Parviz Mullojonov on the border dispute between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – The Diplomat

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What explains the dramatic escalation of violence along the Kyrgyz-Tajik border?

A Kyrgyz soldier walks past a burned house after fighting between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in the village of Ak-Sai, some 950 km (593 miles) southwest of Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan, Tuesday September 20, 2022.

Credit: AP Photo/Vladimir Voronin ad

In mid-September, the longstanding border dispute between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan exploded into a new phase. The escalation in violence – which left at least 100 dead and thousands displaced – marked a sharp deterioration in intergovernmental relations, which was subsequently fueled by an excess of accusatory rhetoric.

While the dispute has historical roots in the border areas, where much of the international border between the two states has remained unresolved for 30 years, contemporary factors from a stalled negotiation process to increasing militarization of the border area contributed to the September violence . To delve deeper into the conflict and think about further avenues, The Diplomat’s Catherine Putz spoke to Parviz Mullojonov, a political scientist and historian, about the troubled Kyrgyz-Tajik border.

A significant part of the Kyrgyz-Tajik border is undemarcated and undemarcated. What have been the biggest hurdles in drawing boundaries over the years?

In fact, to date, despite continued efforts and regular outbreaks of violence, only about 60 percent of the border between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan has been demarcated. One of the main factors hampering the demarcation process is the deep disagreement between countries over ownership of land and water sources along the border – particularly around the Tajik enclave of Vorukh. In general, the disagreements can be relatively divided into three main clusters.

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First, the question of ownership of several hundred hectares of land – mostly pastures and orchards – located mainly around the Tajik enclave of Vorukh. Over the centuries, both local communities – nomadic Kyrgyz and sedentary Tajik farmers – shared and relatively peacefully used the disputed land based on inter-communal agreements and agreements. However, the settlement and mass resettlement of the nomadic Kyrgyz population during the Soviet era changed the demographic composition and encouraged competition for land and water resources.

The effect was doubled by the so-called “demographic scissors” phenomenon, which is described when significant population growth is accompanied by a reduction in arable land. On the one hand, the region experienced a demographic explosion, particularly on the Tajik side of the border; On the other hand, the massive and large-scale irrigation system built in the first decades of the Soviet Union was already outdated and required a thorough renewal in terms of both the equipment and the water use technology. Irrigation methods are still based on poorly regulated and intensive irrigation. It causes a significant annual increase in groundwater levels, resulting in soil salination and further land degradation.

In 1940, the average area under cultivation in the region was 0.6 hectares per capita; In 1989 it was only 0.17 hectares per capita. The phenomenon drastically intensified the competition for scarce water and land resources and thus promoted social tensions and potential for conflict in the border areas.