by Silvia Boltuc
Iran and Tajikistan have intensified their relations and cooperation in recent weeks as part of Tehran’s strategy of raising its presence and role in the Central Asia republic and establishing collaboration in political, economic, energy, and security sectors.
On June 8th, 2021, in Dushanbe, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Tajikistan, Sirojiddin Muhriddin, received the Minister of Energy of Iran, Co-Chair Tajik-Iranian Joint Commission on Trade, Economic, Technical and Cultural Cooperation, Reza Ardakanian. During the meeting, the parties expressed their interest in developing bilateral political, trade, economic and cultural relations. In addition, Muhriddin and Ardakanian also considered strengthening inter-parliamentary relations, especially the inter-parliamentary friendship groups of Tajikistan and Iran and cooperation within the framework of regional and international organisations.
On June 7th, 2021, Ardakanian met with the Minister of Energy and Water Resources of Tajikistan, Daler Juma, to evaluate partnership and mutual trade possibilities in energy production and exports. Daler Jumar noted that in 2020 the volume of trade turnover between Iran and Tajikistan amounted to 57,7 million dollars. Tajikistan exported goods worth 9.4 million dollars to Iran and imported products from Iran for 48,8 million dollars.
Regarding security issues, on June 2nd, 2021, in Tehran, the Minister of Internal Affairs of Iran Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Minister of Internal Affairs of Tajikistan Rahimzoda Ramazon Khamro to fight organised crime, extremism, terrorism, drug trafficking, in the training and education of police officers, exchange of experience among the teaching staff and students of the educational institution of the ministries as well as on investment issues. According to Iranian sources, Rahimzoda Ramazon Khamro declared the MoU a ‘historic’ and ‘excellent agreement’ that will serve as a basis for strengthening ties between the two countries in the future.
Furthermore, Rahimzoda met in Tehran with Hossein Ashtari, Iran’s chief of police, to discuss the possibility of opening representative offices of the Iranian police in Tajikistan and Tajikistan in Iran, respectively. Rakhimzoda also got acquainted with the activities of the Iranian special forces involved in special operations, riot prevention, organised crime and drug trafficking. As Fazli stated, the negotiations between Iran and Tajikistan on security cooperation started some months ago. They included different meetings at all levels (Read more: Iran and Tajikistan expand their cooperation in the security sector).
Why this matters? Because Iran aims at playing a leading role in Tajikistan, exploiting common cultural and historical background even though the relations between Tehran and Dushanbe have deteriorated at the end of 2015. Tajikistan openly and indirectly accused the Iranian authorities of supporting the Hizbi Nahzati Islomii Tojikiston (Islamic Renaissance Party), banned in the country, and Tehran blamed Dushanbe for disappearing millions of dollars transferred there by Babak Zanjani. However, over the past three years, the relations between these two countries have warmed up again. The Islamic Republic of Iran has demonstrated its desire to strengthen economic, security and political cooperation with the Tajik Government.
Considering that Iran took part in two large projects in Tajikistan, the Istiklol Tunnel and the Sangtuda-2 Hydroelectric Power Plant (HPP), enhancing energy, economic, and security cooperation might finally help Tehran to affirm its presence in Tajikistan, therefore in Central Asia, and cooperate with Dushanbe over Afghanistan, especially after the NATO troop complete withdrawal planned in September 2021.
It should be advised that Tehran’s strategy in Tajikistan might face the strong financial Chinese presence in the country due to Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (Read more: China, top investor in the Tajik economy), the historical Moscow-Dushanbe partnership since the strategic role that Central Asia plays in the Eurasian chessboard, and the new U.S. strategy in Central Asia which Washington recently adopted to control the region, to contrast the affirmation and influence of regional and international powers and monitor the situation after the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Considering the recent Iran-China strategic agreement and Russia’s strategy in Central Asia which aims at establishing military bases and incorporating the post-Soviet republics in Moscow’s international organisations, Beijing seems to be the most profitable partner for Tehran in Tajikistan and the region. In this context, we might expect the enhancement of cooperation between Iran and China on the Belt and Road Initiative because Beijing’s strategy might represent a decisive opportunity for Iranian trade.
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