Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan have reached an agreement on 49 non-demarcated sections of the border, signaling another positive development in neighborly relations.
Uzbekistan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on November 1 that the accord was the result of field surveys by working groups in the Kyrgyz cities of Osh and Batken on October 22-31.
This momentum is the result of a telephone conversation on October 26 between Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambayev and acting Uzbek leader Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who discussed the mutual advantageousness of successfully concluding joint work on delimitation, the Uzbek statement said.
Further working group coordination is due to take place in Uzbekistan.
The language about the agreements on disputed sections of the border remains provisional so far, but the number is impressive all the same. The border between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan is almost 1,400 kilometers long, but 324 kilometers of it in almost 60 separate locations have heretofore remained unresolved.
Such uncertainty has precipitated on occasion in flareups along unmarked portions of the border. Earlier this year, Uzbek troops parked armored personnel carriers along a Kyrgyz road in one such spot in a reprisal at Kyrgyz unwillingness to allow Uzbek workers to travel freely to a reservoir under their management.
Where the border has previously been definitively traced out, Uzbekistan has dug deep trenches and erected barbed wire fences to keep people out. And yet, at other sections nothing is in place, in theory, to stop people from simply wandering across. Families of field workers on the Uzbek side will contentedly picnic at the corner of their plots while Kyrgyz cars whiz past only a few meters away. The only constraint against crossing at these locations is the ever-present possibility of being shot by lurking Uzbek troops. Reports in the press of shepherds being detained or cattle being confiscated well illustrate the perennial tension this causes.
It is hard not to assume that this outbreak of bonhomie is related to the recent passing of Uzbekistan’s late President Islam Karimov, who took an intransigent position in his dealings with regional neighbors. If the thaw here is real, not just a pre-election gambit by acting president Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the question will be how far could normalization of border relations go? The ultimate golden medium-term outcome would be the reopening of multiple border crossings to citizens, traders and travelers alike, which could open up a variety of economic possibilities for both nations.