During my 30 years in Congress, I was privileged to visit most countries on this planet as a representative of the U.S. government. From the heart of Africa, to the jungles of Asia, to the rain forests of South America, I have seen it all.
Typically, the congressional delegations with which I traveled would visit these countries during major events, transitions or turning points in their histories. As a result, I consider myself honored to have been present and active in many of the world’s most significant events over the past 30 years.
Some of these events have a prominent place in our history books and our national consciousness, but many more do not. There is one experience, in particular, that stands out to me from these travels.
It stands out not because of the kind of violence that was witnessed in Rwanda in the 1990, or in Syria and Ukraine today. Nor was it due to a dramatic geopolitical shift like that following the fall of the Berlin Wall.
This experience stands out because of its potential to transform the lives of tens of millions of people — permanently and for the better.
Yet owing to a lack of understanding of both the region in question and its potential, the world has allowed this potential to sit idle for many decades, even as a green energy revolution has swept over much of the planet.
I first visited the Central Asian Republic of Tajikistan in 2012, during the final year of my tenure in Congress, as part of a rare U.S. congressional delegation to the country.
That such a visit was so rare is symptomatic of America’s attitude toward the region, as is the fact that no sitting president has ever visited Tajikistan.
You could scarcely find a country situated in a more strategically critical location for U.S. foreign policy than Tajikistan — sharing an 810-mile border with Afghanistan and a 260-mile border with China.
Tajikistan’s great potential, however, lies not in its whereabouts, but in its water.
In an age where clean energy is the most desired path to development, Tajikistan has been blessed with abundant hydroelectric potential, capable of providing for not just its own energy needs, but those of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and many other countries in the region.
One project alone, the Rogun Dam, will provide almost twice the energy output of our own Hoover Dam — filling a much-needed void in supply to Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
As the United States prepares to withdraw its troops in 2014, a cheap, plentiful supply of energy to energy-starved Afghanistan would do wonders for its development and, consequently, its stability. It could also end Tajikistan’s own energy crisis, which leaves up to 70 percent of the country without electricity during the winter months, when temperatures are consistently below freezing.
With the right political and economic support, during the next decade Tajik hydropower could serve the entire region of South and Central Asia with cheap, sustainable energy.
This is an agenda that should be embraced.
Former Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican, was a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and chairman of its Europe, Eurasia and emerging threats subcommittee.