Tashkent and Bishkek have entered the final stage in delimitation of the state borders. The parties are optimistic in their reports about “another successful round of talks that allowed alleviating contradictions” and that there are 28 sections of the state border that need to be agreed upon. Meanwhile, a statement made by the Uzbek foreign ministry where some underlying message can be found has taken a back seat. The statement ran that those border sections are enlisted where the positions of the parties coincide. Talking to an EADaily correspondent, deputy speaker of the Uzbek parliament upper house Sodyq Safayev said that “President Shavkat Mirziyoyev sets the task to solve problems together instead of evading them.”
“Uzbekistan has been pursuing intensive regional policy. Priority nature of the relations with the neighbors is the ABC of diplomacy. In recent months, the things are being done that were to be done always,” the senator says. According to him, Uzbekistan is ready for a dialog on the acutest issues.
The total length of the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border is 1,379 km, 1,055 of them are delimited, 28 sections are a complicated issue. They are located in Ala-Buka and Aksy districts. They comprise enclaves established in the Soviet period. There are eight enclaves in the Fergana Valley which is now divided between Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. Uzbek enclaves Sokh and Shohimardon are located in Kyrgyzstan. Sokh is the biggest enclave; it consists of 19 villages with 60,000 population and lies in the territory of 352 square kilometers. 99% of the population are Tajiks. The area also has a Tajik enclave called Vorukh and a Kyrgyz village called Barak which is in the territory of Uzbekistan. Barak has a territory of 4 square kilometers and several hundred people/ The borders of the enclaves are a constant reason for conflicts. The situation becomes even worse, as there are facilities there that lies in the territory of one republic, but belongs to institutions of another one.
Tashkent and Bishkek have intensified the talks on delimitation of borders recently. Since 2014, there have been several armed conflicts between border guards. The crisis made Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan close all border check-points in 2016 for several months. However, after the power change in Tashkent, there has been some thaw in the relations. Uzbekistan put normalization of the relations with neighboring countries on the list of priority foreign-policy issues.
Kyrgyz political analyst Mars Sariyev has told EADaily that a work group for border issues “is working fruitfully.” According to him, the Kyrgyz-Uzbek relations have come to normal. “The message is coming from the Uzbek side, while Bishkek welcomes the initiative and supports the neighbor,” Sariyev says. According to him, the air connection is to be restored fully between the countries in a short period. He believes that there are premises for stable and friendly relations between Tashkent and Bishkek.
The head of Central Asia and Kazakhstan Department of the CIS Institute Andrey Grozin is more skeptical about the recent developments. “One can do nothing but welcome changes for better in the issue of delimitation and demarcation of the borders. The parties have made a lot of mess within last twenty five years regarding their attitudes towards the enclaves and disputable border sections. One can only welcome that at least they are showing effort to demonstrate good will in the issue. However, the matter is they are discussing now only those sections that have not or almost have not caused debates between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. So, I think that the achievements in delimitation are more result of promotion than a matter of fact,” Grozin has said to EAD. He believes that such excessive promotion can harm the process in future, while one should not expect any soon settlement in the issue of disputable sections.
“When people, after being inspired by the current triumphant statements, face the fact that the agreements are stuck in mutually excluding national interests of the two countries, they will be disappointed. This can make them frustrated, like it is happening concerning other issues, starting from the partnership with China and ending with the economic relations with Russia in the frameworks of the EAEU. Every time the countries in the region cannot help but put the cart before the horse inspiring false expectations. Let’s take for instance Kyrgyzstan’s joining the EAEU. All the current assessments full of disappointment made by experts, politicians, and pessimistic data of the polls are mainly stipulated by the fact that Bishkek not only took its part of the job half-heartedly, but it was too actively stating that there is only one step left to happiness,” says Grozin.
According to the expert, the situation can recur regarding the border issues. It is not a problem of just two countries; it is true about the whole region. Tajikistan is playing the same game, although not that actively, as for Kyrgyzstan the issue also concerns domestic problems due to the coming presidential election. “It will not be a surprise for me, if many triumphant statement being made by Bishkek are stipulated only by the current immediate tactics of the ruling Social Democratic Party and the president’s team. I am not sure that it will be easy to establish a certain basis for solving issues regarding the 300 km of the disputable border, that are subject to most mutual claims connected with water management, border control, corruption and so on. The countries will have to spare years for it, even if they are lucky to avoid political, economic, and social disturbances. It is hard to say now, if they will need five or ten years for it, but it is a lot time needed to solve the problematic issues. Some issues cannot be solved, there are areas which are considered by the parties differently, as they operate contradicting maps,” Andrey Grozin states.
As he puts it, there are more complicated areas, problems in which can be lifted only on the basis of mutual concessions, exchange or cession of territories. Any transfer of territory is met very negatively by the public. Of course, everyone can see the example of Russia and Kazakhstan, but the countries managed to fulfill their previous agreements. Besides, the countries are so big, they can afford operating territories of several dozen thousands square kilometers.
“I do not think, Tajikistan or Kyrgyzstan have such determination. Besides, within the 25 years, shadow infrastructure connected with illegal trafficking, shadow exports has established there. It does not necessarily mean only criminal issues like drugs from Afghanistan, arms and so on. Although this is also taking place. The matter concerns large-scale flows of goods. This means big money. If they try to put things in order on the border, impose a stricter control system, this will harm economic interests of many people, influential people. But they somehow forget about it, when unrest appears on certain border sections. It concerns the Tajik-Uzbek, Kyrgyz-Uzbek and even Kyrgyz-Kazakh borders, although to a lesser extent. They are caused by grassroot interests of the not-public part in the local governance, or the public one that intertwined with not public one. It is a very significant and serious disincentive in settling border disputes,” Grozin says.
EADaily's Central Asian Bureau