Enforcing the Border

by Nathan Hamm on 7/4/2011 · 5 comments

The picture above, from March 2009, shows the border between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan on the western side of the town of Kara-Suu. In fits and starts since independence, Uzbekistan has defined its separation from its neighbors by various means, one of which is quite easily seen above in the form of a deep trench dug through a road connecting the two countries.

The image below, also from March 2009 and of the area just to the south of the image above, clearly shows how these border controls are circumvented. Three well-worn paths, one just going around a similar trench cut through a road, connect Tel’man to a neighboring village in Uzbekistan. A comparison to 2003 imagery shows that though the roads at the north and south of this shot were destroyed on the Uzbek side, traffic kept moving.

One can travel along the Uzbekistan-Kyrgyzstan border in Google Earth and find similar paths crossing the border in imagery taken between 2003 and 2009. And despite tighter controls since then, movement across the border is still fairly common and inexpensive. Noah found that the going rate to cross into Uzbekistan and then back to Kyrgyzstan at Kara-Suu is currently about $2.50 each way. Cross border trade is important to livelihoods on both sides of the border, so controls be damned, goods and people will move back and forth.

Sadly, the people who routinely circumvent border controls put themselves at risk when one side or the other decides to get serious about slowing traffic or simply wants to make a point. A recent RFE/RL story highlights that there’s been a sudden rise in shooting deaths on the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border in Batken. Some claim the Uzbekistan’s border service is protecting its monopoly on smuggling, but it’s just as likely that a more mundane explanation for the increase in violence exists.

Obviously, it would be fantastic if the three countries sharing the Ferghana Valley could delimit their borders, allow trade, etc. As unlikely as that’s been over the last decade, it’s probably getting even less likely. Uzbek anxiety about protecting “Fortress Uzbekistan” from unsavory people, ideas, and consumer goods will last as long as Islom Karimov does. And with a Kyrgyz parliament racing to appeal most frenetically to the lowest common denominator, concern over Tajiks buying land in Batken (where there are fewer and fewer Kyrgyz) will likely grow into demagoguery and itchy trigger fingers.

Subscribe to receive updates from Registan

This post was written by...

– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

For information on reproducing this article, see our Terms of Use


Metin July 4, 2011 at 8:30 am

The three countries sharing the Ferghana valley have free trade agreement within CIS, so goods produced in those countries might cross borders duty-free. Technically, trade is allowed. However, these countries, especially Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan lack own manufacturing capacities. In fact, most of the cross-border trade is done with goods made in China. Obviously, “Fortress Uzbekistan” is protecting its market, but not from consumer goods produced in KG or TJK.

Nathan Hamm July 4, 2011 at 8:51 am

Yes, trade is allowed, but whatever’s going on appears to be having some impact beyond just consumer goods flowing into Uzbekistan. There are anecdotal reports of low availability of at least some types of produce that Kyrgyzstan imports from Uzbekistan.

Obviously, it’s Uzbekistan’s prerogative to enforce its border how it sees fit, but because keeping out manufactured goods isn’t spurring the manufacture of consumer goods in Uzbekistan, it seems needlessly destructive to both countries’ economies.

Jeremy Allen July 4, 2011 at 9:11 am

ummmm, Nathan, it is July 4th, and it’s pre-10am. You should be thinking about hot dogs, watermelon, outdoor fun, swimming, fireworks, etc, anything but central asian imagery comparisons. Get to celebrating!

Nathan Hamm July 4, 2011 at 9:13 am

The damned redcoats burned down the blog last night, so when I woke up early this morning and noticed the damage, I couldn’t help but fix it. Now I’m doing all kinds of updates. I can’t help it.

In my defense, the post was written yesterday and I had to repost it this morning.

Metin July 4, 2011 at 10:41 am

+1 🙂
Happy Independence Day!

Previous post:

Next post: