Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Osh Protesters Cast Doubt on Viability of Kyrgyz-Uzbek Border Accord

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 24 – Kyrgyz residents in Osh Oblast have set up yurts and declared that they will stay where they are until Bishkek rejects its March 2021 border accord with Uzbekistan that traded some of their land away to solve what has been a long-running dispute between the two republics. (centralasian.org/a/31217799.html).

            They are also demanding that the Kyrgyzstan government include them in all such discussions rather than acting as if it can make decisions about them without them, a demand that could complicate future negotiations between the two countries over border arrangements (centralasian.org/a/31217799.html).

            The March accord transferred control of a reservoir to Uzbekistan. Up to now, it had been shared by the two countries in exchange for Uzbek transfer of territory elsewhere. Nonetheless, it specifies that Kyrgyz living on the shore can continue to use the reservoir freely (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/03/kyrgyzstan-uzbekistan-border-accord.html).

            The protest may seem a small bump on the road. But in fact, it appears likely to have five profound consequences:

·         First, it will further undermine the authority of Bishkek in the regions of Kyrgyzstan and promote regionalist and separatist challenges to the territorial integrity of the country.

·         Second, because the territory involved is strategically located as far as rail and highway networks are concerned, it is likely to delay or even block plans by Russia and China to expand such routes in the future.

·         Third, it is likely to make other countries in Central Asia even more unwilling to consider territorial swaps to overcome border disputes. That is especially likely to be the case in Tajikistan which is currently negotiating with Kyrgyzstan over precisely that possibility.

·         Fourth, it is likely to create more gray zones along the borders of these countries in which both smuggling and the movement of Islamist radicals will become easier.

·         And fifth, it is almost certain to add to suspiciousness among the peoples and governments of the region and make it far more difficult for them to cooperate with one another on issues ostensibly far removed from border questions.

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