New step in Minsk-Dushanbe relationships
Minsk is setting out its foreign political priorities in Central Asia. After successful visits to Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, the President of Belarus visited another important country in the region — Tajikistan. In Dushanbe, Mr. Lukashenko and Emomali Rahmon signed a treaty on long-term co-operation between Belarus and Tajikistan for 2011-2020. As the presidents told journalists, this will be a ‘communications map’ for our relationship. Now, the most responsible period arrives — to move along this ‘map’.
Belarus and Tajikistan, being members of the CSTO military-political block, share a close relationship; however, 3,500km, two time zones and many other issues divide us. Only when all our plans are realised will we be able to say that the visit has been successful. However, positive trends in our bilateral relations are already obvious.
As far as politics is concerned, Tajikistan and Belarushave long enjoyed mutual understanding in the political arena, supporting each other within international organisations such as the UN and CSTO. Dushanbe remembers that, 11 years ago, Alexander Lukashenko was the first of the CIS presidents to visit Tajikistan during a difficult period. It has been decided to strengthen economic interaction, with assembly of Belarusian tractors in the south of this Central Asian republic to become a landmark project.
“We’ll start with the manufacture of small tractors for cotton fields and trailers for gathering and transporting cotton, as well as balers and seeding machines, gradually shifting to the production of a wide range of tractor models for Tajikistan,” notes Sergei Martynov,Belarus’ Foreign Minister speaking about growing Belarusian-Tajik relations.
“Tajikistan needs to ‘lift’ its agriculture while updating its fleet and Belarus is keen to supply the neighbouring states of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and China. Tajikistan will be a convenient regional venue for further promoting Belarusian machinery,” stresses the Minister. Such manufacture is yet to begin but Dushanbe and Minsk have signed a contract for the delivery of 1,100 tractors — worth $22m.
Mr. Martynov tells us that our two states are to liaise in training local personnel to work with Belarusian machinery. “The Education Ministry and the Belarusian National Technical University have signed agreements to create an engineering and technical department in Tajikistan. This will supervise personnel training at mid to higher educational levels in the spheres of hydraulic power, agriculture and agricultural engineering,” explains Mr. Martynov. “Our collaboration is of an integrated character.”
In fact, the highest point in the USSR was in Tajikistan — symbolically called ‘Communism Peak’. After the USSR’s collapse, many things disappeared; among them was the mountain’s old name. It’s since been renamed to honour Ismail Samani — a national hero and the founder of the first Tajik state at the turn of the 9th-10th century.
The Central Asian republic was unable to avoid a period of turmoil in the early 1990s but most suffered from the USSR’s collapse, when all connections between former union republics were broken. Tajikistan faced civil war, economic ruin, fights with neighbours, threats from Islamic fundamentalists and drug-dealers and was even concerned by international anti-terrorist action in Afghanistan, which borders Tajikistan.
Today, despite being situated in a region many would view as dangerous (it even suffers from seismic disturbance), the nation seems to have found solid ground under its feet. Over the past four years, Dushanbe has made significant progress. The Tojikiston Hotel, which has always welcomed journalists, has certainly improved. The once scruffy accommodation often lacked water, especially hot; sometimes, when the water ran dry, you had to resort to cleaning your teeth with Coca-Cola! Now, it’s a 5 star hotel with all the facilities you’d expect, including Wi-Fi.
Cross street banners proclaimed that Tajikistan ‘welcomes the Belarusian delegation to ancient Tajik land’. According to Belarusian statistics, we annually supply Tajikistan with around $40m of sugar, tractors, furniture and medicine (importing cotton and dried fruit).Naturally, such figures can always be improved upon.
It is no coincidence that, this year, the Belarusian Embassy opened its doors in Dushanbe. Belarus and Tajikistan are allied partners within the CSTO and EurAsEC, while the possibility of Tajikistan joining the Customs Union is soon to be discussed. Clearly, having a Belarusian ambassador in Dushanbe is essential. Our flag now flies in one of the prestigious parts of the capital.
Of course, Tajikistan is still a poor country, according to the United Nation’s classification. It has no huge deposits of oil or gas (though some other resources may be present). However Tajikistan is developing and is keen to liaise with Belarus. Why should we wait for many millions of US dollars to be invested? Our measuring rod can differ. It would be unwise not to take advantage of opportunities currently available.
Belarus is considered to be a European country with strong industrial potential by the Tajiks, as clearly expressed by the Chairman of the Lower Chamber of the Tajikistani Parliament Shukurjon Zukhurov. He visited Minsk recently and learnt that Belarus spends 9 percent of its GDP on pensioners: a figure comparable to developed countries.The parliamentarian views Belarus as a guide to his own nation. He was greatly surprised on chatting to Tajik students studying in Minsk, who noted the exceptional hospitality they’d received. He commented, “This may be normal for you but we often come across xenophobia abroad.”
It’s no secret that dozens and even hundreds of thousands of Tajiks work in Moscow and other Russian cities. The driver who took us on our tour of Dushanbe told us that, when times are lean, he’d go north to drive a taxi, sleeping three hours a day and working the rest. It will be hard work but it means he can feed and clothe his children.
During the President’s chat with students and teachers from the Tajik Technical University, they were most impressed by Mr. Lukashenko’s comment that Belarus helps large families in buying housing. “In our country, every family would qualify,” chimed in my neighbour — either a student or a young teacher.
Tajikistan is growing rapidly, with a desperate need to improve the efficiency of its farming. About 6,000 Belarusian tractors are found in its fields, but nine out of ten need updating; it will soon be time to retire them.This mountainous country also has great promise in the field of hydraulic power; its Rogunskaya Hydro Power Station is due to have the largest dam in the world. Tajikistan, with a population of 8 million, already boasts a great number of dams (ranked eighth worldwide).
Road construction is of no less importance, since few roads have been built since the withdrawal of Russian and British influence. Moreover, the two competing empires, sometimes fighting through the 19th century, had no need to ease communications. Now, Dushanbe is calling its road-building scheme a ‘revival of the Great Silk Road’.
Belarusian experience will, of course, be useful in all these spheres. Meanwhile, China is geographically close. Its presence is felt over the whole planet, as well as within the Asian region. However, judging by the hospitability received by the Belarusian delegation, it seems that our nation can expect favourable treatment.
By Yevgeny Istomin