Unresolved border issues are one of the reasons why some countries in Central Asia regularly have discrepancies and find themselves on the brink of armed conflicts. Yet, some forces obviously seek to keep tensions high. Recently, referring to Central Asian resources, EADaily reported that Uzbekistan launched construction of a road in a territory it has a dispute over with Kyrgyzstan. Uzbekistan has recently opened border posts in that territory triggering a scandal with Bishkek. Later, trying to find out whether the situation changed, we applied to Kyrgyzstan’s border service. We were told that the Uzbek side is building nothing in the disputable territory. EADaily requested comments from Dmitry Orlov, Director General at Strategy East-West LLC, a Kyrgyz Analytical Center, on the reasons of simmering conflicts, discrepancies of the region’s countries over border-related issues.
Borders between the Central Asian countries have become a territory of permanent disputes. The countries have not managed to complete the delimitation and demarcation of borders within 25 years. What is the reason?
At present, Kazakhstan is the only Central Asian state to have its borders specified with Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan. However, the water borders with Turkmenistan in the Caspian Sea and the border between Astana and Ashkhabad have not been finally determined.
As for the Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan–Tajikistan borders, it is necessary to look into the history of the issue here. Bishkek launched border talks with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan several times in different periods, but Tashkent and Dushanbe insisted that delimitation of their countries’ borders with Kyrgyzstan should be in line with the national-territorial delimitation documents of 1924.
On what did Bishkek insist?
As regards Uzbekistan, it insists that its border is delimitated basing on the documents of the Parity Commission of 1955 of the two republics’ Council of Ministers and the border description approved by the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the Kyrgyz SSR in 1961. As for Tajikistan, Bishkek insisted that the borders are determined by the documents of the Parity Commissions of the Councils of Ministers of 1958-59 and 1989.
By various data, there are 70-100 disputable areas in 1,378 kilometers along the border of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Delimitation and demarcation of borders was continued until 2010 and then was stopped.
As for Tajikistan, its total border with Kyrgyzstan was estimated at 520km by the two governments in 2015. The sides agreed that the remaining 55 km will be determined by a topographic task group. There is still 396km disputable border.
There are of course other problems too. However, these problems and any other ones can be settled in case of ability and willingness to make an agreement. As long as there is no ability and willingness, the region will remain prone to conflicts for long years. Border problems in Central Asia have no military solution. No one, be it Russia, CSTO, SCO, UN, or OSCE, can mediate the border disputes, unless the authorities in Bishkek, Dushanbe and Tashkent show willingness to make an agreement.
It turns out that by admitting Kyrgyzstan to the EEU, Russia has received a simmering conflict in the zone of its geopolitical influence. Some observers have already forecast that Central Asia will be the next hotspot of tensions after Karabakh. Is it so? What may trigger such tensions? Will it be water, like President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov said? Will it be energy or penetration of extremist movements across the border?
Let us find out which are the general reasons of conflicts. The first reason may be conflict of interests, when the goals and aspirations of one country do not coincide with the ones of the other. The second reason of conflict is limited resources. Figuratively speaking, there is a ‘pie’ to divide, but how to do it, if everyone claims a bigger piece? The third reason of a conflict is vain and unvoiced expectations, and the fourth reason is emotions and sufferings of the sides. Do we see all these reasons in the border disputes of Kyrgyzstan with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan? Sure, we do, if it comes to territories, water and energy. Negotiations are needed just to remove these reasons.
As for penetration of militants of extremist groups across the borders, not everything is that easy here. Many think the extremist movement ISIS that is banned in Russia may penetrate into Central Asia. There is an element of truth in it. However, to do it and to do it successfully, that movement needs to destroy all its enemies in the Middle East, first. Since ISIS has many enemies there – Russia’s Aerospace Force alone is enough – this movement will hardly reach Central Asia soon.
Another matter that there is breeding ground for ISIS inside the Central Asian countries. What makes ISIS fundamentally different from all the other terrorist groups that have ever existed is that its propaganda is based on social problems rather than on religion. They say, look at the mansions and cars of your rulers and your own living conditions. Withdrawal of this breeding ground depends on two things: efficiency and manageability of the force structures of the regional countries and their social policy. If it is aimed at improving living standards of the population, ISIS propaganda will fail, of course. If nothing is changed, a “big outbreak” in Central Asia will be inevitable. The leaderships of the Central Asian countries must understand this, at least for elementary instinct of self-preservation.