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Fostering Tajik hydraulic development: Examining the role of soft power in the case of the Rogun Dam

Filippo Menga
University of Manchester, School of Environment, Education and Development, Manchester, UK; filippo.menga@manchester.ac.uk

Naho Mirumachi
Department of Geography, King’s College London, London, UK; naho.mirumachi@kcl.ac.uk

ABSTRACT: Basin riparians are not equally endowed in their resources and capacity to control water within a shared international river basin. Beyond hydrological constraints and geographical positions, other less tangible factors such as discourses and narratives influence interactions among basin riparians for water resources control and river basin development, requiring further analytical refinement of the role of power. The analysis of discursive and ideological dimensions of power, or 'soft' power, in particular, enables insights to strategies and tactics of water control under conditions of power asymmetries between basin states. This paper examines the debate around the controversial large-scale Rogun Dam project on the Vakhsh River in Tajikistan, exploring how the exercise of 'soft' power can, and sometimes cannot, shape transboundary water outcomes over water allocation. By focusing on international diplomacy and narratives, the paper provides insights into the non-coercive ways in which hydraulic development is justified. In particular, it is shown how 'soft' power was utilised by the Tajik decision-makers to legitimise dam development both at the international and domestic levels. The paper illustrates how, in the case of the Rogun Dam, 'soft' power falls short of determining a hydraulic development that changes the status quo of water allocation for Tajikistan.

KEYWORDS: Transboundary water relations, power, dams, Central Asia, Aral Sea Basin