Tajikistan's tank crew in the Individual race event of the Tank Biathlon competition at the 2017 Army Games, an international event organized by the Russian Defense Ministry, at Alabino Firing Range
There are many bilateral, regional and trans-regional reasons suggested for cold relations between Iran and Tajikistan. At the bilateral level, Iranian businessmen operating in Tajikistan were faced with local and police officials’ corruption and extortion, and this led to provoking the Iranian side and reducing the Iranian capital in this country. On the other hand, the Sangtuda Hydroelectric Power Plant II, constructed by Iran, has repeatedly faced with problems such as shutting down the power plant due to the non-payment of the bill of electricity generated by the country, which has caused disputes between the two sides.
Following the disputes, Iran invited Muhiddin Kabiri, the leader of the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) - the opposition party of the Tajik government-, to take part in the 29th Islamic Unity Conference in Tehran (December 27, 2015). This was done while the Tajik government took the action to declare this party as an extremist and a terrorist organization, and prohibited its activities in the country. In response to Tehran’s action, the government in Dushanbe accused Iran of supporting terrorists. Then on October 22, 2016, the father of Muhiddin Kabiri passed away, and a memorial ceremony was held for him in Mashhad. Tajikistan showed an urgent reaction to this case. Since October 24, 2016, according to the decree of the State National Security Committee, no more visas were issued for the citizens of the Islamic Republic of Iran at the border between the two countries and at the international airport of Dushanbe. Due to these incidents, Iranian entrepreneurs left Tajikistan. In addition, restrictions have been imposed on imports of certain goods from Iran, including tea, poultry and chicken. Tajikistan also opposed to Iran’s membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
Currently, given more challenges in West Asia, several states have been attracted to Tajikistan due to its strategic position. Tajikistan, however, has always been tied to Iran, because they have close cultural, linguistic and historical traditions. But Saudi Arabia provides financial assistance to this country, which Iran cannot provide. In fact, Tajikistan appeared to be willing to benefit more from the promotion of Iran to a strategic partner. It should be said that although the relationship between Dushanbe and Riyadh was cold due to Saudi Arabia’s support for the Wahhabis during the civil war in Tajikistan, Saudi Arabia has now provided $200 million financial assistance to build new parliament and government buildings, as well as $35 million to build new schools in Tajikistan. In January 2017, Riyadh also announced its readiness to provide a long-term loan to complete the construction of the most important hydroelectric power plant of Tajikistan, the Rogun Dam. Saudi Arabia has also promised to invest six billion dollars in Tajikistan’s economy. However, Tajikistan itself seems to be pursuing political objectives as well as economic goals in these relations.
Tajikistan is well aware that the widespread presence of Saudi Arabia in this country can be dangerous to its domestic security, but the Tajik government maintains a level of relations with Riyadh for getting economic benefits and showing its own advantages to Iran and even Russia. For example, Saudi Arabia in January 2016, during President Emomali Rahmon’s visit to Saudi Arabia, had requested Tajikistan to join the “Islamic anti-terrorism coalition”, but Tajikistan did not respond to this request, and announced that it would assess the issue. Of course, President Rahmon’s participation in the Riyadh summit in May this year shows that relations between the two sides are expanding rapidly. Indeed, it can be assumed that the great powers within and outside the region are being put under pressure by the Tajik government, and Dushanbe is trying to do all that is possible in order to maneuver between these powers, and get its own benefits. However, even regardless of Iran’s position, relations between Tajikistan and Riyadh are also dangerous for Russia, so it is expected that these relations not exceed a certain level, since one of the goals of Saudi Arabia to establish/ preserve such relations with Tajikistan is to take this republic away from the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), and prepare the ground, along with the Americans, for the destabilization of Central Asia and the borders of Russia.
© Abrar Moaser Tehran
Fatemeh Atri Sangsari, a PhD student in Regional Studies at Peoples' Friendship University of Russia, is the guest contributor to IRAS.
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