Uzbekistan appears to be expanding its de facto economic blockade of Tajikistan, pushing the impoverished country further into Central Asia’s most remote corner.
Since a mysterious explosion at a bridge in Uzbekistan last November severed southern Tajikistan from rail traffic, the region’s 3.5 million residents have remained dependent on alternative, more expensive transport routes. Even humanitarian food aid has had trouble reaching the Tajiks.
Tashkent claimed the blast was the work of terrorists. But eyewitnesses discount that explanation, fostering speculation that the Uzbeks damaged the bridge on purpose to punish Tajikistan. The two countries have had a contentious relationship, particularly in terms of water resources.
Now Tajik authorities say that the Uzbeks, rather than repairing the bridge and reopening the line as promised, have found a new excuse for further delays. According to an official at Tajik Railroads, the Uzbeks have begun dismantling parts of the line to move a train station closer to the Tajik border.
On March 30, Vladimir Sobkalov, vice chairman of Tajik Railroads, told Radio Free Europe’s Tajik Service that Dushanbe, which jointly operates the railroad line, has not been informed about Tashkent’s intentions. Uzbek authorities have not commented.
The latest chapter in the railway kerfuffle comes only a week after Uzbekistan announced it would stop supplying Tajikistan with natural gas as of April 1. According to Uzbek officials, the country does not have enough gas resources and must meet larger contracts with countries like China.
Tajik news website Avesta reports that Turkmenistan has agreed to supply Tajikistan with the 200 million cubic meters of natural gas it needs annually. But for the gas to be piped to Tajikistan, it must travel through Uzbekistan. Based on the currently strained relationship, Tajik officials fear Uzbekistan will not agree.
Their reasons for fear are abundant. The feuding neighbors cannot even agree on how much gas has been supplied since the latest contract was signed in early January. While the Tajik Statistics Agency reports that only 30 of the contractual 45 million cubic meters has been imported, Uzbekneftegaz (Uzbekistan’s state oil and gas company) insists it has supplied the contracted 45 million cubic meters.