Tajik-Kyrgyz Border Conflict – A Six Month Outlook  (July 2022)


    The Tajik-Kyrgyz dispute over border demarcation and water rights affects the wider central Asian security architecture. The dispute periodically erupts in violence, signalling that the two neighbours are on a collision course.

    KJ-1: It is highly unlikely that Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan will reach an agreement over border demarcation and water sharing in the next six months. 

    • Clashes between Tajik and Kyrgyz border troops are common occurrences [source]. The most serious bout of violence occurred last April. Despite a Russian-brokered ceasefire, skirmishes between the two neighbours have steadily increased [source].
    • Over 98% of Tajik energy consumption is provided by hydroelectric dams [source]. Kyrgyzstan similarly obtains over 90% of its energy from hydropower [source]. The Isfara River and its tributaries also support the central Asian agricultural basin.  
    • Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are using alternative cartographic sources to demarcate their boundaries [source].

    KJ-2: It is likely that armed confrontation between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan will escalate in the next six months. 

    • Russian brokered ceasefires have largely failed to temper the conflict in recent years. Beyond interstate confrontation, local Kyrgyz and Tajik communities regularly erupt in communal violence [source]. Various factors such as crumbling hydroelectric infrastructure, climate change and ethno-nationalistic impulses are proving to be a toxic admixture [source]. 
    • As the cumulative pressure increases on both governments, either party will find it increasingly difficult to reach an agreement. Discussions between the two countries’ foreign ministers have proven to be ineffective [source].

    KJ-3: It is likely that the Tajik-Kyrgyz border conflict will affect wider instability in central Asia in the next six months.

    • Uzbekistan relies on water from the Kyrgyz and Tajik highlands to sustain its cotton production [source]. This is essential for its economic livelihood.
    • Uzbekistan may be compelled to respond through a variety of means not limited to force. Meanwhile, violent incidents along the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border are still prevalent [source].
    • The Taliban government of Afghanistan is currently in dispute with the Tajiks over issues relating to their own border [source].
    • Additionally, the introduction of Iranian-made combat systems into the region has heightened the level of insecurity which defines the Tajik-Kyrgyz arms race [source]. 
    • While the border conflict between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan has simmered at a manageable level for decades, last April saw the worst violence erupt since before the establishment of the USSR.

    Intelligence Cut-Off Date: July 11, 2022

    Alec Smith
    Alec Smith
    Alec Smith is a graduate of the MSC International Relations program of the University of Aberdeen and holds an LLB in Global Law from Tilburg University. He works in the private sector in field investigations and security.

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