Tensions have subsided in the Tajik-Kyrgyz border region after meetings between Tajik Primer Minister Murodali Alimardon and his Kyrgyz contemporary Tokon Marnytov yielded a tentative agreement on a plan to demarcate border regions after clashes attracted international attention. The dispute arose as a result of the Kyrgyz construction of a highway within the Fergana Valley that local Tajiks contended infringed upon their own territory. While both sides alleged that the other had instigated the skirmish, both were quick to summon additional forces to their respective borders. Kyrgyz authorities claimed that Tajik forces acted aggressively through the use of mortars and rocket propelled grenades. Tajik authorities did not respond to these claims until January 17th, when a Tajik official acknowledged that his troops had fired mortar rounds against Kyrgyz border guards.
The Fergana Valley lies in the border zones shared by Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Ethnic tensions run high in this area due to unspecific border demarcation; because of this, citizenship is usually determined by ethnicity alone. While tension between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan is not an abnormality, the fact that that recent incident constituted an official diplomatic conflict exceeds any dispute in recent memory.
Thus far, the tenants of the agreement are limited to the withdrawal of forces from the border zones, and the promise of further meetings on border demarcation later this month. The agreement represents a potential economic issue for both Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, as both nations avoid transportation routes through Uzbekistan, which is known for obstructing southern trade routes. It is unclear whether or not Kyrgyz authorities will continue efforts to construct the highway that sparked the dispute.
President of Turkmenistan Berdymukhamedov announced new prices for natural gas, ending the free supply to which many of its citizens have become accustomed. Coming on the heels of this announcement is the finalization of plans to establish the TAPI Consortium, a project to move natural gas from the Galkynysh gas fields down to India for transport into world markets.
- The Times of Central Asia reports that an agreement on the Central Asia, South Asia Electricity Transmission and Trade Project will be signed by April of this year. The agreement between the World Bank and the Tajik government will provide for the construction of greater electrical infrastructure within Tajikistan and allow for it to transmit surplus energy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
- Central Asian governments (and Western intelligence services) are concerned about the possibility of a spillover of insurgency and Islamic based terror networks into neighboring countries such as theIslamic Movement of Uzbekistan, or the IMU. This concern, however, assumes a total US/NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan after 2014 – and much of the spillover is suspected by some to be a strategy for securing outside appropriations.
- $500 million in previously frozen funds were returned to Iran as part of the interim nuclear pact negotiated between Western powers and Iran in November. The installment was the first of six such payments to be made prior to a final, $4.2 billion installment to be released on the final day of six month time frame agreed upon by both sides.
- Abdullah Abdullah, considered by many to be the front runner in the upcoming April elections in Afghanistan to replace longstanding president Hamid Karzai, has gotten his campaign off to a rocky start when two of his campaign workers were shot dead in the streets of Herat.
- Kazakh oil and gas industries experienced considerable growth in 2013, with production rising to 1.64 million barrels per day. Forecasts for the coming years show an expected growth in already substantial production as Kazakhstan’s main production facility, Kashagan, nears completion.
- The Russian government continues to clamp down on security in preparation for the Winter Olympics in Sochi after a suicide bombing in Volgograd and a suspected terrorist arrived in Sochi from Dagestan. The Russian government has been roundly criticized in the international press, not just for its handling of terrorism issues, but also for its ongoing scandals relating to construction of Olympic facilities in Sochi.
- Leading Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti was detained by the Chinese government. Tohti has been a vocal supporter of the Uighurs; a Muslim minority concentrated in Western China, and has campaigned for greater civil liberties, human rights and general freedoms for minority groups existing within China. The arrest of Tohti comes at a time when Chinese authorities have redoubled efforts to curb what they label “activities that have harmed ethnic unity.”
- Kyrgyzstan’s long debate over joining the Customs Union of Belarus, Russia, and Kazakhstan has been resolved, as Advisor to the Prime Minister Oleg Pankratov has indicated the government will pursue a gradual integration to boost the weak Kyrgyz economy. Throughout Central Asia and other post-Soviet states, public support for joining the Customs Union is growing.
- Gulnara Karimova, Uzbekistan’s controversial first daughter was recently the subject of media attention after Uzbek dissidents broke into her Swiss villa and uncovered what they described as objects of natural importance, including rare works of Uzbek artists and a jewel-encrusted Koran dating back to the 18th century. The former Uzbek pop star, diplomat and businesswoman has been the subject of increased controversy as rumors of an elite power struggle have emanated from Tashkent.