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Central Asia: Tajikistan's Much-Needed Electricity Stalled In Uzbekistan

Tajikistan has vast, untapped hydroelectric potential (OSCE) November 2, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- When the Tajik and Turkmen presidents met in Dushanbe last month for a Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Dushanbe, they announced that Tajikistan was going to import electricity from Turkmenistan to help to solve its winter energy crisis.

Tajik President Emomali Rahmon said that Ashgabat, Dushanbe, and Tashkent had reached an agreement to deliver electricity from Turkmenistan to Tajikistan through neighboring Uzbekistan starting on November 1. The Turkmen electricity, however, has not arrived.

Tajikistan depends on Uzbekistan for much of its access to the outside world, and has often been left at the mercy of its larger western neighbor's decisions to block transit of goods and energy.

Rashid Gulov, the deputy head of the engineering department in Barqi Tojik, the Tajik state energy company, says that the head of Barqi Tojik left for Tashkent on November 1 to discuss the issue with Uzbek energy officials.

According to Gulov, Tajik Prime Minister Oqil Oqilov also plans to discuss the issue with his Uzbek and Turkmen counterparts on the sidelines of the SCO prime-ministerial meeting that begins today in Tashkent.

At Uzbekistan's Mercy

Tajik officials -- who had been talking publicly about the Turkmen electricity and how it will help solve the crippling energy shortages the country has every winter -- are now talking vaguely about some kind of "technical work" that still needs to be done to bring the electricity to Tajikistan.

Iso Sadulloev, a top official of Uzbekistan's state energy company UzbekEnergo, told reporters in Dushanbe last month that Uzbekistan has mostly completed the overhaul of its energy delivery networks.

There are two major power links to transmit the Turkmen electricity through Uzbekistan, Sadulloev said, and one of the lines was ready to use in October and the last minor work on the second line would be completed by November 1.

But Shokirjon Hakimov, a department head at the Tajik Institute of International Relationships in Dushanbe, says that the only obstacle to Tajikistan getting electricity from Turkmenistan is of a political nature, not a technical one. He says Uzbek President Islam Karimov's government has often put pressure on Tajikistan, with transit routes through Uzbekistan being its main tool.

The two countries have a long-standing dispute over transport routes, with Uzbekistan closing its borders and roads and railways to Tajikistan without prior warning. Vehicles delivering goods to or from Tajikistan and trains with hundreds of passengers are sometimes stranded for many hours on the Uzbek border.

With war-torn Afghanistan on its southern border, Tajikistan depends greatly on Uzbekistan for energy transit and transport routes to the west.

No Quid Pro Quo

Last winter, Tajikistan signed an agreement to buy electricity from Kyrgyzstan during the winter. However, the plan was not implemented after Kyrgyz officials said that Uzbekistan would not allow the transmission to go through its territory despite having signed an accord on the transfer.

During spring and summer, when the river waters are at their peak, Tajikistan produces much more hydroelectric power -- and actually exports some of it to Uzbekistan.

Hakimov says that Tajikistan -- which along with Kyrgyzstan controls most of Central Asia's water resources -- has been providing Uzbekistan with water and electricity during the summers in the hope that Uzbekistan will "return the favor" during the winter.

"This year, when Uzbekistan needed more, [Uzbek President] Karimov officially queried Tajikistan" about the possibility of getting more energy and water, Hakimov says. "Tajikistan provided water and electricity for Uzbekistan -- even more than the usual amount. And there was a precondition that Uzbekistan would agree to [allow the transfer of electricity across its territory] when Tajikistan had a greater need for power in the autumn and winter. But it did not happen."

Tapping Its Potential

Hakimov says it is likely that in the coming days or weeks -- after exhausting talks with Uzbek officials and perhaps with Tashkent securing better transit fees from Tajikistan -- that Tajik officials will succeed in finally bringing Turkmen electricity to the households, offices, and factories that need it.

But in the longer run, Hakimov says, Tajikistan has only one option to end its electricity crisis once and for all -- it has to build the capacity to produce enough energy to cover its own needs year-round.

Ironically, Tajikistan has the greatest hydroelectric capacity in Central Asia, with an estimated potential to produce over 300 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. Several large and medium-sized facilities, including the Sangtuda and Roghun hydropower plants, are under construction, mostly with Russian and Iranian investment.

But Tajikistan's hydropower plants currently produce only about 17 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually and it is the only country in Central Asia that faces such severe seasonal power shortages, with towns and villages receiving electricity for only a few hours during the early mornings and evenings. The only exceptions are city hospitals, government offices, and some factories and other sites that officials have categorized as "strategically important."

Tajik households have adapted to the situation and are now used to having dark winter evenings. Wealthier people usually use small power generators that produce enough electricity for one household. But those Tajiks with less money have no other option than to use oil lamps and candles until the country's infrastructure improves or until Uzbekistan decides to be more neighborly.

RFE/RL Central Asia Report

RFE/RL Central Asia Report

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.