A Kyrgyz soldier walks past a burned house after fighting between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in the village of Ak-Sai, Kyrgyzstan, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022.
Credit: AP Photo/Vladimir Voronin
Following the dramatic escalation of violence on the Kyrgyz-Tajik border earlier this month, the heads of the Kyrgyz and Tajik security services signed a protocol on September 25 under which four border posts on each side of the disputed border would be abandoned. It is an attempt to de-escalate, but it is overshadowed by the ongoing trade with bitter accusations of recriminations, dissatisfaction among citizens and a lack of both clarity and trust.
The protocol reportedly agreed on 25 September between the chairman of the Kyrgyz State Committee for National Security Kamchybek Tashiev and the head of Tajikistan’s State Committee for National Security Saimumin Yatimov, both sides have left four border posts each: Tamdyk, Bulak-Bashi, Katta-Tuz and Ak-Sai checkpoints in Kyrgyzstan and the border posts Bedak, Kekh, Karakchikum and Sharshara in Tajikistan. Both sides agreed not to deploy forces to the mentioned border posts and instead introduce mobile border patrols along agreed routes.
As RFE/RL’s Tajik Service noted that the Tajik government did not comment on the details of the agreement reached with Kyrgyzstan. Officials from the Sughd region of Tajikistan said the meeting between border officials concerned the removal of heavy equipment from the border.
On the Kyrgyz side, some have expressed concern that the closure of border posts – the ones named are largely around the Tajik exclave of Vorukh – will allow the exclave to expand into Kyrgyz territory unchallenged. In Batken on September 28, about 100 people gathered near a regional administrative building to get clarification on the reported deal; others demanded the protocol be cancelled. In Bishkek, MPs called for a commission to be set up to study the protocol, noting that it may have been signed but not ratified by parliament. A parliamentary deputy, Sultanbay Aizhigitov, echoed concerns about the protocol de facto ceding Kyrgyz territory between Vorukh and the Tajik mainland. Others have called on Tashiev to resignthat blames his previous “populist statements” on the border and lack of transparency for the latest escalation of violence, saying it “provoked an attack by the armed forces of a neighboring state.”
In response to such criticism, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov reportedly suggested “collects” anyone who spreads “false information” regarding the border and sends them to serve at the border until it is demarcated and demarcated.
A presidential spokesman tried to explain that the two sides were closing outposts near each other that were sources of tension. “There is constant shooting due to minor reasons, which sometimes leads to major conflicts,” presidential press secretary Erbol Sultanbayev said in a Facebook post.
Neither side has released the text of the apparently agreed-upon protocol, which leaves unclear understanding and creates a ripe space for misinformation and disinformation.
Meanwhile on September 26 residents of Somoniyon, a Tajik village, reported the explosion of three mortar shells fired from Kyrgyzstan – neither the Tajik nor Kyrgyz authorities commented on the alleged shelling.
Kyrgyzstan reported 62 citizens dead in the latest conflict, and Tajikistan reported 41 dead (although RFE/RL’s Tajik Service published a list of 74 killed Tajik citizens in the latest violence.) Hundreds on both sides were injured and thousands displaced, as many as 140,000 reported displaced on the Kyrgyz side. Both sides can point to damaged civilian infrastructure, from homes to businesses to schools, underscoring the severe toll the respective governments’ inability to agree on the border has taken. Over the years, the border has become increasingly militarized, with both countries acquiring and positioning new weapons and forces ever closer to disputed territory.
Last week at the UN General Assembly, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan presented their respective cases to an international audience. Japarov, in its September 20 remarks, accused Tajikistan of violating the 1991 Alma-Ata Declaration “which calls for recognizing and respecting each other’s territorial integrity” and placed clear blame for the outbreak of violence in April 2021 and September 2022 on Shower bath. Speaking for Tajikistan on 24 September, Foreign Minister Sirodjiddin Muhriddin accused Kyrgyzstan of flouting relevant agreements and “creating a false appearance of withdrawing troops and heavy military equipment from the contact line by hiding them in populated areas near the border,” according to a UN summary of his remarks. “The responsibility for any next round of tension on the Tajik-Kyrgyz border will rest solely with Kyrgyzstan,” he said.
The protocol, reportedly signed on September 25, could be a starting point for border de-escalation, but it could also be just a temporary reprieve given the low level of trust across the border. Disputes in Kyrgyzstan’s more dynamic political space and a lack of transparency on the Tajik side could also offset any incipient de-escalation.