Julien Thorez, a geographer at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), France, Paris, in an interview specially for the analytical platform CABAR.asia discusses the conflicts in the region from the point of view of postcolonialism, analyzes the factors of the collision of interests of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and also highlights the most important forms of peacebuilding.

The expert, in particular, notes that the border conflict between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan stems from a combination of several factors, as evidenced by its long history.  According to him, the economic and social changes that took place in the 20th century (the development of irrigated agriculture, the settlement of Kyrgyz people in new villages, population growth, etc.) contributed not only to the transformation of the territorial organization of the region itself, but also transformed the concept of the territory, as well as the mutual perception of communities.

In addition, it is not surprising that the national political life of each country affects interstate relations, and hence the level of tension on the border, according to Mr. Thorez.  Any statement about the controversial location of the border, the decision to close the border fully or partially, or any strengthening of a part of the border reportedly can be perceived in a neighboring country as hostile and re-start the cycle of tension and violence.  Therefore, the role of governments and state representatives is absolutely fundamental to conflict resolution.  For this reason, it is important to analyze border policy from the point of view of both foreign and domestic policies, the expert said, noting that in this regard, one can see that the Tajik authorities report much less about the conflict than representatives of the state or political force in Kyrgyzstan.

He notes that it should be noted that a fairly large number of comments and assessments about the conflict were published on social networks with a subtext about the bonuses of a violent conflict, when one side or another intended to either demonstrate military power, or find an external enemy, or eliminate the opposition, or destabilize the president, etc.  However, it is important to remember that fake news and false rumors are often spread on social media, fueling extremist attitudes and violent behavior.

As for the disagreements between the two countries, the expert says the conflict reached unprecedented levels of tension in April-May due to its scale.  However, after the ceasefire, the government of Kyrgyzstan, like the government of Tajikistan, reiterated its willingness to peacefully resolve border disputes and reaffirmed its desire to maintain good relations. To this end, they stressed that it was a local conflict, which contributes to de-escalation and a move away from the spread of the conflict beyond its physical territories.  Isfara Basin issues are fundamental to the local population, but they do not threaten the existence or sovereignty of Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan.

“In this context, it is obvious that the measures taken by one side, or another have not only a practical dimension, especially for the population living in border areas, but also a symbolic dimension associated with external and internal significance,” said Mr. Thorez.  “But it is difficult to say whether they mean a worsening of the situation.  The most important aspect is now interstate relations.”

He considers that for the international community, the spring conflict is not a major event due to its modest scale, compared to the wars and conflicts that currently exist in different regions of the world.  Moreover, this conflict does not involve major players in the international system, which means that the conflict does not call into question the international and regional balances. 

On the other hand, for the countries of Central Asia, relations between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are of particular importance due to geographical, economic, and social proximity, because of concerns about the potential destabilization of the region, the expert says.  In this context, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan can take part in resolving the conflict.  Russia can also offer mediation to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, with which it has close relations.  However, it is noticeable that in reality Moscow is pursuing a rather cautious policy in the post-Soviet space when its direct interests are not at stake, Mr. Thorez added.