By Oleg Salimov (05/21/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov visited Tajikistan on May 5-6 2014. During his visit, Berdimuhammedov met with Tajikistan’s president Emomali Rakhmon and the speaker of the lower chamber of Tajikistan’s parliament Shukurjon Shukurov. The transportation and energy sectors, and cooperation in the socioeconomic sphere dominated the bilateral dialogue.
The visit of Turkmenistan’s president to Tajikistan was preceded by a meeting of the Turkmen-Tajik intergovernmental committee on trade-economic and scientific-technological cooperation in Ashgabat and Tajikistan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sirojiddin Aslov’s visit to Turkmenistan’s capital in April 2014. Both events were used to formulate and coordinate the points of interest to be discussed during the upcoming presidential visit.
The visit resulted in nine signed agreements out of a prospective ten, as reported by Tajikistan’s presidential administration. They included intergovernmental acts on cooperation in transportation, economics, tourism, culture, education, legislature, and foreign affairs. In a joint statement, both presidents emphasized the importance of expanding partnership in transportation, energy, industry, trade, and agriculture. As a separate item, the presidents mentioned socioeconomic development in Afghanistan as a prerequisite for mitigating regional threats including terrorism and trafficking in drugs and human beings.
In a separate statement, Rakhmon accentuated the closeness of both countries’ interests in a number of undertakings. At the same time, the evolving collaboration between Tajikistan and Turkmenistan is best described as intermediate cooperation with the final objective of reaching their principal economic partners – Russia for Tajikistan and China for Turkmenistan. Although the countries indicate their regional dependency and increased trade turnover, which reached US$ 119 million in 2013, they present insignificant political and economic value for each other.
The divergence of the countries’ interests can be seen in their distinct interpretations of the visit’s purpose. According to the official press release of Tajikistan’s presidential administration, the central theme and objective of the visit revolved around the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan railroad. At the same time, Turkmenistan identified the expansion of its energy export capabilities as a substantial part of the dialogue. For Tajikistan, the railroad through Turkmenistan is a means for reaching Caspian seaways and reduced-tariff Russian oil reserves as a preference in return for stationing a Russian military base in the country. For Turkmenistan, Tajikistan’s territory is a shortcut for delivering its natural gas to China via a fourth pipeline and for diversifying its exports.
In September 2013, Turkmenistan and China reached agreement on a fourth natural gas pipeline which can potentially go through Tajikistan’s territory. According to China Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), Turkmenistan consented in a contract signed in 2007 to a yearly export of 30 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas to China in the next 30 years. In about 5 years, from 2009 to 2013, Turkmenistan delivered only 69 bcm, and thus lags behind in delivering another 81 bcm to China. The pipeline though Tajikistan can increase the amount of exported natural gas while reducing the price of delivery. Consequently, for Turkmenistan, which has already started the construction of its part of the railroad, questions regarding its energy export prevailed over other subjects in the agenda of the presidential visit.
For Tajikistan, the prospect of finalizing the three-country railroad is still murky. The project, which must be completed in 2015, was the object of a recent diplomatic mishap between Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. In a statement on January 2014, Amonullo Khukumatullo, the head of Tajik Railroad, announced that an agreement had been reached between Tajikistan and Afghanistan on the final version of the Tajik part of the railroad. Khukumatullo’s announcement provoked immediate protests from Turkmenistan, and was seen as excluding Turkmenistan from the decision-making process and as damaging to the three-sided project. Besides the absence of a compromise version of the Tajik part of the railroad, the lack of funding further reduces the chances of accomplishing the project as planned.
Regardless of whether the railroad objective is achieved, Tajikistan’s cooperation with Turkmenistan presents viable means for resolving its energy crisis. The transit of Turkmen natural gas to China can result in a bargain or preferences for Tajikistan. The discussion between the two presidents also included the possibility of extending a Turkmen electric energy line from Afghanistan to Tajikistan. In 2013, Turkmenistan produced over 18 billion kilowatts of electric energy, 2.6 billion of which were exported. Currently, Turkmenistan exports around 50 megawatt of electricity to Afghanistan and plans to increase it by up to 250 megawatt by the end of 2014, according to official Turkmen media. However, the possible financial constrains after the U.S. and NATO withdrawal can limit Afghanistan’s purchasing capacity. In such case, Tajikistan’s market will appear highly attractive for Turkmen electric energy export.