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Russia’s rivals benefit from tension in Kyrgyz-Tajik border-zone: interview with Arkady Dubnov

Arkady Dubnov. Photo: meydan. tv

The Tajik-Kyrgyz border-zone in Batken region of Kyrgyzstan has been the focus of attention for several days. Kyrgyz population clashed with the enclave Tajik residents. One of the parties blocked the road to a local cemetery, the other one turned off the water supply in response. Several people were injured in the large-scale clashes. Though the law enforcers say they have managed to take control of the situation, a few Kyrgyz families abandoned their homes and went deep into Kyrgyzstan for safer life. Arkady Dubnov, political analyst, expert on Central Asia, shares his views with EADaily .     

Tension in the Kyrgyz-Tajik border-zone is running high again. Is it just because the border is not delimited or also because of certain inter-ethnic hatred? The conflicts between the Tajik and Kyrgyz residents arise frequently at the slightest provocation, don’t they?  

— I think we deal with several factors. A certain role here belongs to the fact that the border has not been delimited, of course. Neither Dushanbe nor Bishkek show political will to sit at the negotiating table, come to an agreement, resolve the problem and put an end to the ceaseless clashes. Both capitals are fully engaged in their own affairs. One of them is persecuting a political party, trying to bury it in oblivion because the party allegedly constitutes a threat of Islamic extremism. The other one is preparing for parliamentary elections and detecting “foreign agents” at the same time…

This time, though, the authorities responded more or less rapidly, trying to stop the conflict at the grassroots level. In particular, Kyrgyz Prime Minister Temir Sariyev cut short his vacation and initiated an interdepartmental commission to investigate the situation and study the reasons of the escalation. In this light, I should point out the obvious active efforts of the Kyrgyz prime minister, who is preparing for the upcoming presidential race and striving to demonstrate his effectiveness of a responsible political leader. Go ahead, I would tell him…

Given the frequent conflicts in the border-zone, one should not rule out interest of the local national communities’ leaders in those conflicts. By heating up the conflict and then taking an active part in calming the situation, they are scoring gains, strengthening their image and boosting their stature. And finally, the traditional explanation is that the conflicts draw the attention of the Tajik and Kyrgyz societies away from serious problems in both countries.        

The law-enforcers reported twice that they have taken the situation under control. This is not quite right, however. The calm period was followed by tension. Several Kyrgyz families abandoned their homes and went deep into the country. Can we say that the conflict may flare up and become protracted? 

— To a certain extent, we can. The law-enforcers can report whatever they wish, uttering their standard expressions, but the situation itself may be unaware of its “being under control”. People see and feel the situation better and they choose the best possible option to respond to it. There is no mass exodus, but some people have decided to respond by leaving. They spoke volumes. The tension in the border-zone arose much earlier. I would reiterate that the countries’ leaders show no political will yet to resolve the problem. 

The CSTO that includes Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan stays on the sidelines of the explosive situation. Not long ago CSTO Secretary General Nikolay Bordyuzha spoke of the Organization’s possible interference into conflicts. The conflict has lasted for three days but the CSTO has not even made a statement so far. Can we treat it as amorphy and inefficiency of the alliance?

— The CSTO charter envisages collective steps in case of external aggression against any of the CSTO members. There is no external aggression in this case. The conflict itself is too local to need the multilateral organization’s interference. As regards “a statement”, I think the CSTO will first make a reconnaissance in Bishkek, Dushanbe and Moscow. Only after that it will issue a statement to assess the events in the Kyrgyz-Tajik border-zone.

Not only the CSTO, but other organizations in the post-Soviet space keep silence as well. For instance, the Eurasian Economic Union, with Kyrgyzstan being its member and Tajikistan being sort of ready to join it, has made no statement. 

— I would say that at the present point Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are not the states to address acute problems at the internationally accepted level – through compromises and concessions. As regards their EAEU membership, it is not so unambiguous as it seems to be. President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev has only recently signed a relevant document to give his consent to Kyrgyzstan's accession to the EAEU. In the meantime, Astana has not yet settled such an important problem as elimination of the customs points on the Kazakh-Kyrgyz border. This demonstrates Kazakhstan's lack of confidence in Kyrgyzstan. Furthermore, it is not clear yet whether Tajikistan will join the EAEU. The other day, the foreign minister of Tajikistan reiterated that Dushanbe would not rush into the EAEU. It would thoroughly study the issue and the experience of the countries that have already aligned with the Union.

How convincing is the opinion that some external players seek the Kyrgyz-Tajik escalation to destabilize the EAEU “pro-Russian” alliance or even the situation in Central Asia, therefore putting the two neighbors against each other?  

— I have never adhered to any conspiracy theories. In this situation, it is hard to imagine Washington or the NATO leadership in Brussels plotting escalation in the relationship between the Kyrgyz people and the enclave Tajik residents in Kyrgyzstan because of the blocked road to the common cemetery that occupies an area of several hundred square meters. At the same time, I admit that foreign forces are interested in such conflicts that hinder the operation of a quite competent organization under Russia's auspices, which is extending its influence and gaining a foothold in the region.

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