Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Tajikistan Voices Drugs Fear

Officials believe the United States should tackle Afghanistan's thriving opium industry as a matter of urgency.
By Zafari Abdullaev

Drugs trafficking will remain a major problem for Central Asia unless the United States government tackles the problem at its root, the Tajik authorities have warned.


Tajikistan has expressed disillusionment over the international community's perceived lack of progress in reducing opium production in neighbouring Afghanistan.


It is a serious problem for Dushanbe, as last year's drug control statistics showed that more than 85 per cent of all narcotics seizures in the region took place in Tajikistan - one of the traffickers' preferred routes to Russia and Europe.


"Operation 'enduring freedom' [which overthrew the Taleban regime] is still not having any results in destroying the manufacture of drugs in Afghanistan," Saidamir Zukhurov, Tajikistan's deputy prime minister, told the media.


Faizullo Gadoev, head of the internal affairs ministry's narcotics department, confirmed to IWPR that the overall confiscation of heroin and crack cocaine had increased markedly in recent years.


Russian frontier guards, who help Tajikistan to police its border with Afghanistan, report that around 3,900 kg of illegal drugs have been seized on the boundary since the beginning of the year - three times the amount intercepted over a similar period last year.


Tajik analysts believe that the sheer volume of opium being produced in Afghanistan is to be blamed for this increase.


And they have criticised the US government for approaching the problem "from the wrong angle" - in other words, concentrating on "war on terror" with little attention given to tackling one of the extremists' main sources of funding: the drugs trade.


Rustam Nazarov, director of Tajikistan's Drug Control Agency, DCA - founded in 1997 with financial support from the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, UNODCCP - has also expressed dissatisfaction with the situation. "Our position on this issue is that terrorism and the drug trade are two parts of the same evil," he said.


The DCA's main priority for Tajikistan in 2003 will be to cooperate with similar agencies to unmask the leaders of international drugs gangs. "We are currently developing a mechanism for an anti-drug coalition," Nazarov told the media.


A report by the UNODCCP found that a record 3,400 tons of opium had been harvested from 70,000 hectares of Afghan land last year - enough to produce 340 tons of heroin.


Russian frontier guard spokesman Pyotr Gordienko described this amount as a "weapon of mass destruction". "It can take as little as one gram of heroin to hook an individual - so one ton could result in a million addicts," he explained, adding that the cultivation of opium poppies and the movement of traffickers must be curtailed.


The perceived lack of progress in halting the drugs trade has been blamed on a lack of interest on Washington's part once it had achieved its prime objective - overthrowing the Taleban regime accused of harbouring September 11 atrocity suspect Osama bin Laden.


"After this, the US then began another military campaign, this time to overthrow Saddam Hussein in Iraq," independent political scientist Rashid Gani told IWPR. "The problem of destroying drug crops and heroin laboratories has therefore not been an American priority."


Gani also believes that the US sees Afghanistan's opium industry as a problem for Europe and Russia - where the majority of the country's narcotics end up - and is instead concentrating on the Latin American heroin trade which it views as a more direct threat.


However, all acknowledge that Washington has so far been generous to Tajikistan, with considerable funds being made available to the former Soviet republic's frontier guards and customs officers.


In February, the US ambassador to Tajikistan, Franklin Huddle, told officials that by the time a two-year 1.8 million US dollar aid programme has been completed at the end of 2003, border control personnel would be equipped with state of the art communications and monitoring equipment. In addition, around 500 frontier guards will have received training from American military specialists.


But there is a widespread view in Tajikistan that the US administration will need to demonstrate more political will if the problem is to be tackled successfully.


Analyst Tursun Kabirov believes that Washington, which is keen to support Afghan president Hamid Karzai's interim administration, may be unwilling to alienate the powerful warlords who still control large areas of Afghanistan - mostly those rich in opium fields. "Maybe the US wants to obtain greater loyalty from these field commanders," Kabirov suggested.


Afghanistan's transitional government has made a number of efforts to limit opium production within its borders, but with little success. Tajik analysts fear Karzai's offer of compensation - 600 dollars per hectare, compared to an opium grower's estimated average profits of 14,000 dollars for the same area - is unlikely to succeed.


Zafari Abdullaev is an independent journalist in Dushanbe


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