BISHKEK / DUSHANBE, 20.09.2022. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have just signed – another – “peace” agreement which commits both countries to stop the border clashes from the last days. On 15. September, Tajikistan has attacked several villages and towns in the southern Batken district, also with heavy weapons. Around 100 people, soldiers and, in Kyrgyzstan, also civilians died, arpuind 130.000 people in Kyrgyzstan got evacuated.
The renewed Tajik attempts to change the borders with Kyrgyzstan (also confirmed by NASA satellite pictures), which were awkwardly hostile, were also facilitated by the Russian focus on its Ukraine war. This kind of border problems would be in Europe an affair for inter-regional cooperation; we don’t have even border controls anymore.
In the EU, with those who have a certain insight into Central Asian affairs, the sympathy was clearly with the Kyrgyz side, which is a relatively open society, with a relatively free press, with relative free and fair elections, compared to the very authoritarian Tajikistan. In Central Asia, major swings in domestic policies are not excluded, except in countries where there is acting the same ruler since independence in the early 1990s, like Tajikistan (the “life-long dictator” Rahmon, Deutsche Welle 24.05.2016, is in office since 1994). Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan had recent changes in government, which leave the way open for further reforms, in the latter at least theoretically. Tajikistan’s President Rahmon is in power several decades now, while his Kazakh counterpart respectably proposed recently to restrict the term of office for a president to seven years altogether.
What should be on the agenda of the EU in view of the last short border war between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan? In July 2022, the five Heads of State met in Cholpon-ata at the Kyrgyz Issyk-kul Lake and started cautiously to enhance a regional integration in Central-Asia, at first mainly restricted to economic issues. This was the merit of the Kazakh President, who in this context followed and adapted a former Kazakh policy, and, surprisingly, of the Uzbek President, who, very pragmatically, endorsed such an integration, in contrast to his predecessor in Tashkent. Kyrgyzstan joined the two, and this trio signed several agreements which can be enhanced in the future for more common provisions. Tajikistan and Turkmenistan had opted out for now, promising to examine the situation and possibly signing later – or never.
In a changing world for the Central Asian states, with Russia actively dreaming of Soviet Union 2.0 under Russian rule. China helping but under its conditions, and Turkiye following a diffuse policy towards Central Asia and not always well perceived, the EU should not neglect this part of the world, which is partly also active within the OSCE and has many links to Europe. In the famous vote of the UN General Assembly on the Russian invasion into Ukraine all five abstained or, like Uzbekistan, did not participate in the vote.
One of the recipes for the EU is to advocate actively Central Asia’s own regional integration, wherefore the European Union has set up a fascinating and successful example with the European Economic Community in 1957 and with the EU Single Market between 1985 and 1993. The first steps of the three Central European states Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan are promising, but there has much more to come. The EU could tell, what could, and what should not, be introduced, the sequence, the speed etc.
If there is no regional integration, the region may be usurped, maybe peacefully and by Soft Power, e. g. by Russia or China, the five countries losing then a lot of identity, of influence, of culture, of their way of life, and of growth and economic opportunities. While there speaks nothing against privileged contacts and cooperation with Russia or China, as neighbours with their own history towards Central Asia, the “non-imperialist” approach of the EU on how to solve problems by integration should be considered by the Central Asians.
Otherwise, border wars like between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan will never end, as there were periodically likewise clashes in the past. One thing should be present: After signing the armistice agreement on 19. September, the head of the Kyrgyz State Committee for National Security, Kamytchbek Tashiev, said that now the situation in the Kyrgyz border region of Batken is stabilizing in general, whereas his Tajik counterpart Saimunin Jatimov had expressed: “We are convinced that now real peace can enter into our countries, at our borders.” This leaves open, when a new attempt of Tajik micro-imperialism would be mobilized again – which in an economic integration would be rather, in an additional political integration s the Europeans have it, would be totally impossible.
(The author, EUFAJ Chief Editor, has been often as Government Advisor, conference speaker, university lecturer or advisor on private investment/PPP and business issues in different Central Asian countries. He is a former Member of European Parliament.)