Crossroads Asia

Keeping an Eye on Uzbek President’s Tajikistan Visit

Recommended reading: Tajikistan’s crusade, abetted by Turkey; some nuance on the Belt and Road and a focus on Uzbek tourism.

Keeping an Eye on Uzbek President’s Tajikistan Visit
Credit: Catherine Putz

Weekend Central Asia reading:

Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, Brothers Again: Well, that’s the hope anyway. March 9 and 10, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev is visiting Tajikistan. As I’ve discussed previously — and as Bruce Pannier explains with aplomb in this particular article — the thawing of relations between these two is nothing short of momentous. One of the region’s most damaged, there’s a lot to be gained by steering the Uzbek-Tajik relations toward a more even keel. As the visit is still underway, make sure to read Pannier’s explainer on what went so wrong: from Karimov’s dissatisfaction with the peace deal that ended the Tajik civil war and his sheltering of a rogue commander to Tajikistan’s inability to (or unwillingness) to help Tashkent crush the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in the late 1990s.

Tajikistan’s Crusade: The authorities in Dushanbe have an established habit of pursuing their opponents far and wide. Turkey, as Edward Lemon explains, “has become a dangerous place to be an exile from Tajikistan.” In the past, Tajik exiles pooled in Turkey, relatively safe from the clutches of Dushanbe. But in recent years, most notably since 2015, Turkey has looked the other way when Dushanbe came calling. There are several well-known cases of Tajik opposition leaders landing in trouble in Turkey — from the murder of Group 24 leader Umarali Quvvatov in 2015 to the recent deportation of Namunjon Sharipov, an IRPT leader, to Tajikistan. But other Tajiks have also found increasing difficulties in turkey, including journalists and activists. Lemon offers an astute review of the problem and points out a potential rationale for Turkey’s compliance with Tajikistan’s desires.

Some Much Needed Belt and Road Nuance: Next, turn your attention to an interview with Nargis Kassenova, an associate professor at KIMEP University in Almaty. In the interview with Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Connect, Kassenova agrees that the “resurrection of the Silk Road can be a win-win for Central Asian countries,” but candidly comments on the challenges, including anti-Chinese sentiments, lack of transparency, and frankly a lack of research into the impacts regional projects will have on local communities and economies.

Visit Uzbekistan! Last, Timur Toktonaliev discusses Tashkent’s desire for a tourism boom. Recent visa changes relax procedures for citizens of 39 countries and allow citizens of seven other countries — Israel, Turkey, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore — the ability to travel in Uzbekistan visa-free for up to 30 days. Toktonaliev notes Mirziyoyev’s efforts to date and government aims to bring tourism up to 5 percent of GDP from it’s present 2.3 percent. One challenge is the perception of Uzbekistan as a police state — and it will take more than having hotels register guests with the local authorities (rather than them doing it themselves) to fix that. Some are also rightfully skeptical about the power of tourism to diversify the Uzbek economy away from cotton — the sums involved are not even comparable.