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March 4, 2009. Presidents of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have discussed issues of regional security and development in Central Asia

On the invitation of the President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov, the President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov paid the official visit to Uzbekistan on February 24-25, 2009.  

A news conference with participation of presidents was organized after negotiations. During the news conference the both parties have assessed the current state and prospects of bilateral relations, discussed situation in the Central Asian region, expressed their vision of the ways and modalities of addressing the regional and international issues. A particular attention was attached to resolving the Afghan problem and the management of water resources in Central Asia.  

Assessing the situation in Afghanistan, President Islam Karimov has said that “in April 2008 at the NATO/EAPC Bucharest Summit Uzbekistan has made a proposal the main points of which are the following:  

First. There can be no military solution of the Afghan problem. This position has been acquiring a growing support from the states involved in stabilization affairs in Afghanistan.  

Second. A serious attention should be paid to the solution of acute social problems related to poverty and unemployment. For 30 years of continued in Afghanistan war the living standards and social conditions of the Afghan people have very much deteriorated; the unemployment rate has reached 60-70% of total working population. Under such circumstances, various segments of the population and, above all, young people are forced to seek other sources of livelihood. This creates a fertile ground for their recruitment by “Taliban” and other extremist groups, as well as for their involvement in the drug trafficking”.

President Islam Karimov has noted that “the Afghan problem cannot be settled if the opinion of Afghanistan people, religious and national diversities of the population are not taken into account. Afghanistan is a multi-faith, multiethnic state, which is inhabited by different ethnicities that have their own approaches to resolving the problems of the country. The history of wars in Afghanistan that involved foreign invaders has clearly demonstrated that it is necessary to take into account the people's mentality and their religiousness, to respect this religion, and not to violate it”.

Regarding the resumption of activity of the «6+2» Contact Group on Afghanistan, which has operated under the UN auspices, the Uzbek Leader pointed to the necessity of its expansion by converting it into «6+3» in order to include six states bordering with Afghanistan, the United States and Russia, by including the NATO, which is the active participant in the international coalition. “The sense of this initiative is that the problem cannot be settled without participation of countries surrounding Afghanistan, the countries that have been suffering from this disaster more than others for thirty years.

In this regard, in any case, in one form or another, this approach will be implemented since otherwise it is impossible to settle the Afghan problem. Should issues related to the comprehensive solution of the Afghan problem not be settled, it will further deteriorate, and those countries that provide peacekeeping forces for Afghanistan will become occupants.

Uzbekistan continues to contribute to stabilization of the situation in Afghanistan, particularly, in the form of participation in projects on supply of electricity power, construction of “Termez - Mazari-Sharif” railroad via Khayraton, where the Uzbek side will be the main contractor”.

Speaking about the transit of goods through Uzbekistan, President Islam Karimov said that during the recent visit to Uzbekistan of General David Petraeus, Commander of Central Command of the U.S. Armed Forces, an agreement on non-military goods’ transit by the United States through the Uzbek territory to Afghanistan, in strict compliance with Uzbekistan legislative norms, has been reached.

“We have repeatedly underlined that in respect of relations with Afghanistan we do not hold to the bloc-wise thinking. We base our position on the interests of Uzbekistan only and those relationships that develop between the Republic of Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. We do not agree with the participation of mediators or institutions that wish to implement it in the form of a bloc approach”.

As stated by President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov, “in Uzbekistan we believe that the decision to start war in Afghanistan in 1979 has been made without taking into account the interests of Uzbekistan, which was a part of the former USSR. “... Nobody asked us - who needed that war? Those losses and what we now have as a neighbor of Afghanistan – the result of the decision that was made absolutely without taking into account the interests of Uzbekistan and other Afghanistan neighbors. We believe that taking a group decision today is yet again to make the same mistake. Each country must decide for itself how to build relations with Afghanistan, based on its own interests and the interests of Afghanistan...”

Addressing the issue on urgency of reasonable water management of transboundary rivers in Central Asia, President Islam Karimov pointed out that the problem has existed for many centuries. For the last years the issue has become more urgent since construction of Hydro-Power Stations (HPS) in the upstream of Amudarya and Syrdarya rivers has artificially being put into the agenda of water utilization in Central Asia.

President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov emphasized that “two great rivers of the region - Amudarya and Syrdarya – feed the whole Central Asia and part of Kazakhstan. It is new interference to distribution of water resources. Too many “great” ponds, “great” water reservoirs and hydropower stations have been built during the Soviet times and we have still been facing impacts of that. According to the assessments of environmentalists, any interference into distribution of water resources and water management, any violation of nature development can not be tolerated and should not be allowed. If we look at it from this perspective, we will see that such a gross violation of natural processes always leads to catastrophic results. And not only our but next generations will suffer from that”.

President Islam Karimov has stated that “under the condition of great deficit of water recourses, this issue has been actively raised, moreover it has created problems and tensions in relations”. The Uzbek Leader pointed out that “today the supply of water resources of countries in the region accounts for 70% of their needs. There is a saying in the East: “There is no life without water”. Therefore, we must deal with these problems more carefully. We understand clearly that each year the land which is available for use to feed the people, for food production is decreasing. Droughts, water-logging and desertification are taking place. I would like to say about this in detail in order to explain what the water problems do mean for the countries of the region”.

President of Uzbekistan has underscored that the water-energy projects which started to be discussed raise many interpretations. President Islam Karimov pointed out that “there is even one interpretation which is now actively being used, first of all, by Russian scholars and mass media.

There are statements that this issue is allegedly insoluble problem of the region.

This means that states and nations of the region are not able to come to an agreement among them. Therefore, in order to solve the problem the participation of a third party with great resources is needed”.

Uzbekistan considers such kind of interpretation as absolutely intolerable. The President Islam Karimov has underscored that “the nations have been living on this territory for millennia, absolutely different states were here in the past, but those issues were solved when they arose. The statement that the problem is insolvable is pursuing absolutely different goals.”

According to the President Islam Karimov “if we look at the position of Uzbekistan we will see that it is understandable, clear and precise. We are not against construction of those hydropower stations, if it goes in line with the interests of not only two countries, but also comforts the interests of all countries and peoples in the region. Why the population of downstream rivers have to suffer from great hardships tomorrow. It is very difficult to explain that to the people of those countries”.

President Islam Karimov stated that Uzbekistan is ready to participate in those projects and pointed out the necessity to conduct an unbiased international and fair expert assessment.

President of Uzbekistan considers that it is necessary to receive answers to the two simple questions. “First. If those huge hydropower stations are to be constructed, will those countries in the downstream transboundary rivers, in particular, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, receive less water tomorrow? What is about desiccation of the Aral Sea? Please, answer those questions and demonstrate how the water flow will change and in what volumes we are not going to get that water without which we already have quite difficult times. I repeat that the supply of water resources of countries in the region now accounts for only 70% of their minimal needs. And if the hydropower stations are built there will it make the situation worse?”

Regarding the second question President Islam Karimov said: “Will the environment of the region change or not? If they say that the environment will not change and the water will be supplied in the same volume as we receive now, personally me and Uzbekistan will not have any questions.

Is it so difficult to conduct unbiased study under the auspices of the UN with fully disinterested and unbiased experts? In other words, we talk about unbiased expertise. Is it difficult to conduct such an examination and answer to very simple questions?

Thus, I conclude that the problem is solvable, if the examination shows that there is not going to be any damage. And if there are going to be problems with water flow and environment then the international structures must help us. But even in the case if the issue is solvable, however, it must not be politicized. One should not transform it into the problem which could be solved only by the “divide and rule” approach. We must not allow that to happen”. 

In the joint statement of two Presidents – heads of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan – stated the following regarding the water management issues in Central Asia: “These issues should be addressed based on unilaterally recognized norms and principles of the international law with taking into account interests of all states in the region and with participation of international organizations”. They emphasized “necessity to avoid decrease the volume of transboundary rivers as well as to oblige independent international technical, economic and ecologic expertise when such projects are implemented at the transboundary rivers by interested parties based on the principles of openness and full awareness”.

During the news conference President of Turkmenistan His Excellency Gurbanguly Berdimukhamedov having underlined constructive character of the talks, has said that “Turkmenistan is also against decrease of volumes and flows of transboundary rivers without prior international audit”. President of Turkmenistan has stated that the “Turkmen side stands in favor of using mechanisms of preventive diplomacy on this issue”.