What is Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan Conflicts Teaching About: Seeking Cooperation in Central Asia

The recent border conflict between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, which resulted in dozens of deaths and injuries on both sides, concluded with the moderate attempts of the leaders. In this process, the approaches of the Central Asian countries giving importance to the peace in the region prevented the border conflicts from turning into a comprehensive war. Because the statements of countries such as Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan were formed with the emphasis on cooperation. Most importantly, by joint efforts, an agreement was reached to describe the passage of the project line of the Kyrgyz-Tajik border. Thus, countries launched the negotiations in order to transform border disputes into alliances and contribute to regional integration.[i]

In fact, both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan shares numerous similarities in terms of geographic area, population and economic capacity. Moreover, the military power of both countries is approximately close to each other. In the international military ranking, the army of Kyrgyzstan ranks 93 in the world and the army of Tajikistan ranks 99. This indicates that if the conflicts between the two countries turn into an extensive war, such war could last for many years because the parties are unlikely to achieve superiority over each other. Consequently, the possibility of war is contrary to the interests of both sides. In addition, aforementioned situation will not remain limited with two states but it will expand to the whole of Central Asia, especially Uzbekistan.  It is part of the problem in the Fergana Valley which will turn conflict into the ring of fire. In other words, the fact that the parties tend to seek cooperation by acting moderately serves both their interests and the future of the region. Otherwise, Russia will be benefiting from destabilizing and controlling Central Asia and implementing the “divide and rule” strategy in this region.

This situation led the Bishkek and Dushanbe governments to work together and lead to the end of the conflicts. In this context, the telephone conversation between the President of Kyrgyzstan Sadyr Japarov and the President of Tajikistan, Emomali Rahmon, has created a constructive atmosphere. In addition, the contacts between Kyrgyzstan National Security Chairman Kamchybek Tashiev and Tajikistan National Security Chairman Saimumin Yatimov prevented the escalation of conflicts and paved the way for the negotiation process.

In short, the parties have demonstrated that they are willing to solve the problem among themselves. Moreover, the parties have closed the door to the mediation efforts of non-regional actors who are likely to benefit from the conflict. For example, Kyrgyzstan has refused the assistance of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which Russia is the leading actor.[ii] This situation shows that Japarov administration is aware of the ongoing game in Central Asia,  that possibly shadow the independence of the regional states in the medium and long term.

Therefore, the solution for the border problems between the parties depends on the will of the two countries. For this reason, it becomes extremely important that Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan agreed to prevent armed attacks in a short time, to ensure the safety of citizens and to restore order together. Accordingly, this situation shows that both parties are endeavor to resolve the conflict without the intervention of third parties. Of course, as mentioned above, beyond these two actors, it is valuable for the stability and security of all Central Asia, where the states of the region reject any interference from non-regional players. A portrait may propose to reflects this will, Kazakhstan is helping Kyrgyzstan at the point of humanitarian aid activities while Uzbekistan is also aiding Tajikistan. This situation points out that there is a division of labor between the states of the region.

As it can be understood, the leaders of neighboring countries have made an important contribution to the peaceful resolution of conflicts. In this sense, the attitudes of the President of Kazakhstan, Kassym Jomart Tokayev, and the President of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, are invaluable. For example, Tokayev drew attention to the significance of addressing all controversial issues individually and suggested that the problems should be discussed at the next Summit of the Heads of Central Asian Countries.[iii] This reflected the will of the states of the region to solve regional problems among themselves. Mirziyoyev, in turn, held individual telephone conversations with the heads of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, urging them to resolve the problems exclusively through negotiations in the spirit of friendship and good neighborliness.[iv] This whole picture reveals that the states of the region are aware of the game that has played in the geography extending from the Fergana Valley to Central Asia and even to Afghanistan.

As can be seen, the Kyrgyz-Tajik conflict and similar developments that will destabilize the region will enable the intervention of third parties. This may undermine the independence of the Central Asian countries. The developments in Afghanistan and the withdrawal of the United States of America (USA) from its territories signalize to the desire of bringing the proxy wars back to Central Asia. This bears the risk regarding Fergana Valley becoming the main conflict zone. In this environment, the Moscow administration, which sees the region as its backyard within the framework of the “Near Abroad Doctrine”, may try to deploy troops in the region under the name of “peacekeeping” through the CSTO. This will create a problematic situation considering destabilization of the region as well as the independence of the Central Asian states. Therefore, the anxiety of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and the efforts of these states to convince the leaders of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are quite understandable. At this point, the prudent attitudes of the Kyrgyz and Tajik leaders should also be noted down in history. Since the approaches of these actors will disrupt the expectations of foreign powers, especially Russia, regarding the region. Moreover, the transformation of the conflicts into alliances through negotiations and cooperation will further Central Asia to a more effective position as a geopolitical subject and the passive status of the states of the region will disappear. Consequentially, the Central Asian states will become more and more respected actors in the international arena.

As a result, the conflicts between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have once again proven the importance of regional cooperation and a dialogue environment. As if confirming that every crisis contains an opportunity, a political climate has been created that will contribute to the development of regional integration. This climate stems from the efforts of Central Asian countries to developing a common will against foreign intervention. In this environment, it is a historical necessity for the states of the region to act together against the intervention of third parties who wants to destabilize the region.

[i] “Podpisan sovmestnyy Protokol pravitel’stvennykh delegatsiy po delimitatsii i demarkatsii kyrgyzsko-tadzhikskoy gosgranitsy”, Gov.kg, https://www.gov.kg/ru/post/s/19984-podpisan-sovmestnyy-protokol-pravitelstvennykh-delegatsiy-po-delimitatsii-i-demarkatsii-kyrgyzsko-tadzhikskoy-gosgranitsy, Gov.kg, (Accessed date: 07.05.2021).

[ii] “Konflikt na granitse s Tadzhikistanom. Kyrgyzstan otkazalsya ot pomoshchi ODKB”, Kaktus, https://kaktus.media/doc/437493_konflikt_na_granice_s_tadjikistanom._kyrgyzstan_otkazalsia_ot_pomoshi_odkb.html, (Accessed date: 07.05.2021).

[iii] “Tokayev predlozhil pomoshch’ v nalazhivanii svyazey mezhdu Kyrgyzstanom i Tadzhikistanom”, https://rus.azattyq.org/a/31230803.html, (Accessed date: 07.05.2021).

[iv] “Mirziyoev obsudil s liderami Tadzhikistana i Kyrgyzstana konflikt na granitse”, Sputnik News Uzbekistan, https://uz.sputniknews.ru/20210430/mirziyoev-obsudil-s-raxmonom-i-japarovym-konflikt-na-tadjiksko-kyrgyzskoy-granitse-18567932.html, (Accessed date: 07.05.2021).

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İlköğretim ve lise eğitimini Kırgızistan'da tamamlayan Perizat RISBEKKIZI, 2019 yılında Kırgızistan-Türkiye Manas Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü'nden mezun olmuştur. 2020 yılından itibaren yüksek lisans eğitimini Yurtdışı Türkler ve Akraba Topluluklar Başkanlığı (YTB) burslusu olarak Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı'nda sürdürmektedir. Lisans döneminde İstanbul Ticaret Odası, Kırgızistan Din İşleri Devlet Komitesi'nde staj yapmıştır. İyi derecede Rusça ve İngilizce bilmektedir.