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Regional Presidents Assemble For C. Asia Security Talks

Tajik President Emomali Rahmon (left) with his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari meet in Dushanbe
The leaders of Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan have met outside the Tajik capital Dushanbe to discuss regional issues, with the Russian president on his way.

The most pressing topic so far has been security, with the Tajik, Afghan, and Pakistani presidents pledging to work more closely to combat the regional problems of terrorism and narcotics trafficking.

The Afghan and Pakistani presidents accepted Tajik President Emomali Rahmon's proposal to create a regional antinarcotics center. The three also vowed to speed up work on constructing or repairing roads and railway links to connect the three countries.

As expected, the leaders also devoted a significant portion of their tri-partite talks to the CASAREM (Central Asia-South Asia Regional Energy Market) project.

The discussion was especially relevant as it came on the eve of the official launch of Tajikistan's Sangtuda-1 hydropower plant, which will provide some of its 1,000 megawatts of electricity to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

When the summit was being prepared months ago, the meeting was intended to highlight the joint energy project. But upon his arrival in Dushanbe on July 29, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari signaled that security would steal the spotlight.

"We've had an old relationship. We bring strength to the region. We bring strength to this relationship, and we bring ownership. Together we have agreed to bring ownership to this war, this new war that we have in the 21st century, which threatens not only the region, it threatens my brother's [Rahmon's] country, it threatens my country, and it threatens the neighborhood," Zardari said.

Tajik Fighting

Fighting in Pakistan's tribal area and in Afghanistan reportedly spilled over into Tajikistan this month when militants attacked police in eastern Tajikistan.

Analysts and media reports speculate that at least some of the militants were recent arrivals who had fled either the fighting in Pakistan's Swat Valley or the offensive launched by U.S.-led coalition and Afghan government troops in Afghanistan.

The security problems posed by fighting in the South Asian countries has wider repercussions as well, as the areas of conflict effectively block efforts to boost regional trade. The problem of trade routes could take years to resolve, since it is dependent on stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Former Pakistani Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokhar stressed the particular importance Pakistan places on this aspect during an interview on July 29 with RFE/RL.

"The prospects of trade between Pakistan and Central Asia are limited at the moment because of the simple reason that unless there is stability in Afghanistan there can be no real move toward, shall we say, trade between Pakistan and the Central Asian countries," Khokhar said.

Hydropower Launch

A success story in relations between Central Asia and its neighbors to the south can be found in the July 31 scheduled launch of the Sangtuda-1 hydropower plant, which will provide electricity for the CASA-1000 (Central Asia-South Asia) project by connecting Tajikistan and Pakistan via northeastern Afghanistan.

"Pakistan has a very huge energy crisis at the moment. As you know we have these horrible electricity breakdowns and shortage of supply," Khokhar said.

"Now the question is that we have been talking about importing electricity [from Tajikistan] for the last many years, almost, I would say, it's almost eight to 10 years ago when it was first discussed."

Khokhar also said that Tajikistan is currently the only viable option Islamabad has for augmenting it energy resources.

Tajikistan, as supplier, gains badly needed income from the sale of electricity to its neighbors.

Russia, whose 201st Division has maintained a base in Tajikistan since the closing days of World War II, has a keen interest in security in the region. Russian border guards kept watch on the Tajik-Afghan border until just a couple of years ago.

Russian President Medvedev, who was to arrive in Dushanbe later on July 30, is expected to listen with interest to what his Afghan and Pakistani counterparts say about the security situation in their countries.

Medvedev will also take part in the official launch of the Sangtuda power plant. The Russian government and Russian companies own some 70 percent of Sangtuda.

The meetings conclude July 31, after which presidents Rahmon and Medvedev fly off for another regional security meeting, that of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), set to take place on August 1 in Kyrgyzstan.