Staunton, Nov. 21 – Less than three weeks ago, Tashkent and Bishkek signed an agreement resolving their border dispute. Uzbekistan quickly ratified it, but in Kyrgyzstan, protesters went into the streets both in the areas affected and in the capital, and the government was forced to crack down and rush its own ratification in patently illegal ways.
Dozens of people have been arrested, including the 26 leaders of a committee opposed to the treaty; and the Kyrgyz parliament showed a rare lack of unanimity when a vote was demanded without the required hearings. While 69 deputies voted in favor, 19 voted against and seven abstained, highlighting deep divides in Kyrgyz society (russian.eurasianet.org/кыргызстан-ратифицировал-соглашение-о-границе-с-узбекистаном-на-бурном-заседании-парламента and ia-centr.ru/experts/evgeniy-pogrebnyak/bishkek-reshil-prigranichnyy-vopros-s-tashkentom-kak-eto-skazhetsya-na-stabilnosti-v-kyrgyzstane/).
The government has tried to sell the deal by pointing out that Kyrgyzstan received far more land from Uzbekistan than Uzbekistan did from Kyrgyzstan, but Kyrgyz residents and the opposition are outraged because the deal gives Uzbekistan far greater access to and thus control over key water reservoirs.
Kyrgyzstan is a water surplus country while Uzbekistan is a water short one, and this concession by Bishkek was perhaps the only way that Tashkent would have been willing to agree. But water is increasingly important in both countries, and the opposition to the treaty among Kyrgyz citizens and politicians underscores how explosive issues around it can be.
Both arresting those opposed to the border accord and forcing the parliament to adopt it without discussion may have given the Bishkek authorities a victory, but it may be a pyrrhic one because it shows that the Kyrgyzstan authorities, long held to be the most democratic in Central Asia, are now moving in an authoritarian government.
That will only hurt them with their own people and with Western governments, although it is unlikely to cost them support from the even more authoritarian alternative foreign supporters, the Russian Federation and the Peoples Republic of China. Indeed, knowing that may be why Bishkek has moved as it has.