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.