Relations between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan reached an all-time low at the end of April when the armed forces of the two countries battled over border issues.
More than 50 people were killed and scores wounded, most of them Kyrgyz citizens.
Attempts at reconciliation along their common border produced mixed results, and a visit to Tajikistan by Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov in late June did little to warm relations between the Central Asian neighbors despite talk by Japarov and his Tajik counterpart, Emomali Rahmon, about traditionally friendly ties.
An unexpected opportunity to improve the strained relations came on July 13-14 when 345 ethnic Kyrgyz from Afghanistan's Badakhshan Province chose to flee the increased fighting in their country and crossed into Tajikistan.
Kyrgyz authorities quickly announced they would take the group and the approximately 4,000 livestock they had and resettle them in Kyrgyzstan, as they've done with dozens of other ethnic Kyrgyz from Badakhshan in recent years.
It seemed simple enough.
The Afghan Kyrgyz did not want to live in Afghanistan anymore and Tajik officials did not want them to stay in Tajikistan.
Kyrgyzstan said it would accept them and give them land for their livestock and allow them to make a new home in their ancestral country.
Kyrgyz officials had previously discussed the Afghan Kyrgyz with Tajik officials on the sidelines of international conferences and meetings held in Tashkent and Dushanbe from July 14-16.
On July 16, Kyrgyzstan’s Foreign Ministry invited the Tajik ambassador for talks on arranging passage for the Afghan Kyrgyz and their herds of animals through Tajikistan to Kyrgyzstan.
But on July 18, Tajikistan’s Khovar state news agency reported that the Afghan Kyrgyz had been sent back to Afghanistan after Kabul officials guaranteed their safety.
That guarantee is unlikely to satisfy anyone since fighting is raging across Afghanistan and the government cannot realistically guarantee anyone’s safety, a point hammered home by a rocket attack outside the presidential palace in Kabul on July 20.
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The Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry says its offers to help Tajikistan to move the Afghan Kyrgyz to Kyrgyzstan for resettlement went unanswered and Tajik authorities did not inform Kyrgyzstan about the decision to return the group and their animals to Afghanistan.
The Tajik government has, arguably, the worst relationship with the Taliban of all the Central Asian states and does not want to do anything that could further undercut the Afghan government’s campaign against the Taliban.
The resettling of Afghan citizens in other countries is a sign of instability and even defeat for Kabul, and it is quite possible Afghan officials asked Tajikistan to send the group of Kyrgyz back to Afghanistan to show that the government and army can still provide security.
The ongoing fighting with the Taliban is still very fluid and, while the Taliban have become quite media savvy and their claims of victories are widely disseminated, many areas and provincial capitals are still contested and government forces and their militia allies retook some districts in counteroffensives in mid-July.
But for people in Kyrgyzstan, the decision to send their ethnic kin back into the Afghan inferno is just another reason for them to believe the Tajik government is no friend of the Kyrgyz people.