It may be just an accident: the consequence, for example, of aging infrastructure. But a derailed troop train from Tajikistan passing through rival Uzbekistan is likely to draw scrutiny.
The train carrying almost 300 passengers en route from Dushanbe to northern Tajikistan slipped off the tracks early October 10 in Uzbekistan’s Jizzakh Region, injuring several dozen people, most of them conscripts, Asia-Plus reported. Radio Ozodi reported 52 injuries. There are no reports of fatalities.
Asia-Plus said there were about 200 recruits and several officers on board.
No rail lines connect Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe, with northern Sughd Province, which is in the Fergana Valley, forcing all train traffic to pass through Uzbekistan. This arrangement worked fine until the late 1980s, when both countries were constituent republics of the Soviet Union. But today the two independent countries barely speak. Uzbekistan is vehemently opposed to Tajikistan’s plans to build a giant hydropower plan upstream, fearing it will give Dushanbe economic leverage and control over the region’s limited water resources. Uzbekistan's president has said it could lead to war. Tashkent often looks like it is trying to blockade isolated Tajikistan – closing borders, halting freight, turning off gas supplies – in apparent attempts to prevent construction at Rogun.
NATO logistics officers dependent on Uzbekistan’s rail network to haul supplies out of Afghanistan are likely to take notice.
And some in Dushanbe may fear a pattern. For this is not the first trouble Tajikistan has faced with its rail connections passing through Uzbekistan.
In late 2011 a remote railway bridge in southern Uzbekistan mysteriously exploded. Uzbek officials claimed terrorists had targeted the bridge, though an examination of the damage provided scant evidence to support that assertion. The Uzbeks then refused to repair the bridge or allow the Tajiks, which relied on that link to connect southern districts with the outside world, to repair it.
It will hardly surprise anyone watching the scrappy neighbors if Tashkent says a faulty track, or whatever caused today’s accident, is justification to close another of Tajikistan’s limited rail connections with the outside world.