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Don't Love Your Neighbor

Emomali Rahmon (left) and Islom Karimov
Emomali Rahmon (left) and Islom Karimov
Many Tajiks and Uzbeks believe there is no love lost between their respective presidents, Emomali Rahmon and Islom Karimov.

This week, Karimov took it one step further. He called Tajikistan's national scheme -- the Roghun hydropower plants -- a "stupid project."

If Tajikistan goes on to complete Roghun as planned, it would leave Uzbekistan facing water shortages for eight years until Roghun dam filled with water, Karimov said during his trip to Karakalpakstan autonomous republic.

Karimov likened Roghun to Russia's Sayano-Shushenskaya hydroelectric station, where an accident caused the deaths of 75 people in 2009. Both Soviet-era giant projects were drafted by the same people some 40 years ago with disregard to safety issues, Karimov said.

Over the past two decades, the two long-serving Central Asian leaders have had a strained relationship and frequent disagreements over almost all major bilateral and regional issues, ranging from security and common borders to transport, energy, and regional cooperation.

Roghun, however, has proved an even bigger disagreement.

Tajikistan depends on Uzbekistan for gas, transport routes, and electricity power lines. For years, Dushanbe has blamed Tashkent for leaving it in an economic blockade by frequently blocking Tajik transit trains and vehicles, cutting off gas supplies and preventing Tajikistan from importing Turkmen electricity through its territory.

Water seems to be the only thing makes Uzbekistan dependant on its impoverished, upstream neighbor.

Dushanbe's only hope is Roghun, which Tajikistan hopes will make the country a major electricity exporter and puts an end to its energy reliance on neighbors.

Tashkent, however, has asked Russia and the United Nations to pressure Dushanbe to stop the project.

I've been fighting against this stupid project for five years, Karimov told Karakalpakstan farmers.

He promised not to let Tajikistan to reduce the amount of water flowing to Uzbekistan and the shrinking Aral Sea even by "one gram."

Karimov's speech was greeted with lengthy applause by farmers.

In private, however, some might be wondering the two neighboring nations would have been far better off if their leaders instead opted for cooperation and rapprochement.

-- Farangis Najibullah