Uzbekistan and Tajikistan signed an agreement this week for flights to resume between the two countries for the first time in 24 years.
Uzbek news website Podrobno.uz cited Dushanbe international airport on November 30 as saying that that under the agreement there will be twice-weekly flights between Dushanbe and Tashkent serviced by Uzbekistan Airlines and Tajikistan’s Somoni Air.
On the same day, an Uzbek charter plane made a flight to Dushanbe, setting the model for the way forward. The route is due to begin operating regularly in January.
Asia-Plus reported that both countries agreed on conditions for transit flights and air cargo traffic.
Air links between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan were suspended in 1992 at Tashkent’s initiative as Tajikistan began its descent into several years of bloody civil conflict. The late President Islam Karimov had previously made tentative gestures toward restarting the flights, but those overtures were dashed by Tajikistan’s plans to build the Roghun hyrdropower dam, which Tashkent strongly opposed.
Observers note that initial passenger traffic is unlikely to be great, however, since a visa regime has been in place between the countries since 2001 — sign of how much mutual trust had deteriorated between the former Soviet republics.
Tajik journalist Muzafar Yunusov told EurasiaNet.org that he believed that unless the visa system was annulled, “flights would only be for a select few.”
The resolution of the flights embargo is part of a clear strategy by acting Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who has sought to cast an image of himself as a regional team-player in the interests of promoting foreign investment. Openness to neighboring counties, if properly implemented, could also create opening for small-time traders and generate much-needed employment in the process.
Mirziyoyev’s position as president is due to be formalised in the December 4 election that he is all but certain to win with a generous margin.
Uzbekistan will not be closing its borders on polling day, marking another departure from the practices implemented under Karimov, who worried incessantly of potential instability spilling into the country whenever the public was out in the streets in numbers.
Uzbek Justice Minister Muzraf Ikramov told reporters on November that the elections should pose no concern to the public, Sputnik news agency reported.
“There are no grounds for panic. On December 4, all forms of public transportation will be operating as normal, and there are no planned limitations on the exit and entrane into the country,” Ikramov said.
In Karimov’s time, Uzbekistan routinely closed the border several days ahead of major holidays or international summits, creating major inconveniences for its citizens.