For nearly three years now, due to various reasons, including different conspiracies, Iran-Tajikistan relations have gone through ups and downs that do not match the close relations of the two countries in the past.
Of course, it cannot be said that over the past three years relations between Iran and Tajikistan have been completely stopped and no cooperation has been forged; on the contrary, we have seen numerous cooperation agreements between the two countries. For example, Usmunali Uzmonzoda, Minister of Energy and Water Resources of Tajikistan participated in the inauguration of President Hassan Rouhani, and in November 2017, Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif visited Tajikistan. At the same time, cooperation in various fields and the conclusion of numerous agreements between Tehran and Dushanbe continued.
Nevertheless, the expectation of the level of relations between Iran and Tajikistan is much higher than what it is now, and it is hoped that in the new period, the level of relations will develop further. In particular, since mid-winter this year, we have seen positive signals from Tajikistan towards improving bilateral ties. The start of the work of the new Iranian ambassador to Tajikistan is a positive sign of improving relations between the two sides. The positive comments made by Tajik Foreign Minister Sirodjidin Mukhriddin as well as former and new heads of Tajikistan’s research centres about Iran should also be taken into consideration. Also, the new Tajik ambassador to Iran, a senior foreign ministry official and cultural figure and expert on Iran studies, is due to begin his work in Tehran. All these events must be taken as good omen so that the two countries would leave behind the difficult situation of the past three years which has been a source of concern and regret for many Iranians and Tajiks.
It should be noted that the fields of cooperation between Iran and Tajikistan enjoy relatively good diversity. One of the areas in which there has been extensive cooperation between the two countries from the outset is technical and engineering field; in this regard, the construction of roads, tunnels, dams and hydroelectric power plants is one of the tasks that has always been pursued by the two sides, an example of which is the presence of Iranian companies in construction of the Sangtudeh-2 power plant on the Vakhsh River in the Khatlon Province of Tajikistan in recent years.
Considering the major plan for construction of the Rogun dam and power plant in Tajikistan the first turbine of which was launched several months ago, and the other turbines are scheduled to be gradually installed and become operational in the coming years, there is great potential for a more active presence of Iranian companies in the process of completing and constructing this large hydroelectric power plant.
The second area of cooperation is the railroad and transport corridors, in which all three air, road and rail areas are concerned. Given that Tajikistan is a landlocked country located on the route of China’s Silk Road, Iran can be a good bridge through Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan; or Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and China. In this regard, Dushanbe-Tehran and Dushanbe-Mashhad direct flights, transit and customs coordination between Iran and Tajikistan with Turkmenistan (as an intermediary link) for easy and fast transport of trucks and containers, as well as the development of Iran-Tajikistan rail links through the Central Asian Railways network, are important issues that need to be addressed by the two sides in the trend of Iran-Tajikistan relations. It should be noted that Tajikistan does not have borders with Iran, but the three Iranian provinces of Khorasan Razavi, North Khorasan and Golestan are the closest provinces of Iran to Tajikistan, and it is very important to have coordination with Turkmenistan in terms of flights, rail network, tourism, markets and customs discussions.
The next area, which, unfortunately, has been neglected despite close cultural ties between Iran and Tajikistan, is tourism. It is hoped that the two countries will gradually move forward in the direction of lifting visa formalities thus opening Iran’s doors to Tajik tourists and the vice versa. If this is achieved Iran-Tajikistan relations will come out of the formal status and become more popular. Thus the broad areas of cooperation between the elites and academic and scientific centres of the two countries as well as Iranian and Tajik artists in the field of cinema, theatre and music will enter the two countries into a new phase.
Therefore, in parallel with the cancellation of visa formality between Iran and Armenia and Iran and Georgia, as well as the issuance of airport visa for visitors from the Republic of Azerbaijan in recent years, which has led to a significant boost in tourism and people-to-people contacts with the three Caucasus states, it sounds necessary to apply the same approach in Iran-Tajikistan relations by the authorities of the two countries in the new chapter of bilateral relations. Given the ancient, historical, cultural and linguistic links of Iranians and Tajiks, there are good and appropriate grounds in this context.
Another area of cooperation between the two countries is joint security cooperation especially in the Afghan region, which can be pursued trilaterally among Tehran, Dushanbe and Kabul, as well as multilaterally with the participation of other countries such as Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, which are three Central Asian neighbours of Afghanistan. In this regard, issues such as terrorism, ISIS presence in Afghanistan, border guarding, fight against drug trafficking and training of border and police forces can be of interest to both sides.