TAJIKISTAN: An emerging hydro superpower
Thomas Cromwell

Tajikistan’s ambassador to Washington, Hamrohon Zaripov, is eager to explain how his land-locked country is making strides to transform itself from the terminus of the Soviet Union into a critical link in trade and energy routes, a bridge between Central and South Asia. It is a fascinating post-Soviet tale. 

Tajikistan is mountainous and boasts seven of the highest peaks in the territory that was the Soviet Union, located in the Pamir range, in the eastern part of the country. When part of the USSR, the highest peak, at 7,495 meters, was called Communism (but now has the name Qullai Ismoili Somoni). Other peaks were given related communist names, such as Karl Marx and Lenin.

The rugged, mountainous terrain of Tajikistan meant that it was little more than a dead-end of the USSR, an “appendage” in the words of the ambassador. You could get there well enough, at least to the capital, Dushanbe, but you could not travel overland further east into China. What’s more, during the six most severe months of winter, the eastern and northern parts of the country were completely cut off from the center, where Dushanbe, is located. The north, the main industrial area, could only be reached via Uzbekistan, and the east by air.

After independence in 1991, Tajikistan soon fell into civil war, with religious groups and supporters of secular society among the contenders for power. The war ruined the country and resulted in a 60 percent drop in GDP. In 1997, however, a peace proposal was accepted by the main parties, in part, the ambassador said, because it offered the opposition 30 percent of the seats in government and parliament, a slice of power considerably larger than their real base of support among Tajiks, which he estimated at only 5-7 percent of the population. Since then, with all groups represented in government, Tajikistan has been stable and peaceful, and growing rapidly.

As is so often the case with geographical attributes, its biggest challenge (all those rugged mountains), is also the key to its potential. For Tajikistan is laced with rivers that race through deep mountain gorges, and are perfect for damming to generate hydroelectric power.

Already the second largest hydropower potential nation in the former Soviet Union, after Russia, and the eighth in the world, little Tajikistan, which is a tad smaller than Wisconsin, has big plans to develop as a major exporter of hydropower. Its generating capacity last year was 17.1 billion kilowatt hours (kWh). Hydro output is expected to rise to 26.4b kWh by 2010, 33b kWh by 2015, 57-60b kWh by 2020 and over 80b kWh by 2025. By that time, if Tajikistan continues to grow robustly, it will be consuming an estimated 32.5b kWh a year itself, giving it 47.5b kWh a year to export.

To get this energy to neighboring markets, Tajikistan is actively working with surrounding countries to build transmission lines. It is working with Afghanistan on a 565 km line to Kunduz, Kabul and Peshawar, with a capacity of 8.6b kWh a year, and with Pakistan on a 765 km line to Peshawar from eastern Tajikistan, also with a capacity of 8.6b kWh a year. Another line will run to Kunduz, in northern Afghanistan, and then west to Mashad, in Iran. It will be 1100 km long and have a capacity of about 7b kWh a year. And to the north, a transmission line has been built to Bishkek, in Kyrgyzstan, from where it links to Almaty in Kazakhstan.

To implement these plans, a great deal of construction is necessary, and much has already been done. Several dams are being built, with the assistance of several countries, including Russia, the United States, Iran and China.

Construction of the massive Rogun dam, one of nine built or planned on the Vakhsh River, was started way back in 1976, and in 2004 received an additional commitment of $550m in funding from Russia, so that it can be completed. It will have a capacity of 3,600MW and produce 13.1b kWh a year. Russia is also funding completion of Sangtuda 1, to the tune of $250m, while Iran is providing $180m to pay for the completion of Sangtuda 2, all on the Vakhsh.

With the cost of producing one kilowatt hour just 0.8 cents, the economic benefits will be great. To put this in perspective, the Tajik government today earns some $350m in annual revenues from the sale of hydro power. The addition of the huge Rogun Plant alone will double Hydro income for the Tajik government. For an impoverished country, these developments mean enormous positive changes.

With the completion of the first stage of Rogun and Sangtuda 1 and 2, and rehabilitation of existing plants, by 2010 the generation capacity of Tajikistan will reach 26,4b kWh.

An even larger project, the Dashtijum Plant, is planned for the Panj River, which separates Tajikistan from Afghanistan and joins the Vakhsh to become the Amudarya (in antiquity known as the Oxus). A $3.2 billion project, it will have a 4,000MW capacity and produce 15.6b kWh a year. Dushanbe is seeking US funding for this project. It will be one of 14 planned hydro plants on the river, ranging in size from 300 to 4,000MW.

There are ten other rivers with dozens of hydro projects to be developed.

To break out of its physical isolation, Tajikistan has been actively engaged in road building projects, improving internal communications and creating needed links to neighboring countries. One highway heads north and east from Dushanbe, skirting Uzbekistan to reach Bishkek and Almaty. Another runs east, along the border with Afghanistan all the way to China.

A $35m bridge across the Panj River ($28m provided by Washington) is due to be finished next year, providing a crucial link between Tajikistan and Afghanistan for north-south road traffic, enabling vehicles to travel from the Baltic Sea in the north all the way to the Indian Ocean in the south. A port built by the Chinese 70 miles west of Karachi will be the main outlet to the ocean. “We have been transformed from an appendage to a transit route,” the ambassador said, referring to Tajikistan’s status as a dead in the Soviet Union.

Building out all the international road and power connections require good relations with your neighbors, and Tajikistan has made a point of being friendly with all comers. Its extended hand of friendship now is even offered to Iran. Both countries use Farsi as their main language, making the threat from Iran particularly dangerous.

But Dushanbe has also managed to balance relations with the giants of the earth, including Russia, China, India, European Union and the United States. Ambassador Zaripov said: “We like to have excellent relations with the entire world. We have no enemies”.

A presentation by the embassy on Tajikistan’s plans for the future, states: “It is our main goal and priority, not [only] to become energy independent, but also to be able to export cheap power to booming China, rebuilt Afghanistan and developing Iran, Pakistan and India.”

But all those dams have a benefit other than the generation of hydropower. With some 65 percent of all the water in Central Asia, the lakes created by Tajikistan’s dams will be used to irrigate vast areas of land. Ambassador Zaripov noted that one of the primary uses for this water would be for areas of northern Afghanistan, where the limited water supplies encourage poppy growing and the heroin trade. By providing water to farmers in that area, they will be able to grow a variety of cash crops and no longer depend on poppies.

Things are also looking up for Tajikistan’s trade with the United States. Totaling a mere $50m in 2004, in 2005 it leapt to $250m, the vast bulk of that being the sale of aluminum to companies in America.   

And in a move to further open itself to the world, Tajikistan recently liberalized its visa regime for 68 countries, including the United States and EU members. Speaking of visas, Washington is to open a new $65m embassy in Dushanbe in July, its largest in Central Asia, the ambassador said.

“We enjoy excellent relations with the United States,” he said. “The only problem is that little is known about my country here.”

Biography of Khamrokhon Zaripov

Mr. Khamrokhon Zaripov was born on December 25, 1948 in Tajikistan. In 1971 he graduated from Physical and Mathematical faculty of Kulyab State University in Tajikistan.

From 1971 till 1974 Mr. Zaripov worked as lecturer in the Kulyab State University and did scientific work at the Physical and Technical Scientific-Research Institute in Dushanbe.

From 1974 till 1984 he was coordinator in the Kulyab Regional Executive Committee and between 1984 and 1993 held various posts in the Party organization and the Government of Tajikistan.

In 1993 Khamrokhon Zaripov joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Tajikistan as Deputy Chief of Personnel Department and later in 1994 as Chief of the Department. Since 1995 till 1996 he was appointed as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs.

From 1996 until 2003 Mr. Zaripov served as Permanent Representative of Republic of Tajikistan to the United Nations and other International Organizations in Vienna and Head of the Delegation of Republic of Tajikistan to the OSCE (1996-2003), Head of Mission of the Republic of Tajikistan to Europian Communities (1997-2001), Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Republic of Tajiikistan to the Austrian Republic (1997-2003), Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Republic of Tajiikistan to Switzerland (1998-2003), Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Republic of Tajiikistan to the Republic of Hungary (1999-2002).

In 2003 Mr. Khamrokhon Zaripov was appointed as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Republic of Tajikistan to the United States of America.

Mr. Zaripov is fluent in Persian, Russian and English languages.

He is married and has two children.