TASHKENT -- Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are teaming up against terrorism and extremism.
Uzbekistan is the most populous country in Central Asia, while Kazakhstan has the region's largest economy.
Representatives of the countries' law enforcement agencies May 20 in Shymkent, Kazakhstan, convened to discuss a joint plan against extremism and trans-national crime in their border zone.
The officials signed agreements to bolster their countries' co-operation on border zone security.
The news came after the countries May 2 reached a final agreement on demarcation of their border.
They had been in talks on the matter since 2004.
Their shared border, about 2,159km long, is "the longest border in Central Asia", Otabek Khayitkulov, a researcher at the Tashkent-based Institute for Oriental Studies, told Central Asia Online. "Every day thousands of people cross the border in both directions."
Soviet authorities who drew up the boundary between the then-Soviet republics in the 1920s disregarded "ethnic composition in the provinces [facing each other]", leading to border disputes after the USSR's collapse in 1991, Khayitkulov said.
For example, 16.8% of the population of South Kazakhstan Province is ethnic Uzbek, according to 2016 statistics, he said, adding that large ethnic Kazakh communities dwell in three Uzbek provinces.
"In the 1990s there were no firm boundaries, which caused many problems and contributed to an increase in crime, [including] petty smuggling," Tashkent Province resident Doniyer Aliyev told Central Asia Online.
Finding a common approach; standing up against terrorism
However, the countries in 2015-2016 reached a new level of co-operation after the initially rough post-Soviet years.
"The Uzbek-Kazakhstani demarcation commission convened in Gulistan, Uzbekistan, May 2," Uzbek Foreign Ministry spokesman Farid Umarov told Central Asia Online. "All issues were resolved."
Settling their long-standing border dispute will enable the countries to crack down together on extremists who would have exploited a poorly or inconsistently enforced border. Kazakhstan is mourning the victims of a June 5 terrorist attack in Aktobe, while Uzbekistan is outraged that a terrorist movement bearing the country's name -- the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) -- operates in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Over the years, the countries' presidents have repeatedly emphasised their shared resolve to fight terrorism and extremism and to establish regional security.
"Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan should support each other in the international arena and should participate in implementing joint initiatives," Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev said at his April 15 Astana summit with Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov, according to transcripts. "Our joint opposition to international terrorism and .. extremism is a topical issue."
"Close co-operation between our states is necessary for peace, tranquillity and stability," Karimov said at the summit. "The speedy stabilisation of Afghanistan and peace in that country are crucial for security and stability in our region and beyond its boundaries."
Securing the border together
Already, the countries' law enforcement agencies have taken concrete steps to co-operate in border security.
"An Uzbek law enforcement delegation met with its Kazakhstani counterparts in South Kazakhstan Province May 20," Uzbek Interior Ministry (MVD) spokesman Samvel Petrosyan told Central Asia Online.
"They discussed joint counter-measures to fight illegal immigration, trans-national crime and extremism," he said.
The officials "set up a co-ordinated working group to deal with the exchange of information on suspects and to conduct joint operations", Petrosyan said. "They signed documents related to the working group's operations."