04/28/2023, 09.22
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Dushanbe's ambitions on the Iran-Saudi Arabia agreement

by Vladimir Rozanskij

The loosening of the ideological-religious divide could free up great resources and Tajikistan seeks to position itself at the forefront of future scenarios. A greater economic engagement of Riyadh and Tehran in the Muslim countries of Central Asia would not hinder Beijing, which wants above all to contain Ankara's expansionism.

Dushanbe (AsiaNews) - Iran and Saudi Arabia plan to reopen their respective embassies on 9 May, the director of Iran's department for the Persian Gulf States, Alirez Enayati, has announced. A meeting of foreign ministers is planned, as well as a visit to Riyadh by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. Just a few months ago, it was difficult to imagine a rapprochement between the two main antagonists in the Middle East; now, however, it has become possible with the mediation of Beijing, where the decisive consultations took place.

It is not known what convinced the two sides to agree to a compromise and whether China promised anything in return, but the agreement has aroused great resonance in all countries more or less directly interested in relations with the two Muslim powers. And one of the first to congratulate was Tajikistan, with a message extolling the agreement as 'an important step on the way to strengthening stability in the entire Near East'.

As Tajik political observer Iršod Sulaymoni confirms, the improvement in relations between Tehran and Riyadh 'in every way directly affects the entire Middle East, South Asia, and specifically Tajikistan'. One of Dushanbe's dilemmas was in fact the orientation towards one or the other of the two Islamic giants, and now both can more easily pay attention to economic projects in Tajikistan.

Saudi Arabia is one of Dushanbe's main creditors, but has so far not put much investment into the country. Now the distraction of Russia, which is engaged in the war in Ukraine, could also entice a greater engagement of Muslim countries in Central Asia, and the Tajiks are the first 'brothers in faith' to be helped. In the Islamic world, the rules of the game are changing: the extremism of the Taliban and the remnants of Isis seems to be definitely losing importance, in favour of countries that can control religion with the weapons of politics.

Another Tajik political scientist, Šerali Risoyon, on his Telegram channel 'Andeškada', also agrees that the Iranian-Saudi agreement opens up many possibilities for a lowering of the level of radicalism throughout the Muslim world, and the effects will be felt greatly in Central Asia in particular. "Since 2020, Turkey's influence had intensified a lot, and now the coordination between Riyadh and Tehran is in some ways a Chinese response," Risoyon argues. Tajikistan, with its Persian roots, is at the forefront of this shift.

In past years, the Saudis have helped Dushanbe with many humanitarian projects, on the basis of King Salman's foundation, although the balance of trade remains at a low level, not exceeding a few hundred thousand dollars. Tehran, which is also involved in charitable activities in Tajikistan, conducts two large-scale projects, the 'Sangtuda-2' power plant and the 'Istiklol' tunnel, and until relations deteriorated in 2015, trade exceeded 5 million.

Iran is more involved in Central Asian affairs, but is short of resources, while the Arabs consider the region only as a transit stop in international trade. The end of the ideological-religious conflict could free up a lot of resources, and Tajikistan seeks to position itself at the forefront of future scenarios.


Photo: Flickr/letsgopens87

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