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Central Asia Report: January 3, 2002

3 January 2002, Volume 2, Number 1

KARIMOV PROMISES TAJIKISTAN DEBT RELIEF, CLOSER TIES, BUT DEMANDS MORE VIGOROUS ACTION AGAINST ISLAMISTS. Four Central Asian presidents gathered in the Uzbek capital Tashkent for a two-day, informal summit on 27-28 December to address a variety of regional economic and security-related issues. However, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov arrived half-a-day ahead of his Kazakh and Kyrgyz counterparts for a separate mini-summit with Uzbek President Islam Karimov, Uzbek news sources reported.

Uzbek-Tajik working groups had prepared 12 cooperation agreements on matters such as the sharing of water resources and improving transport infrastructure, Kabar news agency reported on 27 December. On questions that had eluded final agreement, such as electricity exchanges and deliveries of Uzbek natural gas to Tajikistan, supplementary protocols laying out the two sides' differences were also drawn up, the agency said. For instance, as Uzbek TV noted, the Ferghana Valley (Uzbekistan's most densely populated area) has always received its electricity via Tajikistan, in exchange for which Rakhmonov would like to receive more Uzbek oil and gas; but a newly-formed commission must first establish to whom the electric power supply properly belongs, and will make a ruling within the next three months, the television said on 27 December.

In a joint statement following their meeting, reported by Uzbek radio and Asia-Plus on 28 December, the two heads of state mentioned the importance of a stable Afghanistan and better coordination of humanitarian assistance; the need for a common front against terrorism, religious extremism, and drug smuggling, both on a bilateral level and within the framework of the UN, OSCE, and Shanghai Cooperation Organization; and the desirability of fostering closer scientific cooperation, technological exchanges, and cultural ties with art exhibits and cinema festivals. (Moreover, an agreement was reached on broadcasting TV programs into one another's countries, the Uzbek newspaper "Narodnoe slovo" reported on 28 December.) They pledged mutual respect for each country's territorial integrity and noninterference in each other's internal affairs. They also stressed the need for more economic cooperation, especially cross-border trade. Trade turnover between the two neighbors in the first three quarters of 2001 came to $80 million, Asia-Plus said. To expedite cross-border trade, the presidents promised to continue peaceful talks on border delimitation and called for more coordination between the "law enforcement agencies, frontier and customs services, and [the] Special Forces of both nations along the Uzbek-Tajik border." A lack of coordination on border issues has marred bilateral relations since September 2000, when Tashkent began unilaterally planting mines along it as protection against Islamist terrorists said to be based in Tajikistan. Dozens of innocent Tajik citizens have been killed by the mines, according to authorities in the capital, Dushanbe.

To further boost trade, Karimov said at a press conference after the meeting that he would lift restrictions on Tajikistan's use of Uzbek transport infrastructure, Uzbek radio reported. Restrictions have accumulated over the last decade out of Uzbek security concerns, but now the war in Afghanistan was over and there was less danger, Karimov said. In fact, peace in Afghanistan opened the prospect of the development of a new north-south trade corridor from Central Asia, the president continued, and since "the international community and the most powerful nations are earmarking at least $9 billion" for the reconstruction of the region, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan should seize the opportunity to work together to build roads and bridges and "try to get access to the Indian Ocean."

Tashkent agreed to write off $12 million of Dushanbe's debts, representing 10 percent of what Tajikistan owes its neighbor, and was prepared to restructure repayment of the remaining $108 million, Interfax reported on 27 December. Uzbekistan was also considering cutting the price of gas exports to Tajikistan, and reducing tariffs on Tajik goods imported into Uzbekistan, Uzbek TV added. The government-controlled television did not reveal what had prompted such generosity, or suggest what Karimov might request in return, beyond commenting that Tashkent wanted to promote security and stability in Tajikistan, which suffered economically as a result of its 1992-97 civil war.

But Karimov voiced fears that scattered Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters could infiltrate Central Asia via Tajikistan, and he came close to scolding Rakhmonov for his inability to control Islamist militants in the past, AP and AFP reported. Uzbek authorities believe that the terrorist Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), whose armed renegades made incursions into southern Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in the summers 1999 and 2000, received training in Afghanistan and operated from bases in the Tajik mountains. Karimov said there might still be IMU camps in Tajikistan, particularly in the eastern areas around Tavildara, and he urged Rakhmonov "to do everything necessary not to return to the past state of affairs, which seriously complicated our relations," AP reported. According to Uzbek TV, the Tajik president deferentially agreed with his host and promised not to let the situation recur. According to Western news agencies, however, Rakhmonov strongly protested, saying that there were no IMU bases in his country or terrorist training camps, largely thanks to local border guards who as recently as October had repulsed an attempt by IMU head Djuma Namangani to lead his men into Tajikistan from northern Afghanistan. "There is exact and reliable information that Djuma Namangani is dead," added Rakhmonov, quoted by AFP. "His grave exists and the Afghan special services have promised us if we need to carry out any tests they will allow us to do so." Reports have indicated that Namangani was killed near the northern Afghan city of Kondoz on 18 November while fighting for the Taliban (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 22 November 2001). The Uzbek government, however, has said it is still awaiting official confirmation of Namangani's death. As for reports that as many as four IMU camps in Afghanistan were destroyed by the anti-Taliban coalition, on 27 December Karimov would not confirm or deny the story to journalists, although he did say he doubted that IMU fighters were still in Afghanistan, Interfax reported. But the news agency also cited an anonymous military source in Dushanbe who said that the IMU still has the four camps in Afghanistan, and that the new Afghan leadership has not yet taken measures to eliminate or expel IMU militants (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2001).

Even if the reports of Namangani's death are true, it need not spell the end to the IMU any more than the demise of Osama bin Laden would mean the fall of Al-Qaeda, warned the January 2002 issue of "Emerging Europe Monitor." Radical opposition groups like the IMU, and the popular support they may enjoy in Central Asia, are symptoms of a greater malaise connected with a lack of democratic and economic reform in the region, the "Monitor" pointed out. Hence the potential for radicalism cannot be eliminated by military means. With Namangani's death, IMU leadership presumably passes to his lieutenant, Tohir Yoldosh. Karimov told the press conference in Tashkent that he did not know Yoldosh's present whereabouts, but "most likely he is in Pakistan," while some of his supporters were in the Iranian city of Mashhad, reported on 28 December.

TASHKENT SUMMIT PRODUCES NEW REGIONAL ORGANIZATION. Following their talks on 27 December, Karimov and Rakhmonov were joined in Tashkent by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev and Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev for a four-way summit that culminated in the creation of an organization called Central Asian Cooperation (CAC), UPI and Uzbek news sources reported. The new grouping -- which should not be regarded as a "bloc" but as an "association," Karimov told journalists after the talks -- replaced an ineffectual organization that existed mostly on paper called the Central Asian Economic Community. Under the CAC's purview will fall political, economic, military, and humanitarian cooperation between the four member states seeking to forge a unified security zone in the area around Afghanistan, UPI reported. A further task of the association is to diversify political dialogue and intensify regional economic integration, encouraging the development of a unified electricity, gas, transport, and irrigation networks, reported on 28 December. However the CAC's legal status and constituent documents still had to be formulated, the website said, and no mention has been made of a budget, a staff, or the possible location of a secretariat.

The four Central Asian leaders adopted the so-called Tashkent Declaration whereby they promised to increase political, economic, and humanitarian cooperation while joining together to fight international terrorism, narcotics smuggling, and religious and political extremism, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz bureau and Uzbek newspapers reported on 28 December. The summit concluded on 28 December with a press conference, Uzbek radio reported. Karimov praised the maturity of the independent Central Asian nations, despite only 10 years experience in dealing with regional issues such as sharing water and energy facilities, building roads, and caring for the environment. Others were more restrained. Nazarbaev said that merely maintaining stability since the USSR's collapse was no small achievement. Akaev said the declaration was an important step toward strengthening good-neighborliness and regional security. Rakhmonov, on behalf of all four presidents, expressed support for Afghanistan's interim government led by Hamid Karzai and a willingness to assist Kabul in creating a democratic state built on the rule of law.

Of all the issues the CAC sets out to address, joint use of regional water resources is likely to be a particularly contentious issue. Most of the questions at the press conference were about water-sharing. Furthermore, reviewing the summit on Uzbek TV on 29 December, Karimov torturously denied that there were any obstacles to an equitable solution to water-sharing disputes, which was a good indication that there are. "There should be a well-considered, balanced approach that doesn't divide our nations but rather unites them," he said. But two days earlier, commercial Kazakh TV reported that both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan had resolved not to pay for the water they received from Kyrgyzstan, although they would contribute to the technical maintenance of Kyrgyz water reservoirs and hydroelectric plants. This is in direct contradiction to the Kyrgyz decision, signed into law last July, to treat its water as a commodity to be sold, the legality of which has been challenged continually since then by Astana and Tashkent as downstream users of Kyrgyzstan's water (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 18 October 2001). Kabar suggested on 27 December that this water issue, which is presently under review by three special intergovernmental commissions, would be discussed and resolved at the Tashkent summit. It was surely brought up in bilateral discussions on the morning of 28 December, but, as Karimov's remarks on the following day indicated, remained far from resolution.

TUG-OF-WAR OVER WATER-FOR-GAS AGREEMENT CONTINUES. Problems with sharing Kyrgyzstan's water resources are intimately bound up with problems involving Uzbekistan's deliveries of natural gas to Kyrgyzstan. By intergovernmental agreement, Tashkent is supposed to supply its water-rich neighbor with enough gas in the fall/winter to minimize Kyrgyzstan's need to generate electricity at the Toktugul Hydroelectric Station, which would necessitate wastefully releasing water from the Toktugul reservoir when it is not needed for irrigation purposes. Starting in August, Uzbekistan began to renege on one of two intergovernmental agreements about gas deliveries -- partly because it claimed the Kyrgyz side was behind in payments, partly in retaliation for Bishkek's new water-pricing policy -- and was still holding back gas as of late December (see "RFE/RL Kyrgyz News," 20 December 2001). As Kabar reported on 27 December, Kyrgyz First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev duly threatened Uzbekistan with agricultural ruin next summer, warning, "If we do not receive gas now, then there will be excessive use of electricity, and if people do this, the Toktugul reservoir will lose an excessive amount of water. And we shall be unable to give the necessary amount of water to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in spring, during the vegetation period." On 29 December, the managing director of the Kyrgyz state gas company, Avtandil Sydykov, following negotiations in Tashkent, told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau that Uzbekistan had resumed supplies to the tune of 15,000 cubic meters per hour as stipulated by agreement. But he said that the Uzbeks were now demanding $45 per thousand cubic meters of gas in 2002, as opposed to $42 in 2001, and implied that would be unacceptable to Bishkek. In short, interruptions in gas deliveries can be predicted as disputes remain unresolved. In fact, disputes are likely to worsen since, in the opinion of some experts, the volume of water left in Kyrgyz reservoirs is already too little to fully meet Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan's irrigation requirements later this year.

MILITARY DEPLOYMENTS IN CENTRAL ASIA: LATEST NEWS ROUNDUP. The Foreign Relations Committee of Kyrgyzstan's Legislative Assembly (parliament's lower chamber) voted on 28 December to let the Canadian air force make use of its military facilities, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. A similar decision was made by the committee three days earlier to make the country's air bases available to French forces. Both decisions are due to be ratified in an assembly session later in January, according to committee chairman Alisher Abdimomunov.

Final permission was given to the Pentagon on 11 December, and the U.S. deployment at the Bishkek capital's Manas airport began eight days later (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 27 December 2001). Two hundred American troops had landed in the country by 31 December, and 3,000 foreign troops together with 40 or 50 warplanes were scheduled to arrive by the middle of January.

Meanwhile in Uzbekistan, President Karimov said on 28 December that he had not given the Pentagon any time limit on using the Hanabad air base, Reuters reported. Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan are presently hosting U.S. troops, and Kazakhstan has expressed willingness to do so if asked. How long foreigners are deployed in Central Asia "will be decided on the basis of the interests of each individual state and the situation arising in one region or another," Karimov said. Implicitly, he was also indicating that Russia should not be allowed to exert influence over the duration or size of Western deployments in the area. He did suggest that U.S. personnel could be stationed in his country for a long time, saying that "We have had no negotiations with the Americans on the question of how many years they will use Hanabad base," the airfield in the south of Uzbekistan where some 1,500 are deployed at present.