Tehran and Dushanbe deepen ties
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will pay an official visit to Tajikistan, the Foreign Ministry of the republic reported. Rouhani will take part in the fifth Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia, which will be held on June 15 in Dushanbe with the participation of the regional heads of state.
It will be the first meeting of the two presidents after 2015, when Dushanbe accused Tehran of financing the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), allegedly involved in a coup attempt and in preparing unrest during the 2020 presidential election.
Tehran and Dushanbe have recently taken a number of steps towards improving relationships. In particular, the countries appointed new ambassadors in the spring of 2019. Both diplomats said that their main task in the new office was to contribute to improving relations between Iran and Tajikistan.
On June 1, Tajik Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin arrived in Tehran on a working visit. He met with Iran's President Hassan Rouhani and Energy Minister Riza Ardakanian. According to official information, the parties discussed joint projects of the two countries in hydropower and transport, noting that there is an opportunity to increase cooperation.
RFE/RL's Tajik Service, Radio Ozodi, also reported that Rouhani and Muhriddin discussed security issues during the talks. The Iranian president said that Tehran and Dushanbe should further increase their cooperation in the fight against terrorism, and stressed that the ISIS militants (the group banned in Russia) that left Syria and Iraq intend to become active in Central Asia and the Caucasus. The Tajik Foreign Minister expressed hope that Hassan Rouhani would take part in the upcoming Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit due to be held in Dushanbe.
Doctor of Political Sciences, Deputy Director General of the Center for Strategic Estimations and Forecasts Igor Pankratenko, speaking to Vestnik Kavkaza, said that Tajik Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin's meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani caused a wave of optimism among experts. Most of them agree that this is the beginning of a thaw in Iranian-Tajik relations, as according to official reports, "the parties emphasized intentions to expand political, economic and cultural cooperation between the countries."
"But in fact, they are a long way from a thaw. Rather, it is about a new stage of bargaining in which Dushanbe put up its position on Iran’s entry into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) "for sale" - the Tajik authorities are ready to give up their opposition to this entry, of course, in exchange for the most important thing to them - financial assistance and investments. And given the fact that the SCO membership is now extremely important for Iran now, Tehran is ready to pay. What remains is to agree on the price that is desirable and possible for the parties," Pankratenko noted.
According to the expert, the list of what the Tajik authorities would like to get is quite extensive and very complicated for Tehran. There is no doubt that Iran will try to shorten it. So there will be dramatic vagaries of economic and political bargaining of the parties which are true professionals in this matter. And it's unclear how it plays out.
According to the Valdai Club expert, Vice President at the Observer Research Foundation Nandan Unnikrishnan, after Iran is accepted, the SCO will get a chance to resolve the Afghan problem, as well as develop strategic transport corridors. Upon becoming a member of the SCO, Iran will raise its rating of a regional player. "If Iran becomes a member of the SCO, both the SCO and Iran will benefit from this, since the organization will become truly regional. First of all, Iran's entry will contribute to the development of transport corridors. "This is, for example, the North-South transport corridor. Its various branches are able to connect both Afghanistan and Central Asia to this arterial transport corridor, which can go from Southeast Asia through India - to St. Petersburg and further to Europe," Unnikrishnan believes.
However, Tajikistan is interested in becoming a member of the North-South corridor and getting access to Iran's Chabahar Port. According to Iranian media reports, Iran can be the safest and most profitable transit route for Tajikistan’s goods. For Tajikistan, this is an opportunity to bypass its neighbor Turkmenistan, which periodically closes the border for Tajik cargo.