Border disputes and trade restrictions have characterized Uzbek-Tajik relations for decades, but recent diplomatic visits have brought about progress. On March 9, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev visited Tajikistan to discuss energy production and disarmament, topics that have polarized regional policy.
According to the Diplomat, historical clashes have fractured Uzbek- Tajik diplomacy. In 1992, former Uzbek President Islam Karimov supported a losing party in the Tajik Civil War, placing him at odds with Tajikstan’s emerging leaders. The resulting animosity between the nations’ ruling parties resulted in disputes over a loosely defined border. Karimov lined the Uzbek-Tajik boundary with landmines in the early 2000s, killing numerous civilians and underscoring Uzbekistan’s opposition to compromise. However, since Karimov’s death in 2016, Mirziyoyev has prioritized relations with Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, who has held office since the civil war.
Mirziyoyev recently approved a Tajik hydroelectric plant the development of which enraged Karimov’s administration. Concerned with agricultural irrigation, the former president protested the dam’s water diversion along the border; however, renewed trade could give Uzbekistan a stake in the profits. Reports indicate that Mirziyoyev is pursuing imported excess electricity in exchange for the dam’s operation and is considering a new export route.
During Mirziyoyev’s visit, a transnational railway reopened between Ghalaba, Uzbekistan and Amuzang, Tajikistan, according to Railway Gazette International. Uzbek railway officials thanked “the political will of the presidents of the two countries” and promised improvements in passenger services and rail maintenance. Asia Plus, a Tajik news site, indicated that the railway opened for the first time after a 2011 terrorist attack halted operations. With new economic negotiations at play, the railway’s reopening might symbolize a new age of diplomacy in Central Asia.