The former Soviet republics of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan clashed over a border dispute on September 14-16, 2022. The Kyrgyz-Tajik border crisis started with accusing each other of using tanks, mortars, rocket artillery, and assault drones to attack outposts and nearby settlements. However, The two countries agreed to come into a ceasefire on Sept. 16.
The day before the SCO meeting started conflict broke out over territorial disputes between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The crisis first broke out in 2021 and since then some 100 people have been killed. The conflict has a serious connotation in the regional geopolitics with the already Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Kyrgyzstan accused the Tajik forces used tanks, armoured personnel carriers and mortars to enter at least one Kyrgyz village and shelling the airport of the Kyrgyz town of Batken and adjacent areas.
Tajikistan counter-accused Kyrgyz forces of shelling an outpost and seven villages with “heavy weaponry”. Kyrgyzstan reported fighting in its southern Batken province which borders Tajikistan’s northern Sughd region. The area is also characterized by its jigsaw-puzzle political and ethnic geography. And this became the site of hostilities last year, nearly leading to a war. The clashes over the poorly demarcated border are frequent but usually de-escalate quickly.
Most of the Central Asian border issues stem from the Soviet era. The disputes arose when Moscow tried to divide the region between groups whose settlements were often located amidst those of other ethnicities. The discord has been there since they achieved independence in the early 1990s. The Kyrgyz-Tajik border crisis is the most complex among any of the five post-Soviet republics in Central Asia.
The remote villages at the centre of the dispute were not economically significant, but both sides had given it exaggerated political importance. There have been more than 230 border incidents between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan over the last 20 years, and the focus of the latest conflict was an area covering 2,000 square kilometres.
Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan both share good relations with Moscow and host Russian military bases. Russia however has avoided taking sides in the conflict and urged the sides to resolve it peacefully. Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by telephone to Kyrgyz President Japarov and veteran Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon on Sunday. Putin urged the sides to prevent further escalation and to take measures to resolve the situation by peaceful, political and diplomatic means as soon as possible. He also had offered his assistance, his office said in a statement.
Kyrgyzstan on Sunday reported an additional 13 deaths from the fighting, adding to an earlier toll of 46. Also, about 102 people had been injured. Earlier, Kyrgyzstan said it evacuated about 137,000 people from the conflict area. The government declared Sept. 19 a day of mourning for the victims. Tajikistan on Sunday reported that 35 people were killed but did not report any mass evacuations. Kyrgyz media called the conflict an invasion. Tajikistan’s foreign ministry said Kyrgyzstan continued a media campaign against it and noted that Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov used the term “enemy” to refer to Tajikistan.
Both sides have also agreed to continue to resolve the border conflict. However, according to critics, no side showed the will to resolve the conflict peacefully. Both nations had mutual territorial claims provoking aggressive attitudes on all levels. Only third-party peacekeepers could prevent further conflicts by establishing a demilitarized zone.