Interview of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Tajikistan Mr. Sirodjidin Aslov with “New Europe” Newspaper

1. Tajikistan has traditional economic and cultural ties with Russia. There are many Tajik migrant workers in Russia. However, Tajikistan doesn't figure among the Eurasian Economic Union members. Is there any plan for Tajikistan's accession to the Economic Union? 

Independence from the former Soviet Union, along with its benefits, was also accompanied by certain difficulties associated with unemployment, employment/placement and poverty. At the same time, Tajikistan faced problems of migration and population movements. Solution to the problem is derived by the fact that part of the population of our country in search of a good income travel to Russia and Kazakhstan, where for Tajiks it is easier to communicate with employers and the local population in Russian language.

Our country acknowledges current migration tendency of the population. Moreover, within the government agencies special state bodies are created to regulate migration policy. These authorities create necessary and favorable conditions to support migrant workers.

At the same time, the Government is constantly working towards ensuring creation of modern working conditions, better-paying jobs, reduce unemployment and ipso facto reduce the flow of labor migration.

In addition, our Ministry through diplomatic and consular representations of Tajikistan abroad does its best to ease the difficulties faced by Tajik labor migrants in the host country.

Relations with the Russian Federation have the character of strategic cooperation and we can say that we have impressive legal and regulatory bases governing our interactions in almost all spheres of activity.

Yes, we are following the situation in connection with the integration process. Issues related to the relations of Tajikistan with the Eurasian Economic Union, for the time being is under the consideration of the relevant authorities of the Republic of Tajikistan. At this stage, there are significant issues in connection to which Tajikistan cannot consider the possibility of accession to the Eurasian Economic Union. First and foremost the geographical location of our country and the inconvenient location of the transport and communication routes between Tajikistan and the countries of the Eurasian Union because of the absence of common borders. Equally important in this process are the obligations of the Republic of Tajikistan in connection with its membership in the World Trade Organization, which require some coordination within this organization. And finally, for our fragile economy also of great importance will be the consequences of joining the organization. Scrutiny and resolving of all these questions requires a certain time.

1. It seems that Chinese efforts to invest in Central Asia affect directly Tajikistan. To which extent is China involved in Tajikistan's infrastructures and investment projects?

Involvement and engagement of China in Central Asia has brought a change to traditional landmark, looking on traditional by the time partners. Today, many people realize that China has become a really effective and important player in Tajikistan and the region as a whole.

The modern level and dynamics of the Tajik-Chinese relations are characterized by the lack of fundamental contradictions on issues of mutual interest. The existing legal framework allows us to derive the bilateral cooperation to a higher level using the untapped potential of the two countries.

Its obvious that the current trust worthy relations between two countries is a solid foundation for strengthening economic ties. Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Tajikistan trade and economic cooperation (TEC) of the two countries is successfully developing. In the field of TEC a number of intergovernmental protocols have been signed, such as the Protocol on Economic and Trade, the Protocol on the Promotion and Reciprocal Protection of Investments, the Protocol on road transport, a protocol on cooperation in the energy field, and others, which laid a solid legal basis for further development TEC of the two countries.

Due to considerable attention of the governments of China and Tajikistan with concerted efforts, the TEC field is broadening and the trade between the countries increasing.

Currently, China has emerged as a global power that seeks to develop and expand comprehensive relations with other countries and, above all, with neighboring countries. To date the share of Chinese business in Tajikistan's economy has increased significantly, companies have to compete with China companies in other countries and are balancing force noticeably increasing capitals of several countries. Moreover, further strengthening economic ties that completely meet the national interests of Tajikistan, will allow obtaining a reliable and stable partner as China.

For the foreign policy of the Republic of Tajikistan China, along with other important directions, has become one of the key areas of young Tajik diplomacy. Priority in bilateral relations with China is due not only to the immediate geographical proximity of the two states, but also the pragmatic position of China on regional and world politics.

In its turn Beijing's foreign policy in relation to the Central Asian states, including Tajikistan pursues strategic objectives: to strengthen its position in the priority sectors of the economies of the region.

3. EU-Central Asian cooperation is evolving taking in consideration the great potential of the Region in energy. Despite the fact that Tajikistan doesn't figures among the energy producer countries at what point are at the moment the relations between your country and EU? And what are your plans and demands in this direction in the years to come?

First of all, it should be noted that the EU has shown its interest to Central Asia quite late. Certainly one of the main factors of cooperation is energy, and especially the diversification of supplies to the EU. In this case it is necessary to mention one important point in the field of energy policy, the countries - members of the EU operate solely within their national interests that are different from each other, i.e., to date there is no association of a common energy policy. In general, the interests of the EU in Central Asia can be divided into: a) the energy in terms of ensuring energy resources b) the promotion of stability in the region. Back in January 2007, there was "An Energy Policy for Europe", which focused on the diversification of energy resources.

It has to be mentioned that the EU has its special place in the foreign policy of Tajikistan. And the President of the country during his meetings with high ranking EU authorities on the EU-Tajikistan bilateral relations has underlined that “The Republic of Tajikistan considers the EU as an important international partner, and will make every effort to continue mutual beneficial cooperation”.

In June 2007, the European Council adopted the "Strategy for the EU and Central Asia in the new partnership." This strategy was the result of the development process and negotiations within the EU and in consultation with the Central Asian countries. The program allocated 750 million Euros to five Central Asian countries, of these, Tajikistan has received 66 million Euros which were sent to projects in the field of democratization, the promotion of trade and investment, strengthening energy and transport links.

Speaking of energy issues, it should be noted that in 2010, Tajikistan was the first Central Asian country which ratified an agreement on cooperation with the European Investment Bank, and the EU has allocated $ 60 million for the reconstruction of Kairakkum HPP and construction of several small hydropower plants on the river Surkhob.

However, conditions formed in the region allow one to see possible expansion of economic cooperation in the nearest future. After all, many directions of economic cooperation are left unimplemented. In the national economy of Tajikistan, a key role is given to hydropower. The participation of European companies with huge experience in the energy market would be logical. It should be noted that at the moment many states, including Russia, China and Iran, successfully implement their energy projects.

It is no coincidence that Tajikistan attracts the attention of major hydropower companies. The Republic of Tajikistan has great hydropower potential both in absolute terms and per square kilometer. The Republic has an annual runoff of 65.1 cubic kilometers of water and hydropower potential in 4.1 billion. kW per cubic km i.e. 299.9 billion kW. Based on the area Tajikistan has the potential of 2.1 million kW per square kilometer.

As for trade turnover between Tajikistan and the EU, in 2013 the export of the goods to the European countries amounted to 39453,2 thousand US dollars and the import from the European countries reached 494543,1 thousand US dollars. Of course this number does not satisfy our needs and we have to strive towards increasing it.

It should be noted that the EU pays more attention to structural and institutional reforms of the market economy of Tajikistan. The Republic of Tajikistan is interested in active role of the EU in the priority areas of the national economy, including the construction of hydroelectric power plants, investment in tourism and agriculture.

4. By the end of the year NATO forces will leave Afghanistan. That created concern among some Central Asian countries. They think that in the case of inability of a new Afghan government to control Taliban Central Asian countries will face a great danger of instability. How real the danger is for Tajikistan?

Certainly, Tajikistan, as well as other countries in the region interested in establishing lasting peace, harmony, security and political stability in neighboring Afghanistan.

As you know, a decade of transition ends in Afghanistan. In this regard, continued implementation of the commitments made by the international community, is a key factor in the preservation and augmentation of success in the social, political and economic spheres, made in this country over the last 13 years (since 2001).

The situation in Afghanistan until recently was critical, that was primarily due to uncertainty in the results of the elections. However, the subsequent redistribution of power between the two candidates brought some clarity. Agreement between the United States and Afghanistan, which legally justifies the presence of a limited contingent of American troops in the country after the formal withdrawal from Afghanistan the main NATO forces in late 2014, was signed recently at the presidential palace in Kabul.

The document suggests that the ten thousand American military and two thousand NATO troops will help the Afghan security forces in the fight against terrorists, and will be engaged in training the local military. 
In this regard, we can say that the military contingent, which will remain in Afghanistan, will assume responsibility for the maintenance of peace. Nor we should underestimate the official Afghan armed forces, numbering up to several hundred thousand people.

The problems of Afghanistan and the restoration of peace in this country will not be solved by military means only. Tajikistan is a regular speaker for the emphasis on the economic and social aspects of the restoration of peace and security in this country.

We also want to note that, while recognizing the need to transfer responsibility for the security and maintenance of the political life to the state structures in Afghanistan, we believe that it is important at the initially stages not to reduce the support for the Afghan Government.

The most important factor of peace and stability, as well as socio-economic reconstruction of Afghanistan is the development of human resources and the education sector as a whole.

Human resource development in Afghanistan, training civilian occupations also included in the program priorities of cooperation between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. At present, the universities of Tajikistan have more than 500 students in undergraduate education and in masters and doctoral studies. At the same time, the Government of Tajikistan decided in the period until 2025 to provide scholarships to approximately 1,000 citizens of Afghanistan.

Moreover, attaching great importance to the development of education and training for the needs of the national economy of Afghanistan and the region, Tajikistan, taking into account the cultural, religious and national identity and of geographical proximity to Afghanistan, initiates the creation of a multi-educational vocational center on the territory of the Republic of Tajikistan and calls upon the international community to assist in its implementation. If implemented, this project will organize required training for Afghan personnel in the short period of time.

Tajikistan attaches great importance to the establishment of an extensive transport and energy infrastructure in Afghanistan which could unite the regions around Afghanistan through a network of railways and roads, oil - gas pipelines and power lines.

5. Further, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, of which Tajikistan is a member, is concerned over the large number of jihadists from its member states which are joining IS forces in Syria and Iraq as well as on the possibility to threaten  stability when they return home. Does Tajikistan see a common cooperation against jihadist terrorism in the region?

Security issues in our region have a special and rather complicated nature. Accordingly, it is necessary to quickly adapt to the rapidly transforming geopolitical environment, generate practical mechanisms for implementing the development strategy of the SCO then to promptly and adequately respond to modern challenges and threats.

Today, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization - one of the key structures of the region in addressing the threats of terrorism, separatism and extremism. Within the organization important priorities are being implemented including combating the threats of information security, political and terrorist nature. Today, a lot is being done to further strengthen and improve the activities of the Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure of the SCO.

Taking into account the existing threats in the last SCO summit which was held this year in Dushanbe, in the adopted Declaration as a separate item, it was noted that the Member States are calling for a world free of war, conflict, violence and pressure, to develop a comprehensive, equitable and mutually beneficial cooperation of the international community to achieve a common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security taking into account the legitimate interests of all states.

The Presidents also expressed their support for further practical cooperation of SCO member states to counter new challenges and threats to security and the implementation of the Shanghai Convention on Combating Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism, the SCO Convention against terrorism, Programme of Cooperation of SCO member states in the fight against terrorism, separatism and extremism for 2013-2015, the Cooperation Agreement between the Governments of the SCO Member States in the fight against crime, the Agreement between the SCO member states on cooperation in combating illicit trafficking of narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances and their precursors, anti-drug strategy of SCO for 2011-2016, and the Program of Action for its implementation, as well as the Agreement between the Governments of the SCO Member States on Cooperation in the field of international information security.

Considering the question of Syria and Iraq, the SCO summit held in Dushanbe, in the adopted Declaration, Member States noted that they support the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic, in favor of the settlement of the Syrian crisis exclusively political and diplomatic means through continued comprehensive direct inter-Syrian dialogue, which was launched at the International Conference on Syria, "the Geneva-2" in Lausanne January 22, 2014, aimed at the implementation of the Geneva communiqué of June 30, 2012 and the relevant provisions of Resolution 2118 of the UN Security Council. During which member States welcomed the successful completion of the destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons, made on time and under international supervision. Member States in favor of a peaceful and prosperous Syria, in which all citizens, regardless of their religious and ethnic background, enjoy equal rights.

6. Tajikistan recently started constructing a new gas pipeline to China. What is the importance of this pipeline? 

On Saturday, September 13th 2014 the opening ceremony of the Tajik section of the Trans-Asian gas main "Central Asia-China" was held. As the President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon, noted in his speech during the opening ceremony that this event is important for the country and called "an event of great political, economic and historical importance."

It was also mentioned that a unified national energy system with the support of the Government of PRC in the country has been created.

The start of cooperation in the energy sector will allow Tajikistan in the near future to focus joint efforts on optimizing energy cooperation and the development of "green" technologies, and this will in a relatively short time begin gas production in south of Tajikistan.

It should be noted that the construction of the pipeline will be implemented over three years, involves the construction of forty-seven tunnels with a total length seventy six kilometers. In twenty-four cases, it will be laid under water.

According to preliminary calculations, the total cost of the project in Tajikistan will be three billion two hundred million dollars.

During the construction over three thousand new jobs will be created, and the budget of the country will get a considerable boost.

In general, the close energy cooperation will serve to create an engine of economic belt of the Great Silk Road, which will further promote the mutually beneficial cooperation between China and Central Asia, and bring substantial benefits for the welfare of the people.

7. Tajikistan is not blessed with abundant energy resources. On the other hand, due to its strategic location, do you think it can play the role of an energy transport hub?

The Central Asian region because of its geographical location, the influence of third countries, etc. is subject to various types of risks, the most important of which are not extremism and international terrorism, but direct and indirect prerequisites of conflicts - the distribution of water resources, poor socio-economic development as well as drug trafficking.

There is a factor of the rational use of water resources, which would later become fundamental in the joint management of water and energy resources. Priority areas of this cooperation are recognized, by the fact that the Central Asian states share common river basins of the Syr Darya and Amu Darya.

To reanimate the former single simple water and energy systems, taking into account the prevailing new economic conditions, difficult to achieve the formation of a common complementary water and energy complex, ensuring national interests of all countries of the region.

Tajikistan is a country that does not have sufficient resources of hydrocarbon energy, therefore needs to use its hydropower capabilities, which in turn, will provide free water and energy flow between the countries of the region, and thus, owing to sustainable development of the region, solve number of important socio-economic issues.

In this regard, it is important to consider the situation in the region as a whole, and in Tajikistan, particularly in the direct relationship between geopolitical influences and energy factors. Today, energy is essential, but ensuring efficient, reliable and safe energy supply meet the realities of today.

Considering all the energy projects in the Republic of Tajikistan, which represent a single, thoughtful, strategic program of development of the country, we can say only positive things awaiting the region such as a mutually beneficial regional economic integration; rational and effective use of integrated management of water resources in the region; poverty reduction; irrigated areas of downstream countries; the balance of power in the region; reduction of security threats emanating from Afghanistan, in connection with the revival of the economy; development of the industry in some countries of the region; increase in regional investment, due to cheap electricity; etc.

Overall, the analysis of the situation in the field of energy supply shows that in the coming years, the interest of majority of energy dependent states in the region of Central Asia will only intensify. Competition in the market will increase. No need to convince experts that the solutions to the problem to ensure energy sources are often accompanied by very intense political pressure.

In the short term, the Republic of Tajikistan may become an energy center on a regional scale. With considerable hydroelectric potential, competent management, competent foreign policy activities in the near future republic will rise to a new stage of economic development that will ultimately lead to a change in intra-regional relations and the subsequent regional development.