One problem for anyone seeking to foster regional integration in Central Asia (“New Silk Road” or otherwise) is the frequent border disputes between the countries involved. Uzbekistan, which abuts all the other Central Asia states, has been particularly uncooperative, often closing its border posts without notice, hampering trade and hurting economies around the region.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB), a multilateral lender, has announced it will grant $100 million to help people and goods cross one of those tricky borders. Much of the money will be used to repave a 113-kilometer stretch of road in Tajikistan connecting a major highway with an isolated valley leading to the border with Uzbekistan.
“Improvements to this road will increase regional connectivity, reduce transport costs, and strengthen competitiveness,” said Zheng Wu, a transport specialist at ADB’s Central and West Asia Department, in a September 13 press release. Part of the money will also be spent on upgrading infrastructure at the Sarazm border post on the Uzbekistan-Tajikistan frontier.
But that post has been closed for almost two years. Uzbekistan sealed it in late 2010, cutting Panjakent – a Tajik town in the valley, home to some 33,000 people – off from the Uzbek city of Samarkand, only 60 kilometers away.
The new road project, expected to begin later this year, will certainly help connect the isolated Zarafshan Valley with the rest of Tajikistan, and thereby with a new source for the goods and supplies local residents used to buy in Uzbekistan. At present, in winter Zarafshan’s access to the “mainland” is often restricted to irregular flights to Dushanbe.
Asked if ADB knows whether Uzbekistan has any intention of opening the post slated for restoration, a bank spokesman said, “No, but ADB will actively facilitate bilateral dialogue between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan under the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) Program to resolve this matter.”
Uzbekistan has never shown itself too eager for cooperation, especially not with archrival Tajikistan. So good luck with that.