Central Asian governments seek cooperation with Afghanistan in water management

Ulugbek Khassanov. Photo credit: uwed.uz
Ulugbek Khassanov. Photo credit: uwed.uz

The construction of the Qosh Tepa Canal has reached its second phase in Afghanistan. Once completed, the canal will take up to 40% of the Amu Darya River's flow, resulting in a critical water deficit in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. In this article, Kazinform News Agency delves into the challenges that Central Asian countries face in water management strategy.

Under the new Taliban government, the Qosh Tepa project started in the early spring of 2022. Without considering the opinions and positions of its neighboring countries, the new government of Afghanistan started a massive project to solve the problem of poor irrigation in northern Afghan provinces.

According to Ulugbek Khassanov, the head of the International Conflict Laboratory at the University of World Economy and Diplomacy in Tashkent, the energy and water problems in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have become fundamental since the new Afghan water canal has been taking almost half of the resources of the Amur Darya River tributary.

At this moment, Uzbekistan and Karakalpakstan are already experiencing an acute water shortage. These shortages were also common in the southern regions of Kazakhstan last year.

The Taliban government built the Qosh Tepa canal in 8 months. The project is expected to be completed in 2028. Upon becoming fully operational, the canal will extend over 285 kilometers, with a width of approximately 100 meters and a depth reaching up to 8.5 meters.

Governments of Central Asian republics have already expressed concerns about the project’s potential to overwhelm the region’s underdeveloped water management system. For instance, the initiation of its full capacity could negatively affect Uzbekistan’s water-dependent cotton industry. Additionally, the canal could complicate Kazakhstan’s restoration initiatives for the Aral Sea.

During the last Consultative Meeting of the Heads of States of Central Asia in Dushanbe in September, Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev declared that Central Asia’s water shortages had reached a critical and irreversible point, with expectations of future worsening. He also mentioned that the completion of the Qosh Tepa project could significantly alter water dynamics in the region. In conclusion of his speech, he highlighted the inclusion of the new government of Afghanistan in regional talks of joint efforts in water management.

According to Khassanov, interstate consultations are currently taking place among the governments of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. These countries are trying to develop a united front to initiate a dialogue with the Taliban collectively. A major challenge is that Afghanistan's current regime does not acknowledge any obligations or treaties.

“The parties have to decide on how to integrate cooperation with the new government of the Taliban. They can attract them with economic and energy cooperation in order to reduce the negative effects of the new Qosh Tepa channel. Additional humanitarian aid to the Afghan people and cheap electricity tariffs can persuade the Taliban to start diplomatic talks," says Khassanov.

Within Afghanistan, the Taliban control only 70% of the 34 provinces, while the remaining 30% do not accept their authority. This ongoing internal conflict indicates the absence of a legitimate governmental rule for cooperation and negotiation. Furthermore, an agreement with the Taliban does not ensure that international treaties will be adhered to throughout the entire country.

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