09.06.2021 Author: Vladimir Platov

Who is Fanning the Flames of the Kyrgyz-Tajik Сonflict and Why?

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In the last month alone, the situation on the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan escalated for the second time. Kyrgyzstan stated that Tajik military personnel have reinforced the border with military personnel and reported that a sea vessel appeared on the disputed section of the state border at an undisclosed location, with equipment and soldiers on the Tajik side of the border.

Border conflicts between Kyrgyzstan and neighboring Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have been occurring for years with notable regularity. In early 2021, Bishkek held intensive negotiations with Tashkent, announcing a solution to the disputed sections.

However, a similar dialogue with Dushanbe stalled, and a severe clash between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan broke out in April. Let’s recall that the formal reason for the conflict between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan is the seasonal aggravation of relations between the citizens of these two states due to a lack of water and disputes over the hitherto undiminished state border.

The military conflict occurred at a section of the Tajik-Kyrgyz border in late April. It was preceded by a conflict between residents near the Golovnoy water distribution point, whose ownership is disputed by both sides. This is where the water intake that supplies water to the surrounding areas of both countries is located. Tajikistan believes that the Kyrgyz authorities are unfairly distributing water. In spring and summer, when agricultural work begins, water consumption increases tenfold, so conflicts between neighbors escalate.

As a result, according to official data, the April four-day conflict on the Kyrgyz-Tajik border claimed the lives of 44 people, 36 of whom were citizens of Kyrgyzstan. 180 Kyrgyz and 110 Tajiks were injured. On the territory of Kyrgyzstan, medical and educational buildings, infrastructure, 170 residential houses and other movable and immovable property of local citizens were destroyed. The Prosecutor General’s Office of the Kyrgyz Republic described the border conflict as military aggression from the Tajik side. Border problems between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have existed since 1993, but no one expected a conflict of this intensity on the border between the two countries.

Armed conflicts on the border between the republics have arisen more than once over disputes over water and the state border, which is 976 km long. Only 519 km have been clarified and delimited, the rest of the line remains disputed. This conflict is the quintessence of the complex territorial contradictions that exist between the two countries and between the two peoples. The large number of enclaves of the neighboring state is largely to blame. As a result, the border is very peculiar and it is very difficult to demarcate the borders. Therefore, such conflicts periodically arise and there are even fears that they may reach the scale of Nagorno-Karabakh….

The Collective Security Treaty Organization has consistently and actively worked to end the conflict. The CSTO Secretary General Stanislav Zas called the Chairmen of the Security Councils of both countries, urging them to stop the violence. Largely thanks to his efforts, the conflict ended and the sides moved to establish a conciliation commission. Significant peacemaking efforts have also been undertaken by Moscow, including by Russian President Vladimir Putin personally in direct contacts with the leaders of both Central Asian states.

Nevertheless, in the regional press one can more often find assessments of various experts that behind the formal cause of this conflict lies the desire of Western countries, primarily of the USA, to kindle a “ring of fire” around Russia, to expand this local conflict into a civilization conflict and to give it the character of a clash between Persian and Turkic vectors of power.

A significant confirmation of this point of view is the active desire of the United States in recent months to gain a foothold in the countries of Central Asia and establish its military bases there to replace those lost in Afghanistan due to the withdrawal of the US troops from there. However, these attempts are opposed by Russia, and with it China, as a result of which Washington has gone to explicitly push through its non-governmental organizations and other local opportunities in Central Asia the population of the region to aggravate the internal situation in the region. The US-controlled local media played an important role in this, as did such US and Pentagon-funded media outlets as the outspoken US foreign agent Karavansarai, which tendentiously portrayed the situation. An analysis of social networks shows that facts are distorted and fakes are spread within the framework of the information war already launched by the West to inflate the conflict between the residents of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, to involve other countries, including Turkey, in this confrontation, and also to discredit Russia as a partner of the Central Asian states.

On April 15, the New York Times acknowledged that US officials have been in contact with authorities in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan about the possibility of using bases in the region amid withdrawal from Afghanistan. A week before the April conflict on the Kyrgyz-Tajik border, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken held a series of online consultations with the foreign ministers of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan in the C5+1 cooperation format, also trying to induce these countries to work more closely with the United States and address issues of benefit to Washington after the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.

In addition to this format, three lines were involved: US, Afghanistan + Central Asian country that shares a border with Afghanistan. In particular, on March 17, similar online talks were held with Tajikistan at the level of foreign ministers with the participation of the US Under Secretary for Political Affairs David Hale. Similar talks were held by Washington with Bishkek, after which, in particular, according to Nezigar Telegram channel, a staff of 400 “military consultants” was moved to the US Embassy in Bishkek. According to the official White House position, they were sent to supposedly “prevent the negative consequences of the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan and reduce overall tensions in the region.” The Diplomat freely admitted that in addition to solving the Afghan problem, the US “intends to demonstrate its comprehensive presence in Central Asia and counteract the influence of China and Russia in the region.”

By demonstrating its intention to return to Central Asia, the United States is trying to offer its services in “pacifying” Bishkek and Dushanbe, in fact pursuing its goal of turning Central Asia into a military hotbed in order to draw resources from Russia, and with it China, to “extinguish” this conflict. In such actions, Washington can already see the tendency of the West to turn the situation between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan into a mirror situation that was created in the South Caucasus, which Moscow is trying to prevent.

In this context, with the active participation of Moscow, the signing of a protocol within the framework of the working meeting of the State Commission on the delimitation and demarcation of the state border of the Kyrgyz Republic and the Republic of Tajikistan on June 5 of this year was a worthy response to western attempts to destabilize the situation on the Kyrgyz-Tajik border and in Central Asia, in general. According to the parties, the difficult situation that has developed recently at this section of the state border has been resolved peacefully.

Vladimir Platov, expert on the Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.


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