Ever since the last serious bout of unrest, in April, even stepping close to the invisible and inexistent border has meant courting danger, particularly for Kyrgyz citizens. Tajik security services carefully monitor the fringes of their Sughd province region and scoop up anybody perceived to have wandered too far, according to Eurasianet.
The concern among many is that the frequency of these incidents could become a trigger for more violence.
There have been cases when people were detained and convicted on charges of illegally crossing a state border.
Kyrgyz border guard officials argue that the detention of people suspected of crossing the border unlawfully is entirely arbitrary since the demarcation often doesn’t exist.
Eurasianet notes that the widely held belief in Kyrgyzstan is that Tajikistan would welcome hostilities as a pretext for a land grab.
Tajikistan does not comment to the media on such matters, although it did condemn Kyrgyzstan in a statement on last week’s unrest for allegedly misleading the public with “false information in the media and various internet resources.”
The Kyrgyz State Committee for National Security, known as the GKNB, has reportedly declined to disclose how many Kyrgyz nationals are currently in Tajik prison.
It is clearly no small number, however, as the two countries routinely agree to swaps of one another’s citizens arrested for minor violations, according to Eurasianet.
The haziness of the border is a matter of deep frustration. Sometimes farmers cross lines to try and recover wandering cattle, which are liable to roam in the absence of fencing. Other times, it could just be a moment of distraction, or even drunkenness, that lands people on the wrong side of the imaginary line. The absence of formal border crossing checkpoints means many simply have little choice but to risk it and break the rules by visiting friends and family on the other side.
A former Batken governor, Mamat Aibalayev, told Eurasianet in an interview that he believed that tensions would only escalate over the coming years unless drastic measures are finally adopted.
“The lack of demarcation between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan is the main reason for the incessant conflicts that will continue to lead to armed clashes, up to and including the killing of people from both sides, as happened last spring,” Aibalayev said.
Things became worse after the April violence, because both countries responded by disallowing one another’s citizens from crossing the border legally.
“Against this background, the smuggling of fuels and lubricants, consumer goods, including things like vegetables and fruits, has increased,” he said.
Aibalayev made a suggestion that is deemed toxic by nationalists in Kyrgyzstan. The only viable way out, he said, was to agree on the exchange of equivalent-sized areas of land. This would have the added benefit of helping put the sharing of water resources on a formal footing and it would finally give some certainty to the inhabitants of Tajik enclaves, which are separated from Tajikistan proper by Kyrgyz territory, he said.