“The main areas of cooperation between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan could be counteractions against common security challenges – poverty, unemployment, inefficient agricultural sector and cross-border cooperation. Bilateral cooperation is most visibly possible in the Fergana Valley”, said Sheradil Baktygulov, a researcher of problems in Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek), in an article written exclusively for cabar.asia.
The self-dissolution of the USSR complicated historical economic, cultural and political ties between the countries of Central Asia. The relations between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan were not an exception in this respect. An interesting geopolitical situation has developed in the relations between the two countries by 2015. Uzbekistan controls the valley and most of the population of the Ferghana Valley, and Kyrgyzstan controls highlands and major water sources. The disputed parts of the border and the existence of enclaves further complicate the interaction between the two states: Uzbek enclaves (Sokh, Shahimardan, Chon-Kara, Tash-Tepa) on the territory of Kyrgyzstan, and Kyrgyz enclave of Barack in Uzbekistan.
The glowing atmosphere of euphoria during the first years of independence gave way to balancing feelings for each other. Both approaches are without real content of cooperation. However, the second approach is also marked by the exchange between the two countries’ politicians by remarks criticizing each other, as well as to the appearance of pseudo-scientific theories and pseudo-expert opinions.
However, there are politicians and experts in both countries who sensibly assess the current state and prospects of cooperation between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. For example, there is an understanding of the differences between two models of economic and political development. Kyrgyzstan has a more open approach in the development, and Uzbekistan seeks to preserve the existing relationship, which some foreign observers describe as a policy of isolationism.
Meanwhile, the development of social and economic situation in both countries indicates the presence of more similarities than differences.
The social situation in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan is a classic example of social tension in overcrowded conditions, land hunger and overabundance of low and semi-skilled labor. The main flows of labor and trade migration are illegal.
The economic situation (according to the ratings of various international organizations) in both countries is characterized by extreme lack of resources (land and water), inefficiency of the economic reforms, poor development of small and medium-sized businesses, poor investment climate and the shadow economy.
The problem in both countries is pseudo-urbanization, when residents of depressed areas move into cities, causing a quantitative rather than qualitative growth of cities, the exhausted infrastructure of which does not allow for an adequate standard of living for both indigenous city residents and newcomers.
Emerging problems are compounded by complex inter-ethnic situation on the ground (especially in the Ferghana Valley), where the interests of several ethnic groups are clashing (Kyrgyz, Tajiks, Uzbeks, as well as a number of other groups). All this takes place against the background of activation of banned religious organizations and communities. Clashes at the household level are transformed into the category of inter-ethnic conflict and threaten to reach the interstate level.
Thus, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan face a number of common security challenges – poverty, unemployment, inefficiency of the agricultural sector, development imbalances, minimizing cross-border cooperation, environmental issues, increasing social tension, aggravation of ethnic conflicts, increased activity of radical religious organizations, criminalization of society and the volume of drug trafficking.
Moreover, there is a common point of intersection of the above threats – the Ferghana Valley. The most resonant of the realized threats took place in the Ferghana Valley the invasion of militants from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (now – the Islamic Movement of Turkestan), Andijan events of 2005, and two so-called Osh events (1990 and 2010.). In this case, according to one version, the cause of the events of June 2010 was a provocation against Uzbekistan.
Whether it io true or not, but the assertion that the Ferghana Valley is the “Achilles heel” of Uzbekistan can be considered confirmed, taking into account the desire of Uzbek authorities to become a leader in this part of the world. At the same time, Kyrgyzstan does not raise claims to be a determinant force in the development of the region.
Based on the previously stated, it can be assumed that the main areas of cooperation between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan could be counteractions against common security challenges – poverty, unemployment, inefficient agricultural sector and cross-border cooperation. Bilateral cooperation is most visibly possible in the Fergana Valley.
The fight against economic and other interests only by force methods has no long-term effect. A bright example of it is the situation with the trade in the market town of Kara-Suu, located on the border with Uzbekistan. Kara-Suu market has become the second largest market in Central Asia due to two factors.
The first factor: Kyrgyzstan, as a member of the WTO, introduced low or “zero” tariffs on goods imported into the country, and thus became the largest mediator in the trade in Central Asia between China on the one hand, and Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and the other hand, with Russia.
The second factor: Uzbek authorities in 2002 restricted trade in the country, thereby stimulating the flow of currency and trade operations into Kyrgyzstan.
Moreover, instead of weakening the trade restrictions, to revitalize the business on its territory, the Uzbek government made a simple decision. In December 2002, there was demolished a bridge connecting Kara-Suu with Iyichevck on the Uzbek shore. This move has led to the transition of legal border trade under the control of organized crime groups. By the way, Ilichevsk, along with Andijan became one of the centers of mass unrest in Uzbekistan in May 2005.
Of the existing diversity of areas of cooperation between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, there are two areas of improving co-operation as the most realistic and with a relatively quick practical impact in 2015.
I. The agricultural sector
Given the nature of the processes taking place in each country, we propose the following measures:
1. Development and promotion of programs to attract foreign investment to improve the operation of irrigation and drainage infrastructure, the development of modern methods of water use planning and improvement of irrigation techniques.
2. Reduction of tariffs for electricity for pumping stations and pumps to ensure the delivery of irrigation and drinking water.
3. Creation of cross-border wholesale market of agricultural products, machinery and fertilizers.
4. The development of enterprises for deep processing of agricultural raw materials.
A) Organized migration
Size of the informal labor migration is difficult to determine. It is possible to provide indirect estimates. One can surely say only that the actual volume of registered migration does not reflect the real picture.
The main part of labor migration is done illegally and in indirect forms – through visitor visas, tourism, shuttle trips, etc. This situation suggests that the authorities do not sufficiently exploit the opportunities for expanding the number of partners on labor migration and quotas on the labor export by using contracts.
Labor migration is economically beneficial to both countries and their citizens. With its help, there is an inflow of currency and reduced tensions in the labor market, especially in densely populated regions. Therefore, a common position to support the export of labor can become one of the most important areas of cooperation, for example, in signing international agreements with the countries importing labor force (Russia, Kazakhstan, the USA, South Korea, and others.).
B) Forced Migration
The Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On Citizenship of the Republic of Uzbekistan” contains a provision that the citizenship of the Republic of Uzbekistan shall be lost:
1) as a result of a person’s admission to military service, to serve in the security forces, the police, judicial authorities or other bodies of state power and control in a foreign country;
2) If a person residing abroad has not been registered with the consular department of the Uzbek embassy without good reason within five years.
Thus, statements by officials of Uzbekistan that there are no citizens of Uzbekistan in the ranks of the illegal armed groups operating in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, etc. are true, with a proviso that they have lost citizenship of Uzbekistan. Meanwhile, according to Western media, 2 to 4 thousand natives of Uzbekistan are fighting in Syria alone. The question arises – where and for how long do these people settle during a break between operations and after their completion?
Considering the idea of building a caliphate in the Ferghana Valley, the liberal regime of obtaining citizenship and the proximity of Uzbekistan, the most appropriate country for the legalization of militants becomes Kyrgyzstan.
Thus, the cooperation in the field of migration, both labor and to participate in the banned organizations, is a promising area of cooperation.
The following measures can be suggested in this area:
1. Exchange of experience in the development and promotion of the state policy on the export of labor;
2. Create national immigration services for accounting and work with external and internal migrants, having the status of a law enforcement officer;
3. Reject the simplified procedure for granting citizenship, while increasing the requirements for citizenship of the country (exams on knowledge of the history, language and culture, etc.);
4. Establish the exchange of information on persons who have lost their citizenship, and identify a specific procedure for obtaining citizenship of the host country.
At the moment, it seems that the relations between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have stalled due to disputes over water and border issues, however, as we can see, there are a considerable number of areas that rather unite the both parties. Within these aspects, the two countries can strengthen fruitful and mutually beneficial contacts without damage to mutual interests, but it depends on readiness of Bishkek and Tashkent for it. Without moving towards each other, these problems will continue to exist and to grow. As a result, both parties will only lose.
Sheradil Baktygulov, researcher of problems in Central Asia
Opinion of the author may not necessarily represent those of CABAR