May 5, 2006

Tajik ambassador sets positive tone

Ambassador of Tajikistan to the United States Khamrokhon Zaripov visited campus yesterday to spread a message of optimism for his once-struggling country.

In his talk, entitled “Political and Economic Development of Tajikistan and the Potentials of Hydropower,” Zaripov discussed how the small central Asian republic encountered several problems as it sought to build its political and economic infrastructures after the fall of the Soviet Union.

“If you can imagine 15 trains, with each car a former Soviet republic, Tajikistan was the last of the cars,” Zaripov said. “After independence we were happy, but immediately we fell into a civil war, starting in 1992.”

A crowd of about 50 students, faculty, and other guests filled the Map Room at International House for the event, in which Zaripov offered a recent history of his native country and a roadmap for a better economic future.

In 1997, after a bloody and economically destructive civil war, a new Tajik government was created to include the country’s diverse population—its parliament includes members from Islamist, Communist, Social Democratic, and other parties.

The Tajik government has since then worked to build ties with the international community. The government has established relations with border countries such as China and Russia, as well as with nearby Pakistan, India, and Iran.

Zaripov said that both Tajikistan and the U.S. have been committed to establishing a “fast growing” relationship with each other.

“With other countries in central Asia and the U.S., you’ll see a lot of ups and downs in terms of diplomatic relations,” he said. “We never have that, in 14 years we have stable, growing relations.”

While Zaripov highlighted increased democratization as one of his main goals, he also stressed his country’s economic opportunities from the emerging hydropower industry.

Tajikistan is ranked eighth in the world for its hydropower engineering reserves. Hydropower plants capture the energy of falling water to generate electricity, offering a new source of energy in a global economy of skyrocketing gas prices.

“By 2010 we hope to export 5 billion kilowatt hours of hydropower per year. We have nine hydropower stations alone in the Vakhsh River, with more being planned in the rivers of Tajikistan,” Zaripov said.

The Rogun Hydropower plant, one of the largest and most ambitious projects the country has undertaken, requires $2.2 billion in investments. Other projects include several transmission lines operating between Tajikistan, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. The country is additionally renovating its roads, including a 3,000-km construction project that would connect Tajikistan south to the Indian Ocean.

While the country has the natural resources to carry out the projects, securing the financial investment is a roadblock, Zaripov said.

“With a small country the size of West Virginia, we have such big potential, we just need the investment,” he said. “We need real partners. We would like to produce a lot of energy for the benefits of Americans, central Asia, and the Tajiks.”

Tajikistan has received financial commitments from Russia, Iran, and the United States, which will help finance several of the transmission lines between Tajikistan and its central Asian neighbors, according to Zaripov.

Zaripov also discussed the favorable relations that have been established with the United States. He noted that trade, for example, has increased five-fold since 2004.

Recent tensions between the U.S. and some of Tajikistan’s neighbors spurred questions from the audience regarding problems that may have arisen to threaten the U.S.–Tajikistan relationship. While declining to comment on the relationship between Uzbekistan and both the U.S. and Russia, Zaripov said that partners seeking economic opportunities with his country would receive a warm welcome.

“It doesn’t matter if they have a different ideology if we can reach a positive, economic agreement,” he said. “I invite you all to visit and see for your own eyes what is going on.”