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Tajik-Uzbek Border Progress

A deal to resolve a long-running frontier dispute may usher in a new era of improved relations.
By Rashid Abdullo

An agreement on the majority of the disputed Uzbek-Tajik border was signed in Dushanbe last week, raising hopes that one of the main bones of contention between the two republics could soon be removed.

Both sides agreed on 86 per cent of the 1,283 km long frontier at the Central Asian Cooperation Organisation summit on October 5 and 6.

The breakthough resolves several issues that could have ended in armed conflict between the former Soviet states.

For Tajikistan, though, this was a painful decision, as it means finally giving up on long-standing territorial claims.

The current border between the two countries, which was formed by the Soviet authorities in the Twenties, has been disputed by Dushanbe for decades, as Samarkand and Bukhara - the ancient seats of Tajik history and culture - were given to Uzbekistan along with a number of other areas.

However, Uzbekistan's economic dominance has left Tajikistan with little choice but to draw a line under the past in the hope of improved relations in the future.

Commenting on the agreement, Abdulgani Mamadazimov, head of the National Association of Political Scientists, said he believed Tajikistan must now accept its new borders. "We shouldn't lay claim to land that went over to other nations in the course of historical upheavals," he said.

The special meeting between Uzbek president Islam Karimov and his Tajik counterpart Imomali Rakhmomov - held separately from the summit's main programme - was only their second in Tajikistan since the two republics gained their independence in 1991.

Other thorny issues - of transit, freight and the supply of Uzbek gas - were also discussed during the meeting, which appears to have resulted in a level of goodwill that has been absent for a number of years.

"Delimitation of the Uzbek-Tajik border will create a firm basis for normal relations between our sovereign nations," Karimov said.

He added that while some disputed areas remain - particularly in Tajikistan's Sogd Oblast - the two countries would take each other's interests into account when the time came to discuss the issue.

Referring to the agreement as an important milestone in Uzbek-Tajik relations, Karimov expressed hope that the delimitation would put an end to "insinuations which could cause conflict between our peoples".

The Uzbek president also claimed that regular flights between the republics will restart in 2003.

Shorirchon Khakimov, the deputy head of the Tajikistan Congress of National Unity, told IWPR that the accord should solve a lot of problems for the two nations and might lead to a truce in the war of words between the republics' respective media.

It was an escalation in the latter that led to the implementation of Uzbekistan's strict visa regime in 2000, and its decision to plant land mines along some stretches of the border.

Mukhibullo Zubaid, a teacher at the philosophy department of the State National University in Dushanbe, described the border agreement as a farewell to the past.

"Tajikistan and Uzbekistan now realise that they are sovereign nations and are thus governed by international norms," he said. "The people of the two countries must not only get used to this reality, they must recognise and respect it - no matter how difficult this may be."

Rashid Abdullo is a political analyst in Dushanbe.

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