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Complicated Border Negotiations, And…

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan recently agreed a complete ceasefire immediately after the two Central Asian neighbours got involved in border clashes, which claimed 48 lives and displaced more than 33,000 civilians. The local media reported that fresh shooting and troop build-ups by both the parties triggered a fresh tension in the region in the last week of April 2021.

The heads of the Kyrgyz and Tajik State Security bodies announced the agreement in a joint press conference on May 1 soon after Kyrgyzstan’s Border Guard Service claimed that the Tajik troops opened fire on Kyrgyz vehicles on their side of the border. “The tragedy that happened in the border area must never happen again,” stated Saimumin Yatiyev, the head of Tajikistan’s State National Security Committee, in the presence of his Kyrgyz counterpart Kamchybek Tashiyev during the media conference.

Dozens were killed in clashes between Kyrgyz and Tajik security forces

Later, Presidents of the two countries discussed the issue over phone, and agreed to take necessary steps in order to ensure regional peace. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, too, talked to them, requesting Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to respect the Ceasefire Agreement. It may be noted that the two former Soviet Republics still host Russian military bases, and consider Russia as their strategic ally.

In the last week of April, Kyrgyzstan had strongly criticised neighbouring Tajikistan for building up troops and piling military equipment near the border region after the clashes near the de facto Tajik enclave of Vorukh. The Border Guard Service of Kyrgyzstan claimed that the Tajik troops opened fire on Kyrgyz vehicles near a Kyrgyz village. As a result, thousands of people, living in the area, remained cut off from the rest of the country. The Border Guards further blamed the Tajik troops for blocking a road in the disputed region…

Meanwhile, both Bishkekp and Dushanbe have admitted that clashes between the two Armed Forces broke out along the border between the Tajik Province of Sughd and southern Kyrgyz Province of Batken due to a dispute over a reservoir and pump (claimed by both sides) on the Isfara River. Villagers from opposing sides started pelting stones at each other and then, the Border Guards of the two countries joined the fray with guns and mortars. Kyrgyzstan issued a statement, saying that Tajikistan deployed an attack helicopter in the region. While a Kyrgyz border outpost and some houses were set on fire on the Kyrgyz side, a bridge on the Tajik side was badly damaged by shelling. Later, the Tajik authorities stated that 15 people, including four Border Guards, had been killed on their side.

The AFP news agency reported that it failed to send its correspondent to the conflict zone in Batken, as Kyrgyz men got involved in a clash with the Kyrgyz soldiers between the Village of Min-Bulak and the Town of Isfana. The AFP also reported that several hundred people rallied outside the Government Offices in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek, demanding the Government hand them weapons to fight at the border. The Office of Kyrgyz President Sadyr Nurgozhoevich Japarov stressed in a statement that it would not be possible for the Government to meet the demonstrators’ demands, “because they are fraught with consequences”.

Protesters hold a rally in Bishkek to demand authorities hand over weapons to volunteers willing to support residents of Kyrgyzstan’s southern Batken Province

Border dispute between Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, which share the fertile Fergana Valley, is an old issue that had started because of demarcations made during the Soviet era. Neighbouring Uzbekistan and Russia, which have military bases in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, have offered to mediate the recent conflict.

It may be added that for the past decade, Russia, China, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan have all been involved in high stake negotiations to define their respective borders. Strong-arm politics, economic pressures, shadowy backroom deals, nationalist sentiments, public dissatisfaction and an environment of mutual mistrust have marked this process. The resolution of border issues peacefully and transparently would have a positive impact on regional security, economic cooperation, ethnic relations and efforts to combat drug trafficking and religious extremism. However, the progress has been slow, and no immediate breakthrough can be seen in an all too often antagonistic process that is defining the new map of Central Asia… All the countries in the region are going through an economic crisis and have a wide array of social problems. Political opposition has become radicalised in some areas. In these circumstances, tension over borders is only one further destabilising issue in a difficult political and security environment. Resolving these issues will require great persistence, difficult compromises, intensive international engagement and genuine creativity.

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