On September 14th, presidents of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan Sadyr Japarov and Emomali Rahmon met at the United Nations General Assembly to discuss ending the border dispute between the two countries. However, tensions increased after Kamchybek Tashiev, the head of the Kyrgyz National Security Committee, opposed the talks, asking Tajikistan to end its claims to land near the border. “If [Tajikistan] does not give up its territorial claims, then we will advance our own claims. We have both the strength and the ability to do this,” Tashiev reportedly said.
These sorts of comments “can seriously damage the current negotiation process on delimitation and demarcation of the Tajik-Kyrgyz border,” the Tajik Foreign Ministry responded. Radio Free Europe says the Ministry has criticized Tashiev’s statements.
Most of the disputed territory is located in the Ferghana Valley, a region which includes Vorukh and Kayragach – two exclaves of Tajikistan surrounded by Kyrgyzstan. The Kyrgyz-Tajik border was created in 1929 when the countries were part of the Soviet Union, and the exclaves were made due to having a large Tajik population. After the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, part of the border was not defined, and this has caused disputes between the two countries for over 30 years.
Border clashes between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan occurred in 2021 due to Kyrgyzstan not having enough access to the region’s water resources, including the important Golovnoi Water Intake Facility. The Facility takes water from Tajikistan’s Isfara River and sends the water to Kyrgyzstan, where farmers use it to irrigate land. Eurasianet reported Tajikistan has not allowed Kyrgyzstan to make repairs to the Facility due to concerns this would give Kyrgyzstan grounds to claim control.
Meanwhile, Tajikistan has wanted to control land near Vorukh to connect the exclave to the country proper, and has supported giving Kyrgyzstan land in exchange for the land near Vorukh. However, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace reports, Kyrgyzstan also wants to control Vorukh, and has opposed Tajikistan’s plans for land exchanges.
When negotiations start, Tajikistan should support jointly managing water facilities with Kyrgyzstan, while making sure Kyrgyzstan receives enough water. If this occurred, relations between the countries could improve, and it is possible Kyrgyzstan would agree to allow Tajikistan to control land around the Vorukh exclave.
If there are negotiations, there will likely will be mediators that will encourage the two countries to make an agreement. One country that has offered to mediate the negotiations is Uzbekistan, which has resolved its previous border and water disputes with Kyrgyzstan. According to Climate Diplomacy, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan made an agreement to share water resources on the Syr Darya River for agriculture and hydropower plants. Additionally, Uzbekistan has exclaves in Kyrgyzstan, Sokh and Shakhimardan, but the exclaves haven’t caused conflict between the countries since Kyrgyzstan opened roads connecting the exclaves to Uzbekistan in 2021. Because Uzbekistan was able to end its border disputes with Kyrgyzstan, it is possible that having it serve as mediator would be effective in convincing Tajikistan to accept an agreement.
Other countries involved in the border conflict include Iran and Turkey. The Caspian Policy Center reported Kyrgyzstan has purchased drones from Turkey, while Tajikistan has purchased drones from Iran, which have been used during border clashes. Both Iran and Turkey should stop selling drones. If this occurred, these countries could be seen as neutral in the conflict, making it possible for them to support a solution to the border dispute as mediators.
The border dispute between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan has mostly been about Tajikistan’s exclaves and Kyrgyzstan’s lack of access to water resources. If Kyrgyzstan were given access to those water resources, it might agree to allow Tajikistan to control land near the exclaves. Other countries can make an agreement more likely by encouraging Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to support negotiations and by cutting off drone sales to both countries.