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Why Kyrgyzstan Won’t Gain from the Protracted Border Dispute with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan?

“Completing delimitation and demarcation of state boundaries will not shelve the entire conflict potential. There is certainly a need for a lasting comprehensive approach with elaboration on an adequate and effective model of cross-border cooperation,” researcher Konstantin Larionov writes in an exclusive article for CABAR.asia.

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One of the most sensitive and complex issues on Kyrgyzstan’s foreign policy agenda is the unresolved fate of state boundaries that has two dimensions: first, the relationship among local communities in the border areas and cooperation between neighboring states. Border conflicts arise due to incomplete processes of demarcation and delimitation of state boundaries in areas where they are of significant economic importance. Amidst the unfolding events in the country, yet another incident on the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border on October 25 appears especially disturbing[1]. Pending is also the question of borders with Uzbekistan.

The total length of a highly complex Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border is approximately 970 kilometers. Batken oblast borders on Sughd, and Osh in the south – on centrally administered districts and the Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous region of Tajikistan. Whilst the border running along the Turkestan range is not an issue, its Fergana part, however, is intricate by contested parts. Besides, some experts recognize the Fergana Valley as a “place of latent interethnic conflict”[2]. While industries shun these regions, agriculture is widespread. Therefore, locals highly value each meter of land and each liter of water. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, for now, have failed to clearly demarcate their common boundary, leaving nearly 519 kilometers with disputed status. Of roughly 60-70 disputed areas[3], about a dozen are problematic and potentially explosive.

The situation with Uzbekistan appears somewhat more optimistic. This is facilitated by emerging economic ties and warming social relations. Kyrgyzstan’s border with Uzbekistan stretches a total of 1,379 kilometers, of which nearly 5% (about 200 km) are not demarcated. There are 15 checkpoints along the border. Citizens of two countries mainly transit from Dostuk Avtodorozhniy checkpoint located at the junction of the cities of Andijan and Osh.

Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan boundary disputes. Conflicts along Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan border

The modern Kyrgyz state celebrates its centenary. The state commenced the establishment of its national and political borders following the collapse of the USSR. Both the Tajik and Uzbek sides in addressing issues of delimitation and demarcation of state boundaries today appeal to the maps of 1924-27, while Kyrgyzstan appeals to the outcome of the 1955 parity commission. In this article, we will courage territorial and boundary disputes since 1991. 

Since the 1990s, following the collapse of the Union, about 143,000 hectares of Tajikistan’s land were left on Kyrgyzstan’s territory, wherein 2,600 hectares of Kyrgyzstan’s remained respectively in Tajikistan’s territory. A similar situation is observed on the Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan border.

The social cohesion that prevailed in the Ferghana Valley had crumbled down by the approach of the authorities in the three states. Authorities and media have inculcated primitive national identity models confined by the eminence of only one, the titular ethnic group. Fostered corruption and border regulations had had an impact on the use of cross-border workforce and the mobility of people in general[4].

The question of delimitation and demarcation of state boundaries has become more acute in the early 2000s. The process of delimitation and demarcation of the border with Tajikistan starts in 2002. In 2006, the two states form an intergovernmental commission. The commission faced immediate difficulties in determining where Kyrgyzstan ends, and Tajikistan begins.

The growing border tensions in the early 2000s did not make disputed regions as conflict-prone as we see them today. At the same time, border contradictions were amassing. The significant conflict potential in the cross-border areas has crystallized only in the last six years.

On the other hand, in the 1990s and early 2000s, the population of the Fergana Valley was not as voluminous as it is now, so it was not clear how limited are resources in this region. Besides, the population’s material needs were not yet as high as they have been over the past 12-15 years.

Furthermore, the growth of nationalist sentiments, actively supported by education and propaganda; land grabbing encouraged by the authorities without pondering economic planning that had exasperated border tensions at that time.

Under these circumstances, in the Batken and Isfara regions, hotbeds of tension had been established along the Vorukh – Ak-Sai and Kak-Tash – Somonien. It fueled conflicts in the adjacent territory between the local communities of Bobojon, Gafurov, and Leilek regions. Also, residents of the bordering localities in Maksat, Internationale, Kulundu, Arka (Kyrgyzstan), and Ovchi Kalacha, Histevarz often conflict over the ownership of land plots.

As for the situation with the Uzbek side, relations between the two countries were compounded by the position of the Karimov regime and the non-cooperation of parties. For instance, after the Batken war in 1999-2000, Uzbekistan had deployed mine barriers throughout the Sokh and Shakhimardan enclaves, which led to annual casualties and loss of livestock. Only in 2004, with the assistance of international organizations, Uzbekistan began demining the enclave territories. Also, the parties many times unilaterally closed their borders without notifying their neighbor. Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan relations deteriorated after the 2005 Andijan events when the Uzbek side declared that aid to the rebels was rendered through the territory of Kyrgyzstan. Then the former President Bakiev refused to extradite the rebels who fled to Kyrgyzstan.

Locals are often victimized by border disputes. Here is why: on January 4, 2013, Uzbek border guards shot and killed a Kyrgyz citizen, who, according to them, illegally crossed the border as a smuggler.

On January 6, 2013, residents of the Khushyar village (Sokh enclave), aggrieved with respect to Kyrgyz border guards that emplaced power transmission poles on their territory, had attacked the neighboring Kyrgyz village of Chabrak. In response, the Kyrgyz side blocked roads linking the enclave with Uzbekistan.

On September 23, 2013, in the Zhiyde-Aryk area of ​​the Kadamjai district in Batken, Kyrgyz border guards wounded an Uzbek citizen who found herself on the territory of Kyrgyzstan.

In September 2013, the Ungar-Too mountain with an undecided status that locates the antennas of Kyrgyz TV and cellular companies became a matter of dispute between the republics. This case demonstrates how corruption obscures the border delimitation and demarcation processes.

The events of March 18, 2016, had marked a new round of tension. Uzbekistan moved two armored personnel carriers, two trucks, and nearly 40 servicemen to the disputed area in Chalasart (Jalal-Abad), and set up a roadblock on the Kerben-Ala-Buka road section, blocking the passage of Kyrgyz citizens at the Dostuk-Avtodorozhny checkpoint and Madaniyat- Avtodorozhny. Tashkent said that the reinforcement had to do with “security during the Nowruz holiday.”

Kyrgyzstan’s State Border Service took the actions of Uzbekistan as the border violation. In response, Bishkek demanded the withdrawal of heavy equipment and servicemen from the disputed area, introduced enhanced control at its borders and closed the border for Uzbek residents at Baimak-Avtodorozhny, Kensai-Avtodorozhny, and Kadamjai-Avtodorozhny checkpoints. After that, the former President of Kyrgyzstan Almazbek Atambayev gave an ultimatum: if Uzbekistan does not withdraw its equipment and military personnel from the disputed area, then Bishkek will reconsider its participation in the SCO summit in Tashkent. He also turned to the CSTO for help in resolving the dispute. The Permanent Council of the organization held an extraordinary meeting in Moscow On March 25, 2016, where heads of the border services of the conflicting parties renegotiated. On March 26, Uzbekistan withdrew equipment and military personnel from disputed areas.

In March 2015, Kyrgyzstan transferred onto its balance several economic facilities that belonged to the Uzbek SSR: land plots, motor depots, civil defense facilities, hydraulic structures, and other facilities located in the Osh, Batken, and Jalal-Abad regions. In April 2016, the Kyrgyz government nationalized four Uzbek resorts: Rohat, Dilorom, Zolotye Peski, and Buston.

On August 13, 2016, Kyrgyz police detained an Uzbek policeman for violating the border in the Ala-Buka district. On August 22, at the disputed area of ​​the two countries on Mount Ungar-Too, officers of the Uzbek Interior Ministry landed from a Mi-8 helicopter. They demanded that the detained officer be released. The Kyrgyz side released the detained Uzbek policeman on the same day. On August 24, Uzbek police detained four Kyrgyz engineers of the Kerben radio relay station on Ungar-Too under the pretext of “passport arrangements”. In response to a demand for the immediate release of Kyrgyz citizens, the Uzbek security forces demanded that Uzbekistan be granted the right to guard the Orto-Tokoy reservoir, a place of political disputes. The engineers were released two weeks later, and the Uzbek security forces left Ungar-Too a month later.

Radio relay station on Ungar-Too mountain. Photo: Knews.kg

Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s coming to power was a breakthrough in remedying the social, economic, and political situation. Since that time, 31 government sessions, 96 topographic working group sessions, two legal team sessions have been held on the delimitation and demarcation of the Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan border. In 2019, Kyrgyzstan exchanged 413 hectares of land in the Aravan district of Osh oblast for the same area of ​​land in Uzbekistan.

Limited resources as a factor for domestic disputes and violent confrontations

Major natural resources of economic importance for Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, are disputed arable lands and freshwater.

Access to water resources is problematic both in relations with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Part of Kyrgyz territories bordering Uzbekistan is irrigated with water from canals in Sokh, and, conversely, part of the Uzbek lands is irrigated with water flowing through the Kyrgyz territory. Most of the Syrdarya run-off (75.2%) occurs on the territory of Kyrgyzstan, being the main source of water supply for Uzbekistan.

In recent years, the water supply in the Syrdarya is no more than 70% of the previous norm. In that situation, the agricultural sector that consumes up to 90% of all water is jeopardized. The Kyrgyz government decides to sell water to Uzbekistan, thereby introducing new rules and heightening the confrontation, using water resources as a tool of exerting political pressure on its neighbor. Losses from the inefficient use of water resources for all Central Asian countries amount to $ 1.7 billion per year. The situation became volatile in 2015. Then Kyrgyzstan took over the Orto-Tokoy reservoir in Jalal-Abad, invoking that Uzbekistan does not pay rent. The Uzbek side refused to transfer the rights to use the reservoir[5].

In the early spring of 2016, Tashkent asked the Kyrgyz government to allow experts to enter the Orto-Tokoy reservoir territory for repair work but was denied. In response, on March 18, Uzbek security forces set up a checkpoint on the Kerben-Ala-Buka (Chala-Sart) road. Bishkek explained this by its reluctance to return the disputed objects. Following negotiations between the heads of border services, Uzbekistan withdrew military equipment and border guards from disputed areas.

Another tense area of ​​water allocation is the Chechme spring, which supplies water to the Kyrgyz village of Chechme (population of approx. 1,000 people) and Uzbek Chashma (of more than 17,000 people).

Conflicts and open confrontations arise around the allocation of water resources every spring during the watering season, with property damage and assault and battery. The first clashes between Uzbek and Kyrgyz border guards began on May 26, 2010, when Kyrgyz border guards did not allow the livestock of Sokh residents to enter the Kyrgyz pasture lands they used, as they did not pay rent at that time. Residents of Khushyar village on the night of May 26, 2010, attacked passengers of four cars, citizens of Kyrgyzstan. On May 29, 2010, Khushyar residents damaged the road and water pipe leading to Charbak village. In response, Batken residents near the Zhash-Tilek village blocked the road to Uzbek Rishtan with stones. On May 31, Batken residents again blocked the road to Rishtan. Uzbekistan pulled about 1,000 special forces and police officers to the site of the conflict. On June 1, 2010, negotiations were held between the governors of the Batken and Fergana regions of Uzbekistan, the heads of border services, and the police chiefs in the border regions of the two states. On June 2, 2010, Uzbekistan withdrew the armored vehicles that had been in the enclave since the Batken events. The conflict was settled for a short time. Another conflict with dire consequences for the citizens of both sides took place from January 5 to 9, 2013. Nearly 5 pillars were mistakenly emplaced at that village causing the confrontation of hundreds of civilians and dozens of border guards. Tens of people were injured on both sides; material damage was caused. 

Another disputed area of Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan relations are gas fields. In the spring of 2011, the Kyrgyz parliament adopted a draft decree requiring the complete transfer of the Severny Sokh and Chongara-Galcha gas storage facilities to Kyrgyzstan. Nearly 4 billion cubic meters of gas is transported annually through the so-called “Northern Sokh”. Its rent is only 900 thousand dollars a year. Kyrgyzstan deems the use of the Chongara-Galcha gas field, as well as the Ursatyevskaya-Fergana pipeline by Uzbekistan illegal. According to expert estimates, payment by the Uzbek side for gas transit through the territory of Kyrgyzstan could amount to $ 4 million a year.

The parliament recommended that the government establish a joint venture with Uzbekistan for the exploitation of gas fields. At the same time, Uzbekistan had to pay a fine of $ 5 million for oil and gas used over 20 years.

In 2012, the issue of gas storage facilities became more acute. Following the private session, Jogorku Kenesh has opted to instruct the Kyrgyz government to commence operations at the Northern Sokh gas storage facility, since it is located on the territory of the Kyrgyz Republic, which provoked Tashkent’s reaction.

In 2013, Uzbekistan exerts political pressure on Kyrgyzstan through a gas cut-off, due to the debt of 552 thousand dollars on the country’s south part. The gas was cut off in the city of Osh on April 14, 2014. Uzbekistan then demanded Bishkek to provide a corridor to the Sokh enclave and suspend the construction of a hydroelectric power station on the Naryn River. Kyrgyzstan had refused to comply with the requests. As a mediator in resolving the tension between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, Gazprom acquires 100% of the shares of Kyrgyzgas OJSC, gaining a monopoly over a gas provision in the country.

Ineffective and indecisive governance as a factor in an unresolved cross-border situation: a view from Kyrgyzstan

Observing Kyrgyzstan’s efforts in resolving cross-border disputes, it can be argued that political commitment was not sustained. Each new power that came through a coup or elections changed methods and approaches for cross-border disputes. Besides, expert discourses were not institutionalized to come up with viable solutions. As a rule, negotiation forums for those issues had not been approached scientifically and were often of a momentary nature (that is, recommendations were either left to sit on the shelf or were not later scrutinized, hence the results did not elucidate emerging problems and develop viable solutions). We, therefore, can conclude that Bishkek does not seek to persevere and exercise consistent political will in resolving the border dispute. The authorities of both countries have reiterated their intention to end border disputes. The parties are extremely reluctant to make concessions. Besides, they often neglect the opinions of influential forces in the border areas.

Socio-economic factors as a ground for border conflict

The socio-economic ratio of Kyrgyzstan’s Batken region and Tajikistan’s Sughd region varies. In both regions, there is a decline in revenues. Batken oblast, according to 2019 data, is the poorest in Kyrgyzstan. So, the poverty line here is 32.6% (in 2018 – 33.8%)[6]. Labor migration and remittances are particularly important for the southern regions of the country. Remittances in overall income figures account for 31.5% in Batken oblast, 22.2% – in Osh oblast, 18.1% – in Jalal-Abad oblast, and 4.8% – in Osh. For example, in Chui oblast, they account for only 5.2%[7]. Due to the global economic stagnation, the COVID-19 pandemic, and unemployment, migrants had to return to their homeland, augmenting the already difficult social and economic situation. According to the National Statistical Committee, if we take away the incomes of labor migrants, then the poverty line in the Batken region rises from 33.8% to 54.6%. This fact increases the chances of potential conflict in the border areas, to where some migrants will be returning to.

As for Tajikistan, the country is in quite an intricate social and economic situation. For instance, between 2010 and 2018 the Republic of Tajikistan received humanitarian aid worth 614 million dollars and weighing more than 180 thousand tons. The country’s main donors were the United States in 2010-2014, and Russia, China, and Germany in 2015-2018[8]. An official poverty line in the region is about 27.5% (not the highest indicator in the country). Moreover, in 2017, there were about 147 thousand people in labor migration. The return of labor migrants to their homeland will as well aggravate the socio-economic situation in the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan Fergana.

Sughd region is closely connected with Batken and other regions of Tajikistan. This is the only region in the country completely dependent on externally controlled water sources. Economically, Batken oblast is of great importance for Tajikistan. It serves as an access point to the CIS countries (in the context of complex relations with Uzbekistan). Various goods (agricultural products, fuels, and lubricants, etc.) legally and illegally pass through the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border. Drugs and fuels and lubricants also cross the border illegally. Smuggling from Kyrgyzstan even reaches the markets in Afghanistan. Kyrgyzstan, in turn, depends on agricultural products from Tajikistan. Smuggling has repercussions on delimitation and demarcation of state boundaries[9].

Smuggling is also a sore point in Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan border areas. Goods are illegally imported into the Sokh enclave from the Kyrgyz side. Uzbek border guards deal with such attempts severely, which causes frustration among Kyrgyzstanis.

International organizations are very helpful in fostering social and economic areas of cooperation between Kyrgyz and Tajiks. This support is usually directed towards liberalism and the principles of democracy. But at the same time, based on their work in the region, many of international organizations presumed that an all-encompassing conflict would befall Central Asia due to limited resources, ethnic division, an intricate economic situation, whilst porous borders and unmet needs of the people would lead to violence. And the models promulgated to resolve the situation did not yield the expected results and necessary changes due to a number of reasons (local corruption, theft of grant funds, non-execution or formalistic execution of the measures taken).[10]

The problem of access to water and land resources is a major factor for the persistence and expansion of conflict potential. Water problems in the region, including in the Vorukh, Chorkukh, Surkh jamaats in Isfara, and the adjacent municipalities of Samarkandek, Ak-Tatyr, and Ak-Sai in Batken are, in one way or another, related to the water apportionment on canals located on the floodplain of the transboundary river Isfarinka. Some experts deem the existing water distribution arrangement outdated.

Ethno-territorial and religious factor in border disputes

National building in Central Asia in the Soviet era did not fit organically into the historical and economic development of the peoples in the region. Each innovation contravenes established norms, leading to conflicts between different groups. In this case, ethno-territorial communities had come into conflict. The administrative borders within the USSR, in fact, did not reflect economic and ethnic lifestyles. This was not that obvious during the Soviets, but after the collapse, the disputes worsened. As a result, the new republics shaped a situation where the same ethnic group became either the titular nation in one state or acquired the status of a minority in the territory of another.

Some experts argue that the highest degree of interethnic tension between the Kyrgyz Republic and the Republic of Tajikistan is observed in the southern part of the Isfara district in the Sughd region (Chorku, Surkh, Vorukh and Shurab jamaats) and in the western part of the Batken region (the municipalities of Ak-Sai, Samarkandek, and Ak- Tatyr). In a time of a serious escalation from 2000 to 2014, civilians often used stones and garden tools and committed arson. Political analysts call these conflicts “ketmen wars”.

However, during the conflict in January 2014, a new round of escalation has taken place. The Kyrgyz government has begun the construction of an alternative road along the villages of Kok-Tash – Ak-Sai – Tamdyk, which will bypass the Tajik enclave of Vorukh. On January 11, soldiers from the Tajik border service arrived at the construction site, and a clash ensued between them and the workers paving the road.  Kyrgyz and Tajik border guards used weapons in the confrontation. Five Kyrgyz soldiers and three Tajik soldiers were injured, as a result. If previous disputes escalated into “Ketmen wars” with clashes between civilians only, then starting in 2014 the conflict escalated into an open confrontation with the involvement of regular army units and with the use of supposedly mortars or grenade launchers.

In September 2019, as a result of yet another incident along the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border, a school building in the Kyrgyz village of Maksat was allegedly damaged by a mortar shell; an observation tower was destroyed by a grenade launcher; private houses were damaged; there were casualties. Photo: turmush.kg 

One might as well bring up religion. It normally does not play any major unfortunate role in relations between the Kyrgyz and Tajik communities. Although Islamization is a case in the Fergana Valley, especially among young people. Of great concern is the activity of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Hizb-ut-Tahrir that create their own cells on the territory of Kyrgyzstan, successfully utilizing the difficult social and economic situation and human rights violation by state bodies in their own interests.

The militarization of the border zone as a factor in rising tensions

To begin with, the border zone in the Batken region of the Fergana Valley is extremely vulnerable in military terms. It is not hard to cut off most of the region from the rest of Kyrgyzstan by blocking travel routes.

It is therefore a matter of concern that the conflict gradually qualifies as a chronic condition of permanent tension. Kyrgyz side is concerned with the presence in tense zones of individuals on the Tajik side who had been actively involved in the civil war. So in January 2014, when another serious escalation, accompanied by military shootings, has taken place in the border zone[11], Kyrgyzstan’s Foreign Ministry sent a note to Dushanbe pointing out the presence of such a controversial figure as General Iskandarzoda Mahmudsho (otherwise he is called Muhammadshokh Iskandarov or Shokha Iskandarov) in the Vorukh enclave[12].

Iskandarzoda Mahmudsho

General Iskandarzoda Mahmudsho arrived in Vorukh after an exchange of fire on the Isfara-Batken border, following which 8 Tajik and Kyrgyz border guards were wounded. Also, after another conflict in December 2018, Iskandarov was appointed head of the Isfara police department[13], which is located adjacent to the border of Kyrgyzstan. In 2019, he was also seen in another conflict zone that experienced a fluctuation in conflict dynamics after easing of tensions in 2014.

The new turn of the spiral of worsening relations had been observed in 2019, when the place known as the “football field”, where a livestock market was set up on Sundays, turned into the venue of the most violent clash of the military, which resulted in the killing of three Tajik and one Kyrgyz serviceman. Nearly two dozen military and civilians were injured from both sides. During this time, the border zone had been sending indications of impending hostilities between the two countries. In the meantime, displacement across disputed territory has deteriorated.

Lack of an effective and efficient information policy model as a factor fueling the conflict potential

Access to educational official information in transboundary communities raises many questions. As a rule, state newspapers of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan do not cover border conflicts, at best limiting themselves to a brief description of the events, finger-pointing at rivals, and assessing their actions in a negative way. Independent print media that are inaccessible to the population due to their price and limited distribution channels do not spell it out for local communities. The coverage of the region by electronic media is rather low. State television and radio broadcasts usually give few details about the situation in the border areas. Satellite television is one of the few channels for keeping abreast of the border situation. In such circumstances, unverified information and rumors are widely spread. Besides, there is a great danger of mythologizing the events, thus weakening analyses and hampering decision-making.

Today, information on activities of the Interstate Parity Commission on the Demarcation and Delimitation of State Boundaries; on the discussion at the Intergovernmental Commission on the Integrated Treatment of Bilateral Issues; on the outcome of joint meetings; on the measures taken by local authorities has more force and validity than ever. Border communities are typically not aware of steps taken in relation to misconduct committed by law enforcement officials. It is not communicated at rural gatherings of local communities either.

In fact, information about the processes of delimitation and demarcation of the state borders of the two countries remains confidential. That has brought residents of border regions and the country’s civic activists onto the streets in local communities and Bishkek. For instance, on January 15, protesters near the White House in Bishkek put forward several demands before the government. As we know, this rally ended with the detention of some of the protesters, and their demands, by and large, were not met.

A protester in Bishkek on January 15, 2019, demands to rectify the conflict situation on the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border. Nearly 70 people took part in the protest. Photo: vesti.kg

Some journalists of non-state media often cover situation at the border rather emotionally and with negative reports. And some might allow for unconfirmed information from local residents based on rumors. This can escalate tensions by giving a rise to negative attitudes among groups along the border. It is therefore critical to work with journalists who cover border disputes. It is significant that usually international and non-governmental organizations work on training conflict journalism practitioners.

The analysis suggests that the speedy resolution of the cross-border issue is a priority for Kyrgyzstan. We argue this judgment with reasons why Bishkek expeditiously needs to address disputed territories with Tajikistan.

In lieu of a conclusion

Central Asia is the most densely populated region of the former USSR (approx. 70 million people). A so-called Malthusian trap arises as a result: population growth is ahead of agricultural growth, thus provoking conflicts over the available resources.

Statistics suggest that the populations of Batken and Sughd regions are growing disproportionately. This is due, on the one hand, to the dramatic change in the demographic situation of the two states and nations, and on the other hand, to migration flows. As we can see from the table[14], the population of the border regions grew, though in a disproportionate ratio. Whilst the population in the Sughd region over 19 years increased by more than 1 million people, in Batken it lingered at about half a million people. Batken still sends the most migrant workers, 2 times higher than it accepts. The demographic factor, therefore, does not favor Kyrgyzstan in resolving the border issue.

Nearly 80 thousand people live in the Uzbek border enclave Sokh; the territory stretched for about 325 square kilometers (the territory of the enclave in 2020 is 350 square kilometers). Most of the residents are ethnic Tajiks. It is noted that 16 years ago, about 50 thousand people lived in the enclave, whereas the Uzbek enclave of Shakhimardan was populated by nearly 10 thousand people. About 4 thousand live in Uzbekistan’s Kyrgyz enclave of Barak.

Corruption impairs an already convoluted interethnic enmity. Corruption is quite diverse; it has a strong presence in many areas of relations of state and local authorities with the local population. By engendering an unfair attitude of locals to the authorities, it increases the potential for conflict. Corrupt practices had been exposed in the lease of property and farmland to relatives or Tajik citizens; in facilitating the smuggling of fuel and lubricants or facilitating drug trafficking. Kyrgyz and Tajik citizens encounter impunity from the security forces and law enforcement agencies when crossing borders. The law outrage that reigned in the distribution of land and resources also augmented the potential for conflict in the Fergana Valley. Further, the lands sold to the citizens of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan might and will constitute a stumbling block to addressing the cross-boundary issue.

Henceforth, completing delimitation and demarcation of state boundaries will not shelve the entire conflict potential. There is certainly a need for a lasting comprehensive approach with elaboration on an adequate and effective model of cross-border cooperation. The problem should first be addressed in the socio-economic dimension, and not in the political one. For this, decision-makers should have prepared various scenarios and case studies (National Institute for Strategic Studies could have taken over this job, establishing a forecasts division under the Institute). But either way, it will be difficult to address this sensitive issue, while overlooking the interests of local groups. What will these countries do? Will they build walls, or will they follow the civilized path of addressing the issue in a way that reflects the political will and fate of Kyrgyzstan’s state boundaries?

This material has been prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial board or the donor.

[1] На кыргызско-таджикской границе произошел инцидент — стреляли в воздух. Sputnik.kg. https://ru.sputnik.kg/society/20201025/1050198168/batken-incident-tadzhikistancy-vystrel-pogranichniki.html    

[2] A patch of 22,000 sq.km. land is populated by nearly 15 million people, thus making Ferghana Valley the most densely populated valley in Central Asia (650 people per sq.km.)

[3] Data from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan’s public sources vary.

[4] А. Мурзакулова, Вызовы социальной сплоченности и напряженности на границе Кыргызстана и Таджикистана, УЦА, 2018, режим доступа: https://www.ucentralasia.org/Content/downloads/Challenges%20of%20Social%20Cohesion_RUS.pdf

[5]  By 1992 agreement signed by Akayev and Karimov reservoir was to pass to Kyrgyzstan’s balance.

[6] By 2019 figures, Batken overtook the city of Osh.

[7] Баткенская область КР — самая зависимая от доходов трудовых мигрантов, ИА Акчабар, 12.06.2019, режим доступа: https://www.akchabar.kg/ru/news/11-7-obshchikh-dokhodov-naseleniya-zarabotok-za-predelami-KR/

[8] Пайрав Чоршанбиев, Уровень бедности в Таджикистане сократился, но гумпомощь все еще отправляют, ИА Азия плюс, 19 декабря 2019, https://www.asiaplustj.info/ru/news/tajikistan/economic/20191219/uroven-bednosti-v-tadzhikistane-sokratilsya-no-gumpomotsh-vse-etshe-otpravlyayut

[9] Абдулхолики Холики, Рахимов Н. Т. ПОЛИТИЧЕСКИЕ ПРОБЛЕМЫ МЕЖДУНАРОДНЫХ ОТНОШЕНИЙ, ГЛОБАЛЬНОГО И РЕГИОНАЛЬНОГО РАЗВИТИЯ, https://cyberleninka.ru/article/n/spornye-territorii-kak-ochagi-napryazhennosti-na-granitse/viewer

[10]  К. Токтомушев, Социальная сплоченность и осмысление конфликтов в приграничных районах Кыргызстана и Таджикистана, Бишкек 2017, режим доступа: https://www.ucentralasia.org/Content/Downloads/UCA-IPPA-WP40-Promoting%20Social%20Cohesion%20and%20Conflict%20Mitigation-RUS.pdf

[11] Recall that on January 11, 2014, in the water intake zone, located on the outskirts of the Tajik village of Somonien and the Kyrgyz village of Kak-Tash, there has been a clash between the border troops of the two countries. As a result, 8 Kyrgyz and 3 Tajik border guards were wounded. Tajik side argues that there was a violation of the 2008 protocol, which prohibits the construction of facilities on the disputed territory.

[12] At this point, the field general was the head of the militia in a completely different area. Shokha Iskandarov, a former field commander, a graduate of the FSB Academy, commanded a detachment of the United Tajik opposition during the civil war. He is one of the most experienced combat commanders of the Tajik border troops. It is known that he maintained friendly ties with Karimov’s opponent – the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) – Juma Namangani. In November 1998, he headed one of the Mujahideen groups in the government’s military operation against the gangs of Mahmud Khudoiberdiyev in the Sughd region. When in 2000 the IMU militants broke into the Batken region, Iskandarov acted as a mediator in the negotiations between the Kyrgyz side and the IMU militants on the release of the foreigners taken hostage. Repeatedly with his detachment, he opposed the attempts of the Islamist detachments of Mullo Abdullo to break into the valley of the Kyzylsu river in Chon-Alai. There is also speculation that Tajiks are returning from war zones in the Middle East.

[13] The new status indicates Iskandarov’s demotion, however, no information was found anywhere that he fell into disgrace to I. Rakhmon.

[14] The data obtained from public sources of the statistical committees of the Kyrgyz Republic and the Republic of Tajikistan, as well as the “Demoscope” sociological center.

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