On the border of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan again restless. So far, the losses in the current skirmish do not compare with last year’s. The authorities of the two CSTO member countries are not interested in eliminating the causes of the conflict on the border, experts are sure. “Gazeta.Ru” figured out what is dividing Bishkek and Dushanbe and whether it is possible to reconcile them.
What is it this time
April is becoming a traditional month for Tajiki-stan and Kyrgyzstan to sort things out on the border with the help of weapons. A year ago, such clashes res-ulted in the death of more than 50 people, but did not change the status quo.
In 2022, the conflict between the border guards broke out on April 12. According to the Kyrgyz border service, the Tajik border detachment ignored the demands and went 20 meters deep into the territory of Kyrgyzstan. Shooting opened twice in a day – during the second, Tajikistan fired mortars at the village of Dostuk. On the night of April 13, the parties agreed to withdraw equipment and reinforcements from the zone of contact.
The only person killed in the shootout was a 27-year-old Tajik border guard. On the part of Kyrgyzstan, two wounded are known.
Soon, a meeting of delegations of border services was held at the border, which signed the protocol. The parties agreed to continue the withdrawal of forces drawn to the border during the conflict, and to create a working group that will clarify the routes of movement of border detachments.
President of Kyrgyzstan Sadyr Japarov urged the inhabitants of the republic not to incite conflict and not to offend the leaders of neighboring states. “Negotiations are underway. There are many undescribed kilometers. It takes time. God willing, I intend to resolve this issue before the end of my presidency, ”he wrote, asking also not to spread fakes.
Denis Berdakov, head of the Elchi Institute of Socio-Political Research, explains this appeal of the country’s leader to citizens by the desire to maintain a dialogue.
“There is an understanding that Tajikistan simply has a different political system. There, people can simply bring printouts of insults from social networks to the management, show them, and that’s it – there will be no negotiations,” he says.
What is the controversy about
A significant part of the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan has not been settled since the collapse of the Soviet Union – according to Zhaparov, now 662 km out of 972 km have been described and agreed upon.
The most acute situation is in the Batken region of Kyrgyzstan (the villages of Ak-Sai, Kok-Tash, Samarkandyk) and in the Sughd region of Tajikistan (the villages of Chorku and Surkh). In addition, problems arise around the Vorukh exclave (connected to the main territory of Tajikistan by the only road on which Dushanbe, referring to the maps of the 1920s and 30s, makes its claims). Tajik President Emomali Rahmon dismisses a possible exchange of Vorukh, which he spoke about during a visit there before last year’s conflict.
Different ideas about the ownership of territories are exacerbated by the struggle for limited resources.
So, at the end of April 2021, an armed clash arose at the Golovnoy water intake on the Isfara River, which is used for water supply and irrigation of the territories of three countries at once (including Uzbekistan). Bishkek claims that Golovnoy is located on its territory and that only the Kyrgyz are investing in maintaining the station.
However, Tajikistan thinks otherwise – it is not ready to put up with Kyrgyzstan’s hosting of the facility. Its representatives have begun installing video surveillance equipment on an electric pole, they say, in response to the appearance of a Kyrgyz military post at the disputed site. Be that as it may, then the work of the Tajiks ended in skirmishes, gunfire and numerous casualties.
Andrey Grozin, head of the department for Central Asia and Kazakhstan at the Institute of CIS Countries, believes that last year’s events were provoked by Bishkek.
“Then, before the conflict, there were large-scale military exercises of Kyrgyzstan, that in Tajikistan they unambiguously perceived the demonstration of force and the threat, after which they began to pull armored vehicles to the border. Although, perhaps, this was just an excuse to demonstrate their “coolness”, after all, the Tajiks were the first to strike,” he recalls.
Some give birth, others leave
Stanislav Pritchin, senior researcher at the Center for Post-Soviet Studies at IMEMO RAS, explains that resolving border disputes between Kyrgyz and Tajiks is difficult for a number of reasons.
“The border has not yet been delimited, and even more so, not demarcated. It passes through the Fergana Valley, a complex geographic landscape, a densely populated area, which in Soviet times developed economically and demographically without regard to the state border. And her appearance changed the political situation. All this is complicated by the fact that there are several Tajik enclaves on the territory of Kyrgyzstan. Some people need to cross the border twice to get to, relatively speaking, “continental” Tajikistan,” he says.
The neighboring regions of the two countries have different demographic situations. Just over 500 thousand people live in the Batken region of Kyrgyzstan, created in 1999, and people leave from there, since this is the most remote part of Kyrgyzstan in terms of logistics.
“And in the Sughd region of Tajikistan, on the contrary, there is good dynamics (the population of the region is 2.5 million people. – Gazeta.Ru), so the demand for water, pastures and land for cultivation is growing there. This is one of the conflict factors,” Pritchin is sure.
Denis Berdakov, a political scientist from Kyrgyzstan, agrees with this interpretation.
“Tajiks in that area have an average of 5-7 children, while Kyrgyz have fewer. And they live very poorly, there is no electricity in many villages, the outflow of the Kyrgyz goes both to Bishkek and to Russia. The Tajiks have no strategic desire to settle, simply because time is on their side. Until the authorities of Kyrgyzstan, with the advent of Zhaparov, began to closely deal with the issue, the situation began to move toward a creeping crowding out,” he says.
Berdakov notes that political borders between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have never existed in history.
“These territories were first part of the Kokand Khanate, then in the Russian Empire and the USSR. All the time there were only conditional economic borders, so the appeal of both sides goes to the old maps. But here it is not the same as in Europe, where there are historical borders, at least the borders of the 16th-17th centuries. And now, in fact, the conflict is unresolved: the population in Kyrgyzstan takes the position that nothing should be given away. And Tajikistan, taking into account the demographic factor, is ready to wait at least another 200 years, time is playing on it,” he argues.
Another important factor is that Kyrgyzstan, unlike Tajikistan, is a member of the Eurasian Union (EAEU). Pritchin says that the resulting price differential leads to demand for smuggling to Tajikistan and makes it “a fairly common business.”
“There are a number of players who are interested in having conflicts on the border, allowing the transport of goods. Solving the border issue will bring this out of the gray zone into the white one. Smugglers don’t need it. This is such a sad picture, ”the expert notes.
Good old bonding
In addition to the economic causes of the conflict, experts also identify political ones.
A conflict in a sluggish form, without turning into real hostilities, is beneficial to the authorities of each side in order to achieve their goals, Andrey Grozin believes.
“The conflict has been going on in acute form for only about two years. The current rigidity, on the one hand, is explained by internal political circumstances. Thus, the new Kyrgyz government is trying to build a more rigid power vertical, which requires the consolidation of political forces and the population.
Japarov and his partner, the head of the State Committee for National Security Kamchybek Tashieva, who is directly in charge of the border problem, maintain the image of “tough” brutal guys – they are supposed to behave this way from the point of view of the image of the “fathers of the state.” Their peacekeeping would not be understood in Kyrgyzstan. Tajiks have about the same situation. Rahmon is officially the “Founder of Peace and National Unity – Leader of the Nation”. He needs to demonstrate the same rigidity and the fact that he will not give up an inch of his native land. This is quite organic,” explains the expert.
Grozin says that in recent years Tajikistan has entered a period of power transition from father to son Rustam, which requires the consolidation of the elite.
“And what can consolidate better than a local low-level war? Well, they shoot, it’s unpleasant, but it does not pose a serious threat to the economy. The conflict in its current form does not greatly interfere with both sides. They demonstrate concern for the population, national security, the majority like it both there and there,” the analyst is sure.
Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have approximately the same and rather weak economic, power and financial potential, Grozin is sure. The GlobalFirePower website puts the army of Kyrgyzstan in 90th place in the world ranking of military power, and Tajikistan in 111th place. Grozin believes that these countries can fight mainly on Soviet equipment and weapons.
“Their official military statistics are state secrets. But according to military experts, these two republics are the weakest in Central Asia. The armies there are small due to the economic situation – 10-20 thousand each. Although the Kyrgyz at the end of 2021 for the first time bought Turkish Bayraktar drones, it is not yet entirely clear how many.
But since the end of the 2000s, Russia has been providing the main assistance to both because of the threat from the south: there are deliveries of old military equipment like the BMP-1, self-propelled artillery mounts 2S1 “Carnations”, helicopters, ammunition, spare parts. 95% of the military equipment of the two countries is Soviet or Russian-made. Although the Chinese and Turks give them something, it is not military equipment, but logistical support. Plus military advisers and facilities on the territory of the two countries (in Tajikistan – the largest Russian base of all in terms of the number of personnel abroad),” the expert lists.
Pritchin recalls that Tajikistan went through a civil war in the 1990s, which can be regarded as a fact of having combat experience. Grozin partly agrees with this, who at the same time notes that most of the participants in those events have already completed their service.
Experts agreed that the conflict could hardly be resolved through external mediation.
Last year, it became clear that “in Europe they do not understand what is happening” in the conflict between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, Berdakov points out.
“Then no one supported either side, everyone was just against the shelling. But in general, if there were border posts, then we could go to the UN General Assembly and prove something, but without this there is no point,” he emphasizes.
Grozin believes that the idea of bringing a third party into the conflict is not popular either in Bishkek or Dushanbe.
“Moscow offered its services last year at the level of the Foreign Ministry, in response, every kind of lack of interest was demonstrated. The UN, to put it mildly, is not eager to decide something, and the West would only welcome if some sort of mess were brewed between the two CSTO member countries. There is no one to help here except Russia. But the participants in the conflict are satisfied that “the enemy is at the gates” – everyone needs to rally. Apparently, everything is not so bad as to look for real ways to resolve it. In addition, mutual concessions are needed on both sides, and given the high degree of propaganda, the population will not accept them favorably. Compromise in the current conditions is impossible,” the expert concludes.