January 2023 Monthly Forecast

ASIA

UNRCCA (Central Asia)

Expected Council Action

In January, the Special Representative and head of the UN Regional Centre for Central Asia (UNRCCA), Natalia Gherman, is expected to brief the Security Council on UNRCCA’s work in closed consultations.

Key Recent Developments

Gherman last briefed Council members in closed consultations on 28 July. Among other matters, she provided an update on UNRCCA’s activities pertaining to counter-terrorism, transboundary water management, border demarcation, and the women, peace and security and youth, peace and security agendas. Gherman also discussed the situation in Afghanistan and its impact on Central Asia, the bout of unrest that broke out in the Gorno-Badakhshan region of Tajikistan in May, the ongoing border dispute between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and the July protests in the Karakalpakstan region of Uzbekistan.

On 14 September, clashes erupted between Kyrgyz and Tajik forces along the disputed part of the border between the two countries. Kyrgyz and Tajik officials each blamed the other side for the outbreak of violence. According to media reports, the Kyrgyz Border Guard claimed that Tajik troops shot at Kyrgyz guards stationed at the Dostuk outpost in the Kak-Sai area of Kyrgyzstan’s southern Batken region. Tajik officials, on the other hand, accused Kyrgyz forces of initiating hostilities by firing mortar shells at Tajik troops. The fighting, which continued for several days and reportedly involved the use of tanks, artillery, and rocket launchers, killed at least 81 people and wounded more than 139 others. According to Kyrgyz authorities, a further 136,000 people were displaced by the violence.

In a 17 September statement, the Secretary-General called on Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to “engage in dialogue for a lasting ceasefire” and said that “both sides should take advantage of the existing mechanisms on the ground to defuse tensions”. The statement also said that the UN “stands ready to assist in identifying a sustainable solution to the border disputes, if requested by both sides”.

On 25 September, the Chairman of the State Committee for National Security of Kyrgyzstan and the head of the State Committee for National Security of Tajikistan reportedly signed a protocol “on the settlement of the situation on the border”. Under the terms of the protocol, each side agreed to remove four border posts and to conduct border patrols using mobile detachments of troops. Three days earlier, on 22 September, Gherman met with Tajikistan’s ambassador to Turkmenistan Farrukh Sharifzoda, and discussed the border clashes, among other matters.

The clashes marked the third occasion in the last two years that the border dispute between the two countries has escalated into widespread violence. In April 2021, a disagreement over the use of a shared water distribution facility led to fighting that killed at least 50 people and injured hundreds more. In late January 2022, a dispute over a blocked road erupted into clashes between the two sides. Tajik authorities claimed that two people were killed and a further ten wounded during the fighting, while Kyrgyz officials said that 12 people were wounded and more than 24,000 evacuated from the area. There have also been sporadic border skirmishes between Kyrgyz and Tajik forces during the past two years.

Violent anti-government protests took place in the Gorno-Badakhshan region of Tajikistan in May 2022. In response to the protests, Tajik authorities began an “anti-terror operation” in the region. According to the UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues, as many as 40 people were killed in the region during this operation. Tajik authorities have reportedly continued to target demonstrators and leaders of the protests since May.

On 3 November, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan signed a series of agreements demarcating several parts of the border between the two countries, including an agreement to jointly manage the Kempir-Abad water reservoir. The agreement regarding management of the reservoir was opposed by several groups in Kyrgyzstan. According to media reports, Kyrgyz authorities carried out raids on 23 October targeting members of the groups who voiced their opposition to the deal. At least 20 activists and politicians were detained during the raids.

In early July 2022, violent protests began in the autonomous Karakalpakstan region of Uzbekistan. The protests were reportedly sparked after Uzbekistan’s president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, proposed a raft of constitutional amendments that would, among other matters, remove Karakalpakstan’s right to secede from Uzbekistan. A Karakalpak leader who voiced opposition to the proposed changes was detained on 1 July, leading hundreds of protesters to take to the streets and prompting Uzbek authorities to shut down internet access in the region. The ensuing protests ran for three days and quickly turned violent. According to the Uzbek government, 21 people were killed and a further 243 injured during the protests.

The war in Ukraine has had a ripple effect throughout Central Asia. Prices in many Central Asian countries have increased, while remittance payments from migrant workers in Russia, a key source of income for many families in Central Asia, have declined. Several analysts have suggested that the conflict appears to have weakened Russia’s influence in the region.

From 18 to 19 October, UNRCCA and the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT) organised a high-level conference in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, on “international and regional border security and management cooperation to counter terrorism and prevent the movement of terrorists”. The conference was conducted under the Dushanbe process, which was launched in May 2018 to discuss challenges preventing violent extremism and countering terrorism, and was hosted in partnership with Tajikistan, the EU and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). In her opening remarks, Gherman stressed that UNRCCA brings a preventive diplomacy approach to border security challenges. High-level officials from the region also shared information about the efforts of their countries to strengthen border security, including through repatriation, rehabilitation, and reintegration of foreign terrorist fighters and their family members.

On 29 and 30 November 2022, UNRCCA convened a meeting on water and energy cooperation, bringing together national experts from Central Asian states in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. The event was held within the framework of UNRCCA’s “Strategy in support of cooperation between the states of Central Asia in the field of water, energy, environment and climate for 2022-2025”. Participants exchanged views on water management, climate change adaptation policies, green economy strategies, and ongoing law reform efforts.

On 2 December, the Secretary-General announced that Gherman had been appointed as the next Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate (CTED).

Key Issues and Options

One of the main issues for the Council is how to make the best use of UNRCCA’s expertise and whether there is anything else the Council could do to support UNRCCA’s efforts to facilitate preventive diplomacy and regional cooperation.

The recent unrest and violence in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan is an issue for the Council to consider. Members are likely to be interested in learning more from Gherman about the effect that these incidents might have on stability in the region.

The situation in Afghanistan and its impact on Central Asia is another issue for the Council. The Council could consider inviting a representative of UNAMA to participate in the consultations and provide information regarding developments in the country that may affect the wider region.

Another option would be for Council members to convene an informal interactive dialogue with representatives of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to discuss their border dispute and possible ways the international community can support their efforts to resolve it.

Council Dynamics

Council members are generally supportive of UNRCCA and view it as an important tool in promoting cooperation in Central Asia. Until 2015, Council members issued a press statement following the consultations, encouraging increased cooperation and coordination among the Central Asian countries, UNRCCA, and “relevant regional organisations”. In September 2015, however, Russia, the penholder on UNRCCA, sought to add specific references in the statement to the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), as well as the OSCE and the EU. The P3 (France, the UK and the US) opposed these additions, seeing the CIS, the CSTO and the SCO as vehicles for enhancing Russian influence in the region. As a result, a press statement could not be agreed upon for more than two years.

Kazakhstan was able to overcome these difficulties during its 2017-2018 term as an elected member by proposing compromise language. Press elements were issued in February 2017, and a press statement was agreed upon in January 2018.

Since then, however, Council members have again been unable to reach agreement on a UNRCCA press statement owing to disagreements about referring to regional organisations. The conflict in Ukraine may further complicate consensus over a press statement.

UN DOCUMENTS ON UNRCCA

Security Council Letter
7 May 2007S/2007/279 This was a letter from the Secretary-General on the establishment of a United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy in Ashgabat.
Security Council Press Statement
25 January 2018SC/13179 This was a press statement welcoming further cooperation and coordination between UNRCCA, the Central Asian States, and relevant regional organisations, including those organisations of which the Central Asian States are members.