Water, energy can cause serious conflict in Central Asia

13.04.2013 - 20:53


DUSHANBE - As part of his recent Central Asian tour, Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister Erlan Idrisov visited the capital of Tajikistan. In Dushanbe, he and his Tajik counterpart Khamrokhon Zafiri signed a Programme for Co-operation between the two ministries for 2013. 

After that, Idrisov was received by the Tajik president in his capital city residence. The meeting between the Kazakh foreign minister and the leader of Tajikistan was quite long – it lasted for over an hour. “During my meeting with the President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon, we stated that Kazakhstan and Tajikistan were important regional partners. We are united by the common views on the future of the Central Asian region,” Idrisov summed up the results of the meeting at a briefing for reporters. 

However, it is generally known that the main item on the Central Asian agenda has always been the water and energy problems. The meeting discussed it as well. In particular, they talked about a very important but controversial project of Rogun hydroelectric plant. 

“At the meeting, the President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon talked about his vision of and his approaches to this project. He spoke in detail about the joint work with the World Bank on an independent expert review of the Rogun hydroelectric plant project,” Idrisov told the briefing. Tajikistan pins its hopes on the Rogun hydroelectric plant to resolve a serious electricity deficit. But it is also this project that has become a reason for a serious conflict of Tajikistan with its downstream neighbours. In particular, Uzbekistan is against the construction of the Rogun hydroelectric plant project.  Tashkent objects the project on the basis that hydroelectric plant would “suffocate” Uzbekistan’s key agricultural sector that is critical for Uzbekistan’s economy. During his last year’s visit to Astana, the Uzbek leader Islam Karimov said sharply for the first time that the arguments around the Rogun hydroelectric plant could become a reason for a military conflict. It is a very serious statement made over the past years by a Central-Asian state leader. Karimov explained his worries: the grandiose Rogun water reservoir (the design height of the dam is 335 metres) will take many years to fill, drastically reducing the water supply for irrigating Uzbekistan’s farmlands.

He also mentioned that a hydroelectric plant of such calibre in a seismically unpredictable zone of Tajikistan was fraught with a massive unmanageable flood involving human deaths, first of all, of the citizens of his country. Tajikistan’s hopes for the hydroelectric project are further complicated by the fact that, should a flood happen, it would affect not only Uzbekistan but the southern parts of Kazakhstan. To prevent the Rogun project from becoming an accelerator of a future military conflict in Central Asia, Rahmon has proposed to hold a regular meeting of the Energy Forum of the member states of the Asian Dialogue of Cooperation. He spoke about it from the rostrum of the 11th meeting of the foreign ministers of the Asian Dialogue of Cooperation attended by Idrisov on the second day of his visit to Dushanbe.

Rahmon said he believes that such a forum in Tajikistan is necessary to promote a solution of the energy deficit problems faced by some Asian countries. He noted that many Asian countries had no access to basic social and economic goods such as food, electricity, clean portable water, medical services, and education. According to Rahmon, to correct the situation, it is necessary that the developed and advanced countries of Central Asia use their wealth to support the needing partner states. 

As far as Kazakhstan is concerned, it is committed to a collegial resolution of all issues through negotiations. 

“The water and energy tangle of problems in the Central Asian region is one of the most important issues today. For long years, the leaders of these countries have been looking for an effective formula to resolve it,” Idrisov said in response to the questions from the Kazakh reporters accompanying him in the tour. 

The minister said that, in resolving disputes over trans-border water resources (for drinking water or for building a hydroelectric plant), international norms and concepts establishing equal rights for the upstream and downstream countries should be used.

“The countries located upstream of a water body should not infringe on the economic interests and rights of the countries downstream, and vice versa. There are international conventions that prescribe that the parties should negotiate a mutually acceptable use of the water resources,” Idrisov concluded by stating Astana's stand on the matter.