Gita Border Conflict Resurrected: New Developments on Old Problems in Central Asia

  In mid-September, the border guards of the two Central Asian countries, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, engaged in fierce exchanges of fire in the disputed border area. On September 16, Kyrgyz President Zaparov and Tajikistan President Rahmon held talks during the SCO summit and agreed to a ceasefire, but the war reignited that night. It was once known as the “Apricot Tree War” (the conflict between the border residents of the two countries over the ownership of a few apricot trees) and the “Stone War” (the border residents of the two countries often clashed due to border disputes and threw stones at each other to attack each other). The border dispute between the towers has now evolved into a “hybrid war” with the characteristics of large-caliber artillery, step-tank coordination, and information warfare and public opinion warfare. Some foreign media even called it the “largest and most tragic” border armed conflict in recent years.
The intensity of conflict is high, triggering multi-party games

  Affected by complex historical and practical factors, dozens of conflicts occur every year in the border areas of Central Asian countries. The Gita border conflict is very different, mainly showing the following characteristics:
  First, it lasts for a long time and has a wide range. The conflict lasted for nearly two weeks from September 14, when Gita border troops exchanged fire on the border, to September 25, when the National Security Councils of the two countries reached a ceasefire agreement. The total length of the Gita border is more than 970 kilometers, and 300 kilometers are still undetermined, and more than 70 areas are in dispute. Isfara and Gilgtal.
  Both sides disagree on the cause of the conflict. According to a statement issued by the Tajik Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on the morning of September 14, the Kyrgyz border guards shelled the border post in the Voruch area of ​​Taisfala for no reason. The site is located in a mountainous area and is an “enclave” of Tajikistan surrounded by Kyrgyz territory. The news center of the Kyrgyz Border Defense Agency said that on September 14, armed clashes occurred in the Batken district of Jibatken State, which is located on the border of Geeta. Kyrgyz media disclosed that the border guards of Bulak-Bashi in Batken district found Ta border guards that day. The Kyrgyz side believes that the Tajikistan soldiers violated the previously reached agreement and set up shooting positions in the disputed area of ​​the border between the two countries. The Kyrgyz border guards fought back. On September 16, the conflict escalated somewhat. Kyrgyz media said that the Tajik army used mortars to attack targets along the border between the two countries, all the way to the city of Jibatken, which is about 10 kilometers away from the border. The Taliban media also said that the Kyrgyz army used the Bailaktar drone just delivered by Turkey in this conflict.
  Second, the intensity is high and there are many casualties. After the conflict, Geeta accused each other of using heavy weapons and equipment. “Ten years ago, people on the borders of the two sides clashed, they fought and threw stones at each other, but now more and more soldiers are involved,” said Andrei Grozin, director of the Central Asia Department of the Institute of CIS countries. Kazakhstan Political scientist Shibuto commented that “they began to use artillery in the conflict, which means that the border armed conflict may escalate to a full-scale war.” Injuried. The next day, the tower side announced that 35 people were killed and at least 20 injured.
  The third is to trigger multi-party games. Major countries including the United States and Russia, as well as heads of multilateral institutions such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Collective Security Treaty Organization, have expressed concern about the escalation of the conflict on the Gita border, but the degree of intervention by each party varies. Alexei Chepa, a member of the Russian State Duma, believes that the root cause of the conflict is that some external forces are provoking relations with local residents. “Some NGOs and many pro-Western media in Kyrgyzstan are taking advantage of the current situation to undermine local social stability.” , “This trick can be seen in the conflicts in Kazakhstan, Armenia, Azerbaijan and other countries.” The Kyrgyz side announced on October 9 the cancellation of the CSTO joint military exercise originally scheduled to be held in the east of the country from the 10th to the 14th. Former Kyrgyz Prime Minister Felix Kulov said, “The CSTO remains unclear what it can do when one member attacks another.”
Origin of border disputes

  Since the independence of the two countries in 1991, disputes such as clashes between Gita border residents, border guards and illegal border crossings have emerged one after another. In general, these disputes are caused by the overlapping of historical and practical factors and the accumulation of regional governance deficits.

On October 13, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin (center), Tajikistan President Rahmon (right) and Kyrgyzstan President Zaparov (left) held tripartite talks in Astana, capital of Kazakhstan.

  The Gita border dispute stemmed from the division of ethnic borders in the Soviet era. In 1924, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union made a decision to demarcate the nation-state in Central Asia. However, because the demarcation was carried out according to the central commanded plan, with human factors, the distribution of ethnic villages originally formed naturally in Central Asia was redrawn. , and the same country (Soviet Union) used different administrative maps at different times by different republics. Taking the standard map used in the negotiations between the two countries as an example, the two countries have started to demarcate their borders since independence, but one of the problems that plagued the border negotiations is what map to choose. Although they were both published during the Soviet period, the tower used maps from 1924 to 1939, and Ji used maps from 1958 to 1959.
  Regional cooperation failed to effectively fill the gap in regional governance after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Including border conflicts, most of the security issues in Central Asia are transnational in nature. The reason for this phenomenon is related to the great changes in the relations between Central Asian countries before and after independence (the five Central Asian countries were established independently at the end of 1991). Before independence, all affairs were arranged by Moscow, and even if there were contradictions, they would be covered up or repaired; after independence, the unified political space was divided into geopolitical plates composed of five main ethnic groups, and domestic issues such as territory and water resources were transformed into inter-state issues. Problems, the regional leadership struggle that did not exist has also become prominent.
  Over the past 30 years or so, due to differences in national conditions, national security and foreign policies, the Central Asian countries have also had significant differences in their security governance concepts. In 2016, Uzbekistan’s President Mirziyoyev, on the basis of the foreign policy principles of Karimov’s period, such as “diplomacy between major powers” and “no foreign military presence in the territory”, emphasized the diplomatic value orientation of “neighbor first”. Uzbekistan is actively conducting demarcation negotiations with Gita and the two countries, and the demarcation has been basically completed. However, this Gita border conflict tells the world that it is not easy to put “nearest neighbors first”, and to achieve the “radiation effect” of forming synergy and overcoming challenges requires joint efforts of regional countries.
  In recent years, border armed conflicts in Central Asia have occurred frequently. From a spatial perspective, economic causes are actually more than cultural ones, such as water shortages, population surge, reduction of available arable land, and traffic jams. However, from the perspective of time, the role of cultural identity factors cannot be ignored. The disintegration of the Soviet Union led to the complete disintegration of the original concept of “state-society” identity, and the original tribal, ethnic, and religious memory fragments were awakened. At the same time, intra-regional issues have aroused the high attention of external forces and the input of strong external cultures, which has intensified the insecurity of Central Asian countries, making them present in practical challenges such as internal and external security environment assessment, selection of partners, and handling of border conflicts. This is why Central Asian countries are cautious in accepting international norms. While maintaining national sovereignty and security, they have to constantly adjust their policies according to changes in their national conditions and external environment, and strive to strive for a stable and favorable development environment.