Monday, April 20, 2020

Border Problems in Central Asia Won't End with Delimitation Treaties, Mukambayev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 18 – After the disintegration of the USSR, many Central Asian countries faced problems with defining their borders, an especially difficult task because in Soviet times, these borders were often changed and even more often ignored, but in the post-Soviet period, borders had become “a most important attribute of state sovereignty,” Alibek Mukambayev says.

            There has been great pressure for but equally great obstacles to the signing of delimitation agreements in which the two states involved in disputes would agree to where the border should run, the Kyrgyz political scientist says. But that is just the first step in resolving these problems (

            It is important that the governments agree where the borders should run, Mukambayev says; but it is far more important and far more difficult to demarcate them, that is, to actually create borders on the ground with markers and passing points that inevitably raise problems for the people living along where delimitation agreements say the border now is.

            In the last several years, some of the countries in the region have reached agreements on delimitation but none has completely resolved all the problems of demarcation. That isn’t surprising given the complexity of doing so, and the process is going to take a long time, spark conflicts, and create tensions between these states.

            In many cases, the borders the countries have agreed to mean that those who have been neighbors in a single village are now on opposite sites of state borders, that major roads crisscross state borders running from one part of a country to another, that reservoirs people depend on are now in another country, and that schools and other institutions have to be divided.

            And that list doesn’t even include what many see as the most difficult challenge of all, the existence of exclaves/enclaves belonging to one country but entirely surrounded by another, like most prominently the Vorukh district of Tajikistan which is entirely surrounded by Kyrgyzstan territory.

            In the short term, the existence of such places raises the problem of access and the supply of electricity and water. In the longer term, it raises questions about territorial transfers and exchanges, the shift of population, and possible compensation, any one of which can lead to explosions.

            Unfortunately, while progress has been made on delimitation, progress on demarcation has been much slower; and as a result, there have been conflicts and likely will continue to be, Mukambayev says, especially because none of the multi-national organizations in the region have much capacity to help find solutions although they sometimes can stop violence.

            In his comment, the Kyrgyz scholar makes a useful comparison between two terms that are often a source of confusion, exclave and enclave. “An enclave is part of the territory of another stae which is completely surrounded by the territory of a given state. An exclave is part of the territory of a given state surrounded by the territory of another state.”

            It is thus a matter of perspective: It is a matter of perspective and which side is speaking: Thus, “the Uzbek settlement of Shakhimardan is an enclave for Kyrgyzstan and an exclave for Uzbekistan.” But it is of course the very same place.  How third parties describe it, however, can matter importantly because it may be read as a tilt in one direction or another.

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