President of Kyrgyzstan Sooronbay Jeenbekov started an official two-day visit to Tajikistan on February 1. In the trip to Dushanbe, he is accompanied by an impressive delegation of representatives of the executive and legislative authorities of Kyrgyzstan, a total of about 25 people, six of which are ministers and heads of departments.
The program of the visit includes negotiations with Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, the prime minister, and speaker of the parliament of this country. The sides are expected to exchange views on issues of cooperation, as well as discuss the delimitation and demarcation of the state border, the most sensitive problem of the Kyrgyz-Tajik relations, which often led to violent conflicts of the population in the border area, in which, as a rule, law enforcers had to intervene. Several times serious confrontations were avoided simply by miracle. The situation was solved at a high level literally at the last moment. But this problem has not gone away. The conflict situation in several border areas, where "enclave settlements" were laid down in line with the Soviet tradition, have acquired a smoldering effect, and may burst at any moment.
The length of the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan is 971 kilometers. In early 2016, the Kyrgyz-Tajik commission for delimitation and demarcation of the state border came to consensus on almost 520 km. At this point the work stalled: the parties rely on their own maps and sources that contradict each other.
In some areas, the situation is exacerbated by a complex landscape, in others by the keen interest of local residents to retain a source of water, a piece of arable land or even a cemetery. The most difficult situation is registered in densely populated areas. This is where the highest potential for conflict arises, and, as already noted, it was here that the tension between Kyrgyz and Tajiks almost turned into fighting clashes between military units of the two countries. According to the State Border Service of Kyrgyzstan, in 2017, unlike the previous ones, it was quieter in this respect, the intensity of small conflicts on the Kyrgyz-Tajik state border decreased, and there were no large ones at all.
However, this was not due to the work of the Kyrgyz-Tajik commission on delimitation and demarcation of the border. The commission has been working sluggishly lately. Having agreed on the almost problem-free 520 kilometers of the border, the sides, rather unenthusiastically, started to tackle the difficult sections, which accounted for almost half of the total length of the border. According to the observers, this "sleepy condition" is probably due to lack of political will at the top to solve the problem once and for all, because the solution can be achieved only on the basis of compromises, however the rulers are not prepared to give in even the smallest details. Moreover, even the agreement, which was drawn up at the agreed 520 km, has not yet been signed.
It will not be signed during Jeenbekov's visit to Dushanbe either. The head of the Foreign Policy Department of the President of Kyrgyzstan’s Office, Aizada Subakozhoev, said that during Sooronbay Jeenbekov’s stay in Tajikistan, the parties will only hold talks on intensifying work on description of the remaining sections. At the same time, she denied rumors that the president's trip was caused by a possible exacerbation of the border situation between the two states or by outside influence. "The visit had been prepared for a long time, and foreign ministries had conducted thorough and painstaking preparation," she said. According to her, the issue of intensifying negotiations on the acute border issue is indeed one of the most important on today's agenda, but other issues, in particular, the work of intergovernmental commissions for cooperation in the trade and economic sphere, are also significant. "Following the talks in Dushanbe, eight documents are to be signed, including a joint statement by the presidents of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan," Subakozhoeva said.
"Despite the fact that Sooronbay Jeenbekov is accompanied by such a representative delegation, the visit is not likely to be sensational, but simply not too meaningful. After the inauguration, the Kyrgyz president managed to visit Astana and Tashkent, and we can assume that after Dushanbe he will fly to Ashgabat with a similar courtesy visit," said Alexander Knyazev, an expert on Central Asia and Middle East. According to him, the relations between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan do not contain any economic content and do not depend on the number of signed contracts and agreements on economic cooperation, the countries have virtually nothing to offer each other. There is practically no industry, their agriculture is similarly oriented and is approximately on the same level, both countries have water and some energy capacities and the same, in fact, "access to the world."
"Border issues could create intrigue about Jeenbekov's visit to Dushanbe, but it was announced prior to it that nothing would be signed. For Tajikistan, transit on the Kyrgyz territory is of some importance. But, given the tension in the border issues, as well as the expectations of Dushanbe in terms of facilitating transit through the territory of Uzbekistan, it is unlikely that we will hear anything new to this effect either for Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan. So, we will most likely have to be satisfied with the declarative statements of the parties about commitment to the CASA-1000 project designed to export electricity from Central to South Asia and jointly counter modern challenges and threats to international terrorism," concluded Alexander Knyazev.
EADaily's Central Asian Bureau