For a short period of time this week, Uzbekistan’s supply of electricity to neighboring Afghanistan was reduced by 60 percent without notice due to a technical problem at the Marjan power station. This followed outages experienced in 15 of the country’s provinces in December due to a 50 percent reduction, and outages in October, both also attributed by Afghanistan’s utility company Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat (DABS) to technical difficulties.
Annually, the country needs around 1,600 megawatts of power. Safiullah Ahmadzai, the then-acting CEO of DABS, told Bloomberg in October 2021 that domestic sources, such as hydropower plants and fossil fuels, only meet 22 percent of Afghanistan’s energy needs. The other 78 percent of consumption is supported by imports, primarily from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
In October, DABS appealed to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) for $90 million to settle nearly three months of unpaid electricity bills. It seems that DABS did not get the UNAMA funds it requested. DABS pledged to pay the bills by accelerating collections and selling the property of large debtors. The Taliban, after coming to power in mid-August, have struggled to get their hands on the former Afghan Republic’s central reserves. This has contributed to the cascade of problems pushing Afghanistan into a dire economic and humanitarian crisis.
Energy has long been a problem for Afghanistan, with outages common before the Taliban takeover and a consistent point of frustration for the Afghan people. It’s notable that Uzbekistan and Tajikistan did not purposefully cut Afghanistan off over a lack of payment or political disputes. While Tashkent has, over the last several years, invested in developing a workable relationship with the Taliban, Dushanbe has not. Nevertheless, the electricity continues to flow — or not flow — much as it did before.
In late December, DABS CEO Hafiz Mohammad Amin traveled to Dushanbe for talks with the government. After two days of negotiation, the two sides signed a supply contract for 2022. According to Taliban officials, Tajikistan will supply Afghanistan with 1.5 billion kWh of electricity; the contract’s value is $69 million. Tajikistan’s power company, Barki Tojik, clarified that a 20-year contract for electricity exports to Afghanistan had been signed in 2008; what was agreed to in December 2021, the company said, was an additional agreement clarifying that in the summer season from May to September, when Tajikistan produces an excess of electricity, supplies to Afghanistan will be 400MW per day. In the autumn and winter, Barki Tojik said supplies would drop to 25-30 MW per day, mostly to protect the equipment.
Given that Tajikistan experiences significant shortages and scheduled outages in winter, Barki Tojik has been careful to stress that winter exports are minimal.
A week after completing the new contract with Tajikistan, Amin traveled to Tashkent to hold negotiations with Dadajon Isakulov, the head of the National Electric Grid of Uzbekistan (NEGU). Similarly, after two days of negotiation the two sides signed a new contract worth $100 million under which Uzbekistan will supply Afghanistan with 2 billion kWh of electricity in 2022. It’s important to note that in 2020, the Uzbek and then-Afghan Islamic Republic government signed a 10-year contract — at the time the reported details outlined a plan for 4.2 billion kWh in the first year and ambitions to reach 6 billion kWh. The Uzbek side offered “soft terms” including a flexible supply schedule and a pledge to not make Afghanistan pay penalties. It seems likely that the recent agreement was an adjustment within the confines of the existing 10-year contract.
The latest reduction in electricity came also as Taliban officials called for Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to return Afghan Air Force aircraft that pilots flew out of the country in back in August 2021. According to TOLO News, Afghanistan had more than 164 active military aircraft before the collapse in August; only 81 remain in the country. Around 46 aircraft landed in Uzbekistan and 16 aircraft in Tajikistan; a number of other aircraft were also reportedly outside of Afghanistan for repairs in third countries.
Acting Taliban Defense Minister Mawlawi Mohammad Yaqoob Mujahid said earlier this week: “Our aircraft that are in Tajikistan or Uzbekistan should be returned. We will not allow these aircraft to remain abroad or to be used by those countries.”
Not much has been said officially on this matter. According to The Drive in early December 2021, 24 Afghan Air Force helicopters had arrived at a U.S. Air Force base in Arizona that hosts an aircraft boneyard. The report cited public affairs at the U.S. Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC).
In the context of the electricity outages, some tied the two developments together. But it seems instead that Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are effectively compartmentalizing their relations with Afghanistan. Afghanistan going dark serves no one. Uzbekistan and Tajikistan know that the Taliban need the electricity they supply, and they need the revenues paid — even if paid late.