1027 GMT February 23, 2019
Certain countries do not favor friendly ties between Iran and Tajikistan as cordial relations between the two Asian states do not safeguard their interests, said the head of Iran-Tajikistan Friendship Association.
These are the countries that benefit from gloomy relations between Iran and Tajikistan and, thus, to achieve their political objectives and deal a blow to relations between the two nations, they are constantly conspiring to exacerbate the condition by highlighting certain issues and provoking discontent, Ali Ashraf Mojtahed Shabestari, who was also the first Iranian ambassador to Dushanbe, told Iran Daily.
Iran and Tajikistan share common interests as well as deep historical and cultural ties. In addition, the people of the two states speak the same language.
Maintaining ties with Tajikistan, the only Persian-speaking country in Central Asia, is of great strategic importance to Iran, which has always sought to expand its relations with neighboring states based on commonalities.
The two countries’ history of bilateral relations shows that Iran has always adopted a friendly stance toward Tajikistan’s political issues. Iran was among the very first countries to officially recognize Tajikistan as an independent state and, from the very beginning, placed development of relations with Dushanbe on its agenda.
During the Tajikistani Civil War (1992-97), Iran made major efforts to mediate between the parties involved and end the conflict. To this end, Tehran even became the venue for talks between the Tajik government and the United Tajik Opposition on reaching the 1997 General Agreement on the Establishment of Peace and National Accord. Following the Tajikistani Civil War, Iran continued its cooperation with the Central Asian state in different fields, particularly trade and economy.
However, a cold atmosphere has pervaded the two countries’ relations over the past few years, which has led to a gap between the two friendly states.
Some experts maintain that throughout all these years, those benefiting from a gap opening up in relations between Iran and Tajikistan have been seeking to inculcate the wrong idea in the minds of the people of the Central Asian republics that Tehran intends to prepare the ground for its political interference in their internal affairs by expanding its influence in their territories.
However, in practice, this misguided notion is dismissed in view of Iran’s major efforts during the Tajikistani Civil War to resolve the conflict, and its impartial stance throughout this war.
In an interview with Iran Daily, excerpts of which follow, Mojtahed Shabestari further elaborated on the present relations between Iran and Tajikistan and the root of such baseless allegations.
IRAN DAILY: How do you assess the state of relations between Iran and Tajikistan?
ALI ASHRAF MOJTAHED SHABESTARI: Obviously, the state of relations between the two states is not good at present. During the past few months, tensions have arisen in relations between Iran and Tajikistan mainly due to the two countries’ lack of concord with each other and different attitudes in political fields. In addition, to achieve their political objectives and deal a blow to the two states’ relations, a number of countries are exacerbating the condition by highlighting certain issues and provoking discontent. These are the countries that benefit from gloomy relations between Iran and Tajikistan as friendly ties between the two nations do not safeguard their interests.
What has been the main reason for the two countries’ cold relations in the past few months?
It is believed that the issue is related to the Tajik government’s sensitivity about the activities and existence of the so-called Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan. The Tajik government demands that the party stop its activities wherever in the world it is.
Why did such an issue not create any tension in the two countries’ ties in the past? What can lead to a thaw in relations?
I was the first Iranian ambassador to Tajikistan. This party existed in Tajikistan during my term of service, which was concurrent with Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s presidency. We did our best to forge ties between the two countries, as a toddler that is growing up, and to understand the concerns of the Tajik side in order to help expand bilateral relations.
The same thing is required to be done at present. Iranian officials should work toward building trust and softening mutual relations as the two countries’ cold relations will act against both sides’ economic interests. At present, due to the political estrangement between the two countries, their joint economic activities have declined. This comes as countries such as Turkey and China, which have no commonalities with Tajikistan in terms of culture and language, are conducting extensive activities in the Central Asian state.
This is while the Tajik people are very interested in developing relations with Iran in light of their commonalities. In the past, Iran conducted extensive activities in Tajikistan in the field of implementing techno-engineering projects.
What role do you think the Iran-Tajikistan Friendship Association can play to improve relations between the two countries?
Most of the association’s activities pertain to cultural issues. Improving political relations between the two states, however, is a prerequisite to performing cultural activities; unless the former develops, success cannot be achieved in the latter.
This comes as the association is faced with financial problems for performing its activities, as most of its members are cultural figures.
Despite all this, the association has not sat idle. We are attempting to improve and strengthen relations between the two countries through being active in social media and cyberspace.
Has any move been made to sign sisterhood agreements between Iranian and Tajik cities?
In the past, Tehran and Dushanbe became sister cities. In addition, the city of Kulob in Tajikistan and Hamedan, in western Iran, are twin cities. There is a city in each state named ‘Rasht,’ which is interested in signing a sisterhood agreement. Torbat-e Jam in eastern Iran and Dzhami in Tajikistan also intend to become twin cities.
What role have the Persian and Tajik languages played in improving relations between the two countries?
Language plays an important and influential role in the two countries’ relations. The Tajik people have always been interested in the Persian language. Persian-speaking poets and mystics have played a significant role in establishing friendly relations between the two states.