Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 70

As predicted (see the Monitor, April 8), Uzbekistan has lost no time in challenging Moscow’s attempt to turn Tajikistan into a Russian satellite. On April 9 Uzbek President Islam Karimov initiated a bilateral meeting with his Tajik counterpart Imomali Rahmonov in Turkmenistan’s capital of Ashgabat. The two presidents held their official meeting on the sidelines of a regular summit of the five Central Asian countries dedicated to the Aral Sea’s chronic ecological problems.

Karimov and Rahmonov agreed that their respective military and security ministries would “soon” begin a series of bilateral consultations, to be conducted alternately in Tashkent and Dushanbe. The agenda of those meetings will focus on “joint efforts” to combat terrorism, political and religious extremism, the illicit arms traffic and the drug trade. Karimov leaned on Rahmonov to subscribe to a joint communique acknowledging “the importance of direct, regular interstate [Uzbek-Tajik] contacts” for the sake of “effective solutions to the problems facing the two countries and Central Asia as a whole.” (Itar-Tass, April 9-10).

The wording of the communique and the planned military and security consultations are clearly designed to give Uzbekistan an influential voice in Tajikistan with a view to offsetting the Russian-Tajik alliance. That alliance is in the process of being formalized through the grant of military basing rights to Russian forces and the signing of a Russian-Tajik treaty. The Uzbek bid for influence in Tajikistan entails an economic dimension as well. At the Uzbek government’s invitation, Tajik Prime Minister Yahie Azimov is expected today in Tashkent for talks on “mutually beneficial economic cooperation.” Tashkent’s moves reflect a sense of urgency in terms of opening some avenues of influence in Tajikistan ahead of the Russian-Tajik summit in Moscow.