On March 25, 2009, the Treaty on the State Border between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan came into force. The Treaty was adopted on October 5, 2002, and its content established most of the borderline between the two states. However, as with any case of border delimitation, the norms of the Treaty brought about certain changes for the people living in the areas near the border. Therefore, local media sources have reported several cases displaying the effects of border delimitation on ordinary people living nearby. While relations between neighboring Uzbekistan and Tajikistan can hardly be characterized as warm, especially in light of the ongoing water disputes, the situation on the border is very illustrative of the ongoing problems.
In order to understand the specificity and sensitivity of border issues in Central Asia, it should be recalled how the borders of the presently existing states came into being. In the early 1920s, the Soviet ruling authorities established the administrative borders of the Central Asian republics, drawing these neither according to natural geographic boundaries nor strict ethnic lines. Thus, after independence, different territorial claims arose in each state and the process of border delimitation and demarcation appeared a lengthy enterprise.
Thus, the press service of the Senate of Uzbekistan stated that “the Treaty will contribute to further international legal administration of the state border, providing its security, further deepening of cooperation between the two states on the basis of friendship and neighborliness, mutual respect and equality of rights.”
The first meeting of Uzbek and Tajik representatives took place on February 18-19, 2009. During the joint intergovernmental commission meeting, the parties were able to agree on 97 percent of the over 1,200 kilometer long state border, leaving only several hundred kilometers of the border line to be delimitated. On April 29, 2009, the commission held another meeting. As Tajikistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported, the meeting aimed to continue the work on border delimitation and demarcation on the four sectors that were left, and to discuss some issues of bilateral cooperation.
Meanwhile, local media sources have covered several interesting stories concerning the situation of the people living near the border. One claimed that as a result of the border delimitation, the local authorities attempted to force the inhabitants in one of the villages on Tajik territory populated by ethnic Uzbeks to decline their Uzbek citizenship and accept Tajik. While there is no reliable proof of the reported activity, and irrespective of whether it reflects the official policy of the Tajik government, there are certainly settlements now populated by people under ‘disputed’ status. The aforementioned village, which is located on the border between Uzbekistan’s Samarqand region and Tajikistan is just one of the many that are located along the winding border. The Sogd region in Tajikistan also has several areas where people are faced with the choice of choosing citizenship and place of residence after the border delimitation. For many, it is hard to make such a choice, as they find themselves in situations in which the territory they lived on for many decades is now part of another state. Moreover, since Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have a visa regime, once one changes citizenship, it will be very hard for that person to cross the border to visit relatives or friends.
Another event in relation to the border delimitation process took place on April 8, when special military sub-units of the national security service of Uzbekistan held anti-terrorist trainings on the border with Tajikistan. The trainings were conducted on the territory of “Uzmetkombinat” – a plant of ferrous metallurgy, the different facilities of which were divided after the border delimitation. Thus, the trainings seemed to be a demonstration of power and readiness to protect the border from ‘friendly’ neighbors.
The border delimitation processes in Central Asia are not easy. This is especially true for Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, which have a long history of disputed areas and disagreements on various political, economic and social issues. Thus, while the intent of the international treaties and agreements is to stabilize the border between the states and ensure peaceful coexistence, special attention should perhaps be paid to ensuring that the everyday practice does not diverge from written principles.