At the end of last month, a group of journalists and militaries from Central Asian countries were invited to participate in a seminar on integration in the region, which was held in France and Germany. The organizers of the event ensured the passage of the majority of participants from the region to Paris through transit Istanbul. Some delegations spent time waiting for the arrival of participants from other countries, in excursions around Istanbul. Getting a visa and border security at the airport of this city took from each of the participants no more than 3-4 minutes. But a greater shock awaited us when the bus with the seminar participants crossed the Franco-German border. Yes, we knew that the borders in the European Union are transparent, but the fact that at the previous border post we did not see even a hint of the state border impressed everyone without exception. In Europe, it was decided that the presence of even one policeman at the border was inappropriate.
Unwittingly you remember the times of the former Union. Although there were traffic police posts at the administrative borders between the republics, there was no feeling that you were crossing the state border. And what do we have now?
At the borders between the countries of Central Asia, there are first traffic police posts, then posts of various sanitary and epidemiological and migration structures, a little further a post of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, then a customs office, and, finally, border troops. And all this is accompanied by machine guns, service shepherd dogs, and in some places armored vehicles. And this is between the republics, which literally just over 15 years ago lived under the same roof. Strangely, during this time the Europeans were able to make their borders truly transparent, and we managed to pull off on both sides of the borders only military and armored vehicles. Really, after more than 70 years of coexistence in one country, are we so afraid of each other? And this is despite the fact that people who are related by kindred live in the border areas. One of those can be counted as me.
My relatives live on the border with Tajikistan territory of Uzbekistan. And, indeed, the gates of my aunt’s house on one side overlook Tajikistan, and the other on Uzbekistan. And, for several years now, I cannot visit my relatives, since the visa-free regime applies to residents of border areas, to which I do not belong. Recently, my old mother decided to visit relatives and pray at the graves of her ancestors. I applied to the Uzbek embassy in Dushanbe for a visa. The embassy staff kindly agreed to issue a visa to my mother, but I, who was supposed to accompany her, were refused, citing the refusal that in order for me to receive a visa, it was necessary to issue an invitation from my relatives in Uzbekistan accordingly. No offense will be told to my relatives, but they, the residents of the village, due to a multitude of reasons to get to Tashkent for hundreds of kilometers and arrange my invitation cannot be done. The same applies to my fellow countrymen in Tajikistan, who will want to invite their Uzbek relatives. And those are millions of citizens on both sides of the borders.
The fact that if a resident of Khujand, the regional center of Sogd Oblast in the north of the country, needs to travel to Tashkent, to which just over 150 km, then he will have to come for a visa in Dushanbe, can be called nonsense. The reason is that in the north of the country there is no consulate of the neighboring state. In winter, one has to get to Dushanbe only by plane, as until recently, in winter, there was no ground communication between the central and northern parts of the country. It should be noted that during the Union the movement of vehicles in the winter was carried out through the territory of Uzbekistan, and there was no need to build mountain tunnels under the passes.
I recall the incident that occurred in the winter of 2001, when my colleague from the Tajik television died of a mother in the Penjikent region, in the Zerafshan Valley. Airplanes flew to this city only once a week, and he could not get a visa. And he decided to get from Dushanbe to Penjikent through a mountain pass on foot. Unfortunately, an avalanche covered him, and his body was found in a few days. There are dozens of such examples.
But besides the avalanches in the border area, there is an even more terrible danger - mines. In 2000, the Uzbek side, unilaterally, to prevent the entry of Islamic militants, mined sections of the state border with Tajikistan. In the Tajik Mine Center they assure that during all this time they have not recorded a single fact of detonation on the mines of the militants. The explosion of mines has already died, and more than 100 citizens of Tajikistan were injured. And this is despite the fact that mine warning signs are installed on hazardous areas. Well, how to explain to the local population that the territory where they used to graze cattle or collect firewood became a strategic object in the way of preventing the penetration of militants?
By the way, for several years now the joint Tajik-Uzbek commission on the delimitation and demarcation of state borders has unsuccessfully tried to complete its mission. The border between the two countries after 16 years of independence has not yet been finally determined.
In 2006, Uzbekistan joined the EurAsEC, and the Tajiks hoped that now it would be easier to cross the border. But almost two years have passed, and the situation has not changed. The criticism of the President of Tajikistan at one of the summits of this organization in Minsk did not help either. At this event, Emomali Rakhmon, on behalf of the Tajik and Kyrgyz peoples, expressed a lack of understanding of the position of Uzbekistan, which, according to the EurAsEC Charter, was obliged to provide visa-free travel for citizens of countries belonging to this organization. But to say that criticism did not affect the position of the Uzbek authorities at all would be unfair. At the beginning of this year, Uzbekistan signed an agreement with Kyrgyzstan that in the future citizens of these countries can stay in each other’s territory for up to 90 days without a visa. Rumor says that Uzbekistan initially prepared a similar agreement with Tajikistan, but something went wrong again, and it was decided to sign this agreement with Kyrgyzstan. Now, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Tajikistan hopes that the issue of visa-free border crossing with Uzbekistan may be resolved before the end of this year.
In the meantime, life is in full swing on both sides of the border, and small shuttles are trying to establish “border trade”. In fact, for a certain amount you can cross any border, and in the East, this is not a problem at all. Perhaps, therefore, that part of the youth who goes to serve in the army, prefer to get into the border troops, in order to provide themselves with income from extortion from people illegally crossing the border?
But, returning to the topic of the seminar in France, I would like to add that among the participants were quite a few generals, high officials of the border service and customs. And all in one voice argued that they are interested in the transparency of borders. And if they are “for”, so who is “against”? People? Never. By the way, during the discussion it became obvious that both the peoples, and civil society, and the military are ready for integration between the countries of the region. It is only the political will of the leadership of the countries.
At parting, observing Eastern etiquette, I invited all the participants of the seminar, including those from European countries, to visit Tajikistan. And he recalled that since 2007, citizens of about 100 countries of the world can apply for an entry visa at the Dushanbe airport.