Sheepnapped? More Friction on the Tajik-Uzbek Border
Five shepherds and at least a thousand head of sheep seem to have become the latest victims in the ongoing border dispute between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.Uzbek border guards seized the wandering ruminants earlier this month, Fergananews reported on June 24, citing the Tajik service of Radio Liberty, which in turn cited Tajik border guards in the northern province of Sughd. A father of one of the disappeared shepherds said the number of abducted animals was 2,200 sheep plus 41 cows. No comment was immediately available from the Uzbek side, which has reportedly not responded to Tajik requests for negotiations. The two countries have long been at odds over their 1,200-kilometer border, much of which remains undefined. The troublesome boundary is not the main source of friction, however. Dushanbe and Tashkent barely speak with one another. The Uzbeks are furious over Tajik plans to build the world’s tallest hydropower dam, Rogun, upstream, claiming it will give Tajikistan unfair control over regional water resources and could harm the environment. Tajikistan, for its part, cites Uzbekistan’s constant gas cuts as a reason it needs the giant project. The antagonism is often described as deeply personal between the two countries’ autocratic rulers.Uzbekistan has mined much of the border since it became an international frontier in 1991 at the collapse of the Soviet Union, splitting families who once lived in the same country. Shootings are common, often of stray shepherds chasing their livestock and of smugglers who have failed to pay off the right border guards at night.Considering the size of the missing flock, its owners are likely to pursue negotiations with zeal, but whether they fail or succeed will have little impact on the 20-year-old border dispute.
David Trilling is Eurasianet’s managing editor.