Border problems – a threat to Central Asia’s future

Border problems – a threat to Central Asia’s future

Baku, Azerbaijan, Aug. 6

By Elena Kosolapova - Trend:

Two days ago, there was a shootout along the border of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, which resulted in the injury of six Tajiks. As of now, the border agencies of the two sides are negotiating to settle this difficult situation.

This incident is not the first of its kind in the Fergana Valley, where Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have adjoining borders.

Such clashes in the region occur several times a year, often involving not only the border villages' residents, but also the border guards of the sides.

For example, an Uzbek border guard was wounded in a shootout on the border of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan in late June.

Each time the conflicting parties' stories about the incidents differ from each other so much that they seem to be about completely different things.

And each time the conflicting parties accuse each other of unlawful acts, violation of borders, assuring that the other side first opened fire, and that their own border service operated as part of national and international laws. This springs not only from the parties' desire to free themselves of guilt, blaming the other side, but also from the fact that hundreds of kilometers of borders stretching in the region haven't been delimited in the nearly 25 years of independence.

As a result, there are many disputed areas, and each side considers those areas as its own.

It is very difficult to conduct delimitation due to the extremely variegated ethnic composition in the region. Uzbek, Tajik and Kyrgyz villages are located alternately, their populations have shared ponds, pastures, fields, the road to which for the residents of one nationality often runs through the settlement of another ethnic group.

In addition, the region has several exclaves, and it is necessary to cross the territory of another state in order to pass to/from their territories from the main territory of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. This creates difficulties in providing the population of these regions with food, water and any other necessary products, as well as the movement of the residents between the mainland and the exclave.

As a rule, the reason for conflicts in the region to begin is that one side blocks water or the way to some territories to the other side. So, according to the information spread in the Tajik media, the current conflict began with the fact that the residents of the Kyrgyz village Kuktosh blocked the canal bed, the water of which is used by residents of the Tajik Chorkuh jamoat. In response, residents of Chorkuh jamoat blocked the road leading to the Kyrgyz cemetery, which runs on the Tajik side.

The situation in the Ferghana Valley is also being complicated by high population density - the highest in Central Asia, and a very low standard of living in the region. Food and water, which are available here, are not enough to meet the needs of local residents. The region's population is occupied mainly in agriculture using outdated irrigation methods, which create high water costs.

Nevertheless, the population continues to grow, while the depth of water reservoirs fall due to the high and extremely wasteful and inefficient consumption.

All these mean that the tension in the region will only grow if no immediate steps are taken to address the existing problems.

Many countries resolve border problems by exchanging the areas and resettling the population to other regions.

However, in the case of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, this option can hardly be used.

First, there will be need to resettle thousands of residents.

Second, the fulfillment of such measures will require considerable amount of funds which the poor states of the region simply do not have.

Finally, it is highly likely that the people, whose ancestors lived in this region for centuries, will refuse to move.

Use of force in the region won't bring results either. Ferghana Valley is not the only region in Central Asia with a multinational population. Almost all regions of Central Asian countries boast about it.

Infringement of the rights of any national group in one region can lead to inter-ethnic clashes in other regions.

Given the growing threat of terrorism from Afghanistan and Middle East, instability in any country is very dangerous both for the country itself and its neighbors.

Therefore, the governments of Central Asian states and residents of the region will have to accept the situation of diverse ethnic population in the valley as a given.

One cannot set strict limits in the Ferghana Valley and introduce strict control over the movement of people from one republic to another. Any attempt to do this will exacerbate the situation and lead to new victims.

The governments must strive for more integration and cooperation in the region, rather than try to divide the population of the region in to one people versus others to prevent conflicts in the future. The existing problems in the region must be solved jointly.

It is necessary to develop the technologies that will save water, create new facilities. Local people can be employed there. All this will be possible by attracting foreign investors who will come to the region only if the authorities of the regional countries guarantee stability.

Moreover, it is naive to expect that for example, the use of drip irrigation and strengthening of sanitary protection against contamination from one side of the river can give results in case of the uncontrolled consumption of water and discharge of pesticides on the other side. This will be a waste of money. Their complex use, involvement and interest of all regional countries are necessary for the effectiveness of any measures.

Thus, while resolving the regional problems, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan depend on each other. None of the countries will solve its problems at the expense of a neighbor. And the prosperity of each country in particular and the region as a whole in the future will only be possible with dialogue and mutual understanding.

Edited by CN

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Elena Kosolapova is Trend Agency's staff journalist, follow her on Twitter: @E_Kosolapova

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