By Oleg Salimov (09/03/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
The governments of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan reported significant progress in consultations on border demarcation and delimitation during their recent meeting in Bishkek. They also announced that an agreement was reached on economic, social, and other forms of cooperation intended to stimulate neighborly and mutually beneficial relationships. At the same time, people living in the border regions of both countries continue to engage in violent clashes and shootouts. A peaceful resolution of the conflict over long-disputed territory will test the political maturity of these Central Asian republics. The outcome of this conflict can predetermine the future development and stability of the region.
The last week of August was marked by multiple meetings between various committees, delegations, and officials from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in Bishkek. The topics of discussion revolved around border issues, economic cooperation, and socio-cultural exchange and assistance. The border dispute delegations met on August 26, the Tajik – Kyrgyz intergovernmental committee had its session on August 27-28, and Kyrgyzstan’s Prime Minister Joomart Otorbayev met Tajikistan’s Deputy Prime Minister Azim Ibrohim on August 28.
The sides discussed the border problem and numerous proposals for increasing bilateral cooperation. As reported by the Kyrgyz government, the border dispute delegations of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan reached an agreement on the simultaneous construction of a road and two bridges, which will connect the Tajik enclave Vorukh on Kyrgyz territory with Tajikistan. The agreement includes provisions on relocating border patrol stations and establishing favorable conditions for timely construction. The delegations endorsed a proposal from the joint investigative committee for impartial examination of all border-related incidents taking place since January 2014 in the disputed territory. The sides exchanged maps with layouts of the border and agreed to intensify the process of delimitation and demarcation.
The session of the Tajik – Kyrgyz intergovernmental committee proved to be the most productive among these meetings. The committee devoted a significant amount of time to discussing issues relating to electric energy. Thus, agreements were reached on mutual assistance in emergency situations in the countries’ electric systems, possible transit of Tajik electricity to Kazakhstan through Kyrgyzstan in 2015, and continued efforts to realize the “CASA – 1000” project. This project foresees the expansion of electric energy trade in Central Asia and South Asia with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan exporting up to 1000 megawatt of electric energy to Pakistan and Afghanistan for up to 15 years. However, as of June 2013, the project’s main investor, the Asian Development Bank, withdrew from the project that must be completed in 2017, citing political instability in Afghanistan. While Russia, the World Bank, and the Islamic Development Bank expressed their interest, the prospects of the project remain unclear. The other resolutions of the committee included water allocation, facilitation of transit impediments, educational exchange, and cooperation in healthcare, culture, and art.
Finally, the meeting between Otorbayev and Ibrohim was mainly dedicated to the problem of demarcation and delimitation of the border between the two countries. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan organized an intergovernmental committee on resolving border disputes in 2001. Out of 971 kilometers of the border, around 500 are disputed. The lack of compromise is compounded by the differences in interpretation of Soviet era maps and Soviet officials’ motivations during Central Asia territorial delimitation in 1924. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan also have simultaneous border disputes with Uzbekistan. All three have enclaves populated by ethnic minorities in the Fergana Valley where their borders connect and interlock. Two Tajik enclaves, Vorukh and Chorku, and two Uzbek enclaves, Sokh and Shakhimardan, are located in Kyrgyzstan, whereas Uzbekistan has the Kyrgyz enclave Barak and the Tajik enclave Sarvak. Besides recent tensions in the Vorukh, Kyrgyzstan experiences frequent conflicts in the Uzbek Sokh enclave. The most recent took place in spring 2013 when a Kyrgyz border patrol was taken hostage by Sokh residents.
While Tajik and Kyrgyz officials were meeting in Bishkek, the situation on the border remained highly volatile. On August 25, right before the Tajik delegation arrived in Kyrgyzstan, five Tajiks were wounded when confronting Kyrgyz authorities on the border of Tajikistan’s Sughd province, increasing the casualties in the territorial dispute. Still, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are ought to find a compromise and overcome the existing disagreements on borderlines. The observed, during the last official meetings, employment of such factors as mutual economic dependency, membership in the same regional organizations such as SCO and CSTO, and common cultural and historic heritage indicate the willingness of both players to prioritize long-term benefits of peaceful coexistence over questionable short-term territorial gains.