​Some thoughts on the Kyrgyz-Tajik border conflict

Very sad development of events yesterday on the disputed border region between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Over a dozen persons died and about 130 people injured from the Kyrgyz side. On the Tajik side, the last report I’ve seen quoted 7 deaths and dozens of injured.

A few things are very important to stress.

The disputes over different parts of that line of undelimited border have long been there, not newly arisen. They could and should have been dealt through talks, alternatives proposed and discussed; but not by involving military means!

One point is much discussed in public space — the «Golovnoy» water flow regulation point, a mechanical switch, basically. That object had always and till now been a Kyrgyzstan object, not a disputed one. It has suddenly become «disputed over all the years» in the language of Tajikistan’s relevant sources. The fact of it not being a disputed object till now is easy to check for anyone.

Still, it is clear and understoon on both sides, that there are several and very real disputed spots. That’s a reality that has to be dealt with. But, it appears that one side — the Tajik side — decided as of approximately a week ago, that those disputes can be solved by military means. Objectively clear, that such was not the view of the Kyrgyz side.

The manner and scope of the military operations by the Tajik forces — official, governmental military forces of the Tajik Republic — yesterday went far beyond proportionate (here, note that the first military action began from the Tajik side, by all accounts), and also far beyond action to claim any border points. They used high-grade military machines and weapons and targeted buildings and places absolutely not having anything to do with borders, well within the Kyrgyz territory. Also notably, a large-scale military build-up close to the border area that is reported to have taken place in the last week or so, is further indication of a serious, premeditated operation from the Tajik side.

Was there a provocation from the Kyrgyz side? Beyond a few ill-conceived and unconsulted statements by certain figures from the Kyrgyz government — and those statements had no element of aggressive action, but were merely views of how to settle the disputed territories and how to manage resources, without consulting the other side — there was no actual provocation. No trigger that would justify such full-scale military action from the neighboring side.

Who needed the conflict? I am not willing to go too far into speculation of who needed. Thinking on conservative side, I believe the ordinary peoples of both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, including the communities living on both sides of the disputed lines, did not need such a conflict, did not wish it. They would not, of their own accord, opt for such an option. Just as conservatively, the Kyrgyz government did not need or wish such a conflict. There are too many objective indications confirming this. Who’s left? I will let you decide.

Yesterday’s bloody and destructive little conflict did not bring victory to anyone, and did not resolve anything, lest someone think «a little victorious war» took place. What yesterday did is exacerbate the dispute further, has made it still more difficult to come to an agreeable settlement. But there is no other alternative — the countries and the two peoples can only take a peaceful and lasting settlement. For that, imagination is needed, nuanced, innovative, progressive thinking is needed. Grenade-launchers, tanks, automatic rifles and helicopters — some of the arsenal used yesterday — are not the means that can settle this.


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