After the border demarcation and build up of the military infrastructure, the visa regime is to be implemented by the countries of the region

The Central Asian republics have started a new process of separation. Following Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan also plans to implement a visa regime for the CIS citizens. On February 10, Umarzak Uzbekov, the Ambassador of Kazakhstan to Uzbekistan, announced that the Uzbek Foreign Ministry is considering terminating the agreement on visa-free movement of CIS citizens signed in Bishkek on October 9, 1992, in the territories of its members.

Due to this, the Uzbek Foreign Ministry approved a draft agreement between the governments of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan that approved mutual visits of citizens. Simultaneously, Tashkent proposes discussion of the future visa regime and formulation of the procedure of entrance and departure for citizens of both countries. Simultaneously, similar documents were sent to the other CIS countries. Such a decision is associated with the recent terrorist acts committed in the republic and the intention of Russia to implement a visa regime. However, it was also reported that so far Moscow made such a decision only with regard to Georgia and Azerbaijan.

Meanwhile, the decision to “separate itself” from its neighbors, especially from Kazakhstan, will be difficult for Uzbekistan. The border between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan equals about 2,000 kilometers. About one million ethnic Kazakh people currently reside in Uzbekistan, the majority of them being its citizens. This way or the other, the problems between Tashkent and Astana have been increasingly aggravated.

The PR service of the Kazakh Foreign Ministry reported to Interfax-Kazakhstan that in accordance with the Kazakh government resolution of February 1, foreign citizens, who have visas from countries participating in the agreement on mutual recognition of visas of CIS countries, will be able to cross the Kazakh territory only if they have Kazakh transit visas. According to the PR service, this step is a temporary measure primarily aimed at stopping illegal migration to Kazakhstan, as well as at preventing the use of the Kazakh territory for illegal penetration into the neighboring countries. The current growth of illegal migration represents a “serious threat” to the national security of the republic, stresses the PR service.

The transparency of borders with the neighboring countries, adds the PR service, is used by criminal elements as a “transit corridor” for weapons and drugs trafficking, which in turn contributes to the aggravation of the criminal situation in the whole CIS and, in particular, in Kazakhstan. The PR service reported that on January 1 and 15, Uzbekistan and Russia respectively suspended the agreement on mutual recognition of visas of CIS countries.

Uzbekistan also wants to eliminate the transparency of its borders. However, it is doing this in an original manner. According to Interfax-Kazakhstan, which received information from the PR service of the Kazakh Interior Ministry department of the Yuzhno-Kazakhstanskaya Region, on January 26, a group of eight Uzbek citizens, including four militants (two of them armed with automatic rifles), demarcated the border between the two countries using an armored personnel carrier. They marked the border by wooden pegs that they drove into the ground in the administrative territory of the Yuzhno-Kazakhstanskaya Region.

On January 27, the Kazakh Foreign Ministry sent a “firm” note of protest to official Tashkent about this incident. Kazakh Foreign Minister Yerlan Idrisov reported this to journalists on the same day. According to Idrisov, last Wednesday he met with his Uzbek counterpart in Moscow and informed him that “such actions were unacceptable.”

Idrisov added that “there is a civilized border definition.” According to him, at present there is the state border, which was defined between the Kazakh and Uzbek Soviet Republics in the Soviet Union. “In this case, I would not like to make any comments,” said the minister. He emphasized that the Kazakh party “is attentively monitoring” this situation. Idrisov noted that he agreed with the Uzbek party that the “negotiation process should be accelerated” in regards to the demarcation of the Kazakh-Uzbek state border.

Meanwhile, already on January 28, Sat Tokpakbaev, the Defense Minister of Kazakhstan, announced that a few military garrisons would be additionally moved to the southern borders of Kazakhstan in spring and their re-deployment had already begun. According to Tokpakbaev, this would be done to strengthen the southern borders of the republics “due to last year’s events in the south of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.” First of all, the borders with Kyrgyzstan will be strengthened, said the minister. Overall, according to him, it is necessary to change the arrangement of military units deployment in the territory of Kazakhstan. It seems that Kazakhstan is less concerned about its border with Kyrgyzstan, than it is about its border with Uzbekistan. At least, the Kazakh Defense Minister recently visited the Yuzhno-Kazakhstanskaya Region bordering with Uzbekistan. On February 8, he visited the military garrisons deployed in the Saryagashsky District on the Uzbek border. According to Interfax, Tokpakbaev also visited some military units deployed in Chimkent (the administrative center of the Yuzhno-Kazakhstanskaya Region). He also visited Arys where there are large ammunition depots of the Kazakh Defense Ministry. On February 16, the first round of Kazakh-Uzbek negotiations on the state border demarcation was accomplished in Tashkent. The negotiations were conducted behind closed doors. However, according to some sources, no agreements were achieved. Marat Tazhin, assistant to the President of Kazakhstan for national security, reported that although the border demarcation was a long process, work on it would continue.

It is clear why Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan want to be separated. They need strong borders to create an obstacle for terrorists. However, the countries will face serious problems. The Tashkent District, located near to where the incident on the border occurred, has a very dense population. Many families live in the Kazakh territory, but go to work in the Uzbek capital. After breakup of the Soviet Union and the terrorist acts in Tashkent, such situation has become complicated, because buses from Tashkent travel only to the border with Kazakhstan. After reaching the border, people must use other forms of transportation.

We should point out that Uzbekistan set up such barriers along the whole perimeter of its borders, especially with Tajikistan. Neither Tajik nor Turkmen cars are admitted into Uzbekistan. Both Central Asian republics do not trust each other. Tashkent and Astana are competing for influence in Central Asia. However, their competition has only inflicted suffering on the population.

The new military doctrine of Kazakhstan, which was signed on February 10, says that “Kazakhstan considers its main foreign threats to include: the existing and potential zones of military conflicts near its borders, the possibility of extremists and terrorists penetrating the republic, and excessive build up of the military power by some countries of the region.” The doctrine does not specify these countries, although it clearly implies Uzbekistan, which doubled the strength of its troops deployed in its territory. Meanwhile, Russian forces deployed near the western borders of Kazakhstan are small.

The Uzbek Armed Forces are the least combat ready. They make cautious steps towards friendship with Russia. Kazakhstan is behaving in an opposite manner. Kazakhstan participates in the Treaty on Collective security. Uzbekistan has withdrawn from the treaty and joined the GUAM association (Georgia, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova) that was organized under the aegis of NATO. It actively maintains relations with NATO countries and US.

Thus, on February 8, the scientific-practical conference, “Armed conflicts in the Central Asian region and their influence on the development of military science” was held in Tashkent. The PR service of the Uzbek Defense Ministry reported that senior officers from all of the country’s security agencies, representatives of the Foreign Ministry, Macroeconomic Ministry, Statistical Ministry, and some others, as well as representatives of the staff for coordination of military cooperation of CIS countries, military attachees of the US, Germany, France, Turkey, Ukraine, China, and Russia participated in the conference. Incidentally, nothing was reported about the presence of certain representatives of Central Asian countries at the conference. Were they absent, of were they simply not mentioned?

Meanwhile, it is evident that the theme of the conference was regional and international. At the conference, it was announced that the Central Asian region “has become an object of criminal activities of radical extremist forces and subversion centers willing to facilitate the expansion of international terrorism, religious extremism, and fanaticism.” Under these circumstances the most important task of countries of the region is organization of mobile self-sustaining and well-armed armed forces. Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan are building them up. Militarization of the region is growing.

However, it is not known what the results will be of organizing stronger barriers separating the people who used to live in an integrated territory.