Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan agree ceasefire after Tajik launches heavy border assault
Judging by the scale of the Tajik operation with the amount of heavy machinery and troops deployed, it appears to have been a planned operation.
“I really hope that today’s signed protocol of mutual understanding …will bring peace to our countries. I am sure that peace is always better, peace will persist,” said Kamchybek Tashiev of Kyrgyzstan’s National Security Committee.
His Tajik counterpart Saimumin Satarovich said “real peace will come to our borders”, calling the former Soviet Central Asian states “brother nations”.
Skirmishes broke out on September 14 with both sides accusing each other of provocation and opening fire following an ongoing dispute over the mountainous border’s demarcation. Nearly half of their shared 900km frontier is contested.
But Tajikistan’s forces also targeted civilian infrastructure in undisputed Kyrgyz territory far from the border, including Batken, the regional capital, 10km from the frontier.
Kyrgyzstan reported at least 59 fatalities and Tajikistan said 41 people had been killed and many others wounded.
An estimated 137,000 Kyrgyz were reportedly displaced with Tajik tanks, heavy artillery and drones deployed, damaging civilian Kyrgyz infrastructure.
Observers asked if Tajikistan was trying to depopulate the region ahead of a larger military operation or just distract the country from domestic troubles, including ongoing protests in its unstable Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region.
Russia’s Vladimir Putin, without reference to irony, called both countries’ leaders and urged them to resolve the crisis peacefully.
The war in Ukraine has undermined Putin’s influence among former Soviet states and could prompt other border conflicts.
Both countries are members of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation.
Last year a dispute over water rights and the installation of surveillance cameras by Tajikistan sparked border clashes in which at least 55 people died.
Kyrgyzstan’s President Sadyr Zhaparov and his Tajik counterpart Emomali Rakhmon, 69, met on Friday at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Uzbekistan and failed to stop the killing, despite proclamations to the contrary.
Zhaparov’s website said they discussed the border and agreed to order troops to pull back and stop the fighting.
The presidential meeting in Samarkand appears to have been a wasted opportunity to resolve the dispute.
Heavy shelling of the Batken region in Kyrgyzstan escalated on Saturday and the Kyrgyz border villages of Kulundu, Maksat, Dzahni-Dzher and others were shelled.
Zhaparov said online on Saturday that “the issue of disputed borders has always been accompanied with conflicts and casualties”.
“But, we will not give anyone a single metre of our land, which we inherited from our ancestors,” his statement said. “We will firmly defend national interests.”
Rakhmon and several successive Kyrgyz presidents have failed to establish peace on the border.
Rugged Tajikistan. Picture credit: PKList