Interview of the Tajik Foreign Minister “Diplomacy and co-operation in Central Asia” to “New Europe” newspaper
In March 5, 2012, the interview of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Tajikistan Hamrokhon Zarifi titled "Diplomacy and co-operation in Central Asia" has been published in one of the most leading and authoritative European newspapers "New Europe".
In the first of a two-part interview, the Tajik Foreign Minister, Hamrokhon Zarifi, speaks to New Europe about ever-improving relations between the European Union and Tajikistan, as well as the difficulties and opportunities that exist in the Central Asian region, as international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan.
The text of an interview is given below.
Diplomacy and co-operation in Central Asia [INTERVIEW]
New Europe: How can you characterise Tajik-EU co-operation today?
What are the future prospects?
Hamrokhon Zarifi: Our relations are based on the Partnership and Co-operation Agreement (PCA) signed with the EU, that came into force on 1 January 2010, and the first session of the Tajik-EU Co-operation Council has been held under this PCA at foreign minister level in December 2010 in Brussels, and in June 2011, President Emomali Rahmon began a European tour. We then succeeded in establishing regular regional political dialogue between the EU and Central Asia at the level of foreign ministers, as well as the EU-Tajik Dialogue on Human Rights, and inter-parliamentary co-operation between the two sides.
Tajikistan pays special attention to relations with the EU, as this is among the priorities of Tajik foreign policy. We consider the EU as our critical international partner that contributes to democratic reforms, law supremacy, human rights, investments, socio-economic progress, energy, water resources management, regional co-operation and the war on drug trafficking; border management and fighting drug trafficking are among the most critical co-operation areas.
In general, the EU Strategy for Central Asia used to be the fundamental framework for our relations over the period 2007-2013, now we are interested in developing and adopting a new EU Strategy for Central Asia.
Moving on to Afghanistan. Do you think the withdrawal of troops will change Tajik-Afghan relations and possibly destabilise the region?
What diplomatic steps are being taken to ensure stability?
Hamrokhon Zarifi: Tajik-Afghan relations are being developed in an atmosphere of a good-neighbourly and mutually beneficial partnership, with regular political dialogue at the highest level with both bilateral and multilateral frameworks.
As for the withdrawal of international troops, it may indeed cause a worsening of the situation, therefore additional comprehensive measures are required to ensure prompt response to this, which may lead to the potential threat to the national interests of the regional countries.
Special emphasis is given to Tajik co-operation and collaboration with Afghan authorities, the US and EU countries. We also maintain co-operation within international and regional organisations and security frameworks, namely, the United Nations, the OSCE, the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation, and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, of which Tajikistan is a member. Our priority for Afghan foreign policy is ensuring peace and security, as well as independent development in Afghanistan. We once again call on the international community to seek a compromise that meets the interests of security and stability in Afghanistan and beyond.
Looking beyond, then, what is the current state of relations with China and Russia?
Hamrokhon Zarifi: Tajik-Chinese relations are a bright example of partnership, successful co-operation and regional collaboration. They are agreed on the agreement of good-neighbourliness, friendship and co-operation between the two countries.
We have dynamically increased trade and economic co-operation with China over recent years, and today, China is among leading trade partners of Tajikistan. More than 200 Chinese companies are currently engaged in the Tajik market.
As for our relationship with the Russian Federation, it continues to be a relationship of strategic partnership. We have co-operation that covers almost all areas; namely, political, economic, military, cultural, and humanitarian. Russia continues to remain a major trade partner for our country.
In general, we consider Tajikistan's relations with these two countries as positive, and we hope we can jointly enrich them in terms of economic and cultural aspects.
Can you give some information on the 5th Regional Economic Co-operation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA V) agenda, and its expected outcomes?
Hamrokhon Zarifi: The international community takes care on post-war recovery in Afghanistan, but we need to identify specified areas and frameworks of such recovery, and make sure they consist of concrete projects.
Implementation of joint regional projects with Afghanistan being involved could contribute to progress of the region as a whole. RECCA V, which will be held on 26-27 March in Dushanbe, and with representatives from more than 40 counties and 30 international organisations, is a good opportunity for all to be engaged in.
Participants will evaluate the progress made on the outcomes of the RECCA IV held in Istanbul, and identify new priorities and promising regional projects that are of vital importance for progress in Afghanistan and beyond. Working group sessions are scheduled to be conducted within the conference that will be headlined 'Contributing to Economic Development through Development of Infrastructure, 'Strengthening Human Capacity through Promoting Education and Vocational Training' and 'Promoting Investments, Trade, Transit and Border Management through Enhancing Co-operation and Co-ordination'.
The substance of the conference is aimed at the soonest economic recovery, socio-economic progress and human capacity-building in Afghanistan, and we hope that RECCA V will make a vital contribution to this.
Central Asia: enhanced socio-economic development vital for stability
In the second of a two-part interview, the Tajik Foreign Minister, Hamrokhon Zarifi, speaks to New Europe about economic development in Central Asia, and the growing importance of economic co-operation between countries of the region.
Aside from the security concerns, and co-operation in that area, does Tajikistan plan any economic or infrastructure projects with Afghanistan?
Dynamic growth in mutual trade and comprehensive economic co-operation is important to us. Trade turnover has increased by 60% in 2011, as compared to 2010. The fifth bridge on the Panj River, and the Sangtuda-Puli Khumri 220KW power transmission line have also been put into commission last year, and which links the two countries together and provides the opportunity to export Tajik electricity to Afghanistan correspondingly.
You spoke earlier about co-operation with Russia. Presumably, you want to maintain good trade and business links with these two countries, in addition to good diplomatic relations.
We have about 120 Russian companies in Tajikistan that are involved in energy, oil and gas exploration, mining and infrastructural development, and we also have fairly good trade relations. With Europe, too, we have good economic ties, mainly in mining and energy projects. We have also dynamically increased trade and economic co-operation with China over recent years, and today, China is among leading trade partners of Tajikistan. More than 200 Chinese companies, such as Huawei, TBEA, China Road and Bridges, Zijin and ZTE to name a few, are currently engaged in the Tajik market. China has made a lot of infrastructural investments in Tajikistan, and so far relations are good; there has been a lot of assistance without any kinds of political demands.
Can you tell us something about any wider economic plans that Tajikistan is involved in Central Asia?
We see three very good prospects in the region. One is a railway link from Afghanistan through to Turkmenistan, and going through Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. We also have plans to connect the old Silk Road, that is from China to the Persian Gulf by rail, and this should go from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, the north part of Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and into the Gulf. Electricity transmission is highly important, and the need to manage our electricity in the region, some countries need electricity during the winter, and some less so, so we need to have a system whereby we can export and import our electricity needs. Also, we would like to increase our hydropower resources by an additional 5bn KW. As for finance of these projects, we are looking to the Asian Development Bank, the Islamic Bank, the World Bank and others, and we hope this will all help to allow for strong socio-economic development. With good, well thought-out socio-economic development, even the extremists will go for it. We would like to see an enhancement in regional co-operation, as this is a way of keeping the region stable. We would now like to build a level of more trust, and maybe look at more joint health and education projects. So far, our regional co-operation has been good, and, from our point of view, any economic co-operation is always a good thing.