, humanitarian assistance, peace and security, international development, etc.
Furthermore, we are grateful to the United Nations and its institutions in their efforts in providing assistance in solving the problems of the Central Asian region as a whole, and Tajikistan in particular.
Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?
Addressing to distinguished readers, I would like to express my heartily gratitude for their attention and interest to our state independence, regional development and international life of my country in the world arena. You might have already, through the prism of the world press, got acquainted with the place and role of our young state in the system of regional development. However, I would briefly like to share with you, our dear readers about my beautiful country.
The territory of Tajikistan from the most ancient times lay on the important historical routes of the Silk Road, connecting the East and the West. The country participated in international trade and cultural exchange linking of old possessions of Bactria – Tokharistan (Chaganian, Shumon, Ahorun, Kubodien, Vakhsh, Hutal, Rasht, Kumed, Darvoz, Vanj, Rushan and Wakhan), Soghd, Istaravshan (Ustrushan) and Ferghana with India, Afghanistan and China. The Silk Road was not only the exchange of goods between the East and the West, but also ideas, cultures and people.
Tajikistan is a country of high peaks, strong glaciers, swift rapid rivers, unrepeatable in terms of beauty lakes, unique flora and rare animals. Mountainous, floor landscape determines originality and peculiarity of Tajikistan's nature, riches of its forms called for life by diversity of climatic zones. In the republic it is possible to take a one and half hour flight from the heat of Vakhsh valley and get to arctic cold of everlasting snows of the Pamirs.
Priority modes for international tourism in the country are considered to be: climbing, mountain sports and ecotourism, rafting, paragliding, skiing, ski mountaineering, international hunting, historical, cultural and ethnographic tourism as well as spa treatment and rest.
We also have a wide range of investment possibilities. Thereby I offer to potential investors and representatives of business communities to try their hand in our country, business opportunities of which can only be compared with a non-plowed field.
In connection with all above mentioned, I invite people to visit my country and to see and feel all this beauty with their own eyes as well as to consider the possibilities for cooperation.