A flareup of fighting between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan along their common border appears to have been brought to an end, but not after at least thirty people were killed according to Kyrgyz government officials. Military units from both nations started exchanging fire on Thursday and according to independent sources, civilians on both sides of the border joined in the firefights. By today, Tajik and Kyrgyz officials met to defuse the situation. It seems a temporary ceasefire has been established and the leaders of the two nations have discussed matters over the phone. President Sadyr Japarov of Kyrgyzstan and his Tajik counterpart Emomali Rakhmon have agreed to meet later in May.
Territorial claims and access to water were the causes of Thursday’s military engagements. Border disagreements between the two nations are not new, having stemmed from demarcations made during the 1980s at a time when these nations were part of the Soviet Union. The area of the border where Thursday’s clashes occurred is a frequent flashpoint.
This recent round of fighting in Central Asia underscores the volatility which the region has experienced in the last year. The Azeri-Armenian war and continued tension between Georgia and Russia generally grab the media headlines, yet there are a number of other regional issues and rivalries simmering just beneath the surface. The situation between Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan over the shared Fergana Valley is one of them. The chances of a larger water war in the area cannot be discounted as the importance of water access for these landlocked nation-states becomes a matter of national survival.