The fight against drugs trafficking in Central Asia was the topic of two major meetings at the close of last week in Kazakhstan. Pino Arlacchi, director of the United Nations Drug Control Program (UNDCP), met with President Nursultan Nazarbaev on January 14. (Panorama, January 16) Their talks preceded a two-day UN-sponsored summit aimed at addressing regional problems of production, trafficking, and abuse of illicit drugs. The meeting fell within the framework of a 1996 "Memorandum of Understanding" (MOU) signed by Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Last week, Russia’s Ambassador to Kazakhstan, representing the Russian Federation, and Prince Amyn Aga Khan, the representative of His Highness the Aga Khan (who is influential with the Ismailite sect in a virtually unpoliced Badakhshan), joined the Memorandum. The seven pledged "immediate and coordinated measures against the drugs problem, especially in conjunction with international organizations such as Interpol." (Russian agencies, January 16)
Back in 1995, the then head of Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Interior’s Drugs Squad, Anatoly Vyborov, warned that Kazakhstan was "increasingly attracting the attention of international criminal organizations both as a supplier and as a transport corridor for the movement of drugs." (Panorama, July 29, 1995) While Kazakhstan also produces opium, wild hemp is even more widely grown (on four million hectares). A single plantation of 130,000 hectares in the Chuy valley in the region of Zhambyl alone is said to produce annually about five – six thousand tons of marijuana. Plantations often go undetected, are hard to destroy, and are increasingly ignored by under-resourced security forces. With one kilogram of opium fetching over ten times its local price in neighboring Russia, the temptation for local citizens to engage in transborder trade is strong. On January 15, half a ton of marijuana was seized from four Kazakhstanis in Yekaterinburg. (Itar-Tass, January 15)
Sometimes the biggest smugglers are anti-drugs officers earning state salaries of little more than 100 dollars a month. Kazakhstan has also become a drugs consumer, with over two-thirds of its addicts said to be in their twenties and to be taking their drugs intravenously. The Republic’s relative economic and political stability has encouraged it to become the transit route for exports from the ‘Golden Triangle’ of Thailand, Burma, and Laos, and from the prime opium-producer, Afghanistan. Civil war and permeable frontiers make Tajikistan an even easier initial crossing point.
In the fall of 1997, a major reorganization of Kazakhstan’s internal security forces aimed to enable the State Security Committee to concentrate its efforts on combating narcotics, corruption and organized crime. Since the narcotics trade spreads across international borders, multilateral initiatives such as those promised last week offer the most potential of curbing the problem. However, unless the interlinked problems of crime and state corruption are tackled, the situation may deteriorate before it improves.
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