The Kyrgyz-Tajik Border Conflict or The Return of “Great Game”

The tension between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, which started once again on April 28 due to the long-standing problems of border and water resources, turned into conflict on April 29, 2021. The conflict first started with the people throwing stones at each other and then escalated by the involvement of soldiers. As of today, the increasing tension is being tried to be reduced and controlled by the parties through the influences of the mediating and appeasing suggestions of the regional actors and the prudent and cold-blooded approaches of the leaders of both countries.

In this context, it is seen that the negotiations between the two parties have reached an agreement on the following four articles: 1) The cessation of fire; 2) Removal of troops and military vehicles from the border; 3) Continuation of negotiations; 4) Establishing a working group and creating the basis for the establishment of common interests / cooperation.

The outbreak of this crisis on a period when the Afghanistan crisis is at its peak and the terrorist threat is at the top of the agenda again in the Central Asian region, it is surely meaningful in term of its timing. Especially on a period when the power struggle between the USA-Russia-China started to shift to the Asia-Pacific region and in this context, Russia-China’s close proxies were targeted through crises, and the “Return of the Great Game” was experienced.

So, what are the reasons behind this crisis between these two countries? Which actors could be in the background of the crisis? And what do these actors aim for?

The visible side of Iceberg in the crisis.

Following the Collective Security Organization meetings in Dushanbe, we have seen that the following issues come to the fore as the apparent reasons for the Tajik-Kyrgyz conflict:1) The aggravation of long-standing conflicts in the distribution of water resources; 2) The border problem between states that are part of the same military bloc (Collective Security Treaty Organization-CSTO) has not been resolved.

In this conflict, it is particularly important for Batken to come to the fore in the “Fergana Region”, which is also accepted as the heartland of Central Asia.

Although the crisis took place between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, the process concerns another actor in the region: Uzbekistan.

Therefore, the most important feature of Batken is that it does not only concern Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The presence of Uzbekistan’s lands in the region also involves Tashkent in the process.

For this reason, the problem has the potential of enlargement and deepening, which could include all three countries if it is not prevented, which also answers the question of why Uzbekistan pursues a diplomacy aimed at resolving border disputes in the region and pursues an active and constructive diplomacy with the countries of the region in this context.

Because, in 2010, Tashkent finally saw the “Regional War” game that would put it into war with neighbouring countries through the “Osh Riots / Provocations” and broke this dirty game by acting with common sense.

Therefore, it was quite remarkable that these events broke out at a time when the states of the region accelerated a process aimed at solving their own problems and settling border disputes by themselves. (1)

The epicentre of crisis: Fergana

Let us state it very clearly: Although the Kyrgyz-Tajik problem seems to be the border dispute between the states of the region, the main goal is to prevent a “Fergana Union” that will lead to a possible reconciliation between these countries. Therefore, the goal is to control the heartland, and the states of the region are not required to have a say in Fergana in this context.

In this context, the transformation of the Fergana Valley into a gunpowder barrel for the states of the region has been one of the main parameters of the policy followed for the region, and the reasons listed above have constituted the basis of the “divide-clash-conflict-rule-control” strategy for the region. The various conflicts experienced in different periods and in this context, the fact that the problem was frozen from time to time is an indication of this.

As stated above, the main reason for the conflict is to control the Fergana region and to make a power projection over this region.

Although this is basically in line with the goals and interests of Russia and the USA, the “Chinese factor” should not be ignored. The “Chinese factor” is considered more the factor preventing an increasing power in the region.

Considering the goals of all the actors in the region and the current conditions they are in, it is meaningful that these events served the interests of Russia and the USA, especially it is significant that Russia remained silent after the incidents started.

In conclusion, the recent events on the Kyrgyz-Tajik border constitute the first of the most important conflicts in Central Asia during the withdrawal process of the USA from Afghanistan. Although this conflict is the beginning of a new era, it can be read as one of the first dominoes toppled in the rivalry between Russia and the USA. It can be predicted that issues such as social movements, terrorism activities and border problems will be more occupied by the Central Asian agenda in the upcoming period. A power struggle has started in the context of keeping the Fergana centred Central Asia under control. Fergana is the heartland of the “Great Game”.

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