Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 63

Effective suppression of the narcotics business in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, and the transfer of much of that business to opposition-held northeastern Afghanistan and Tajikistan, are twin aspects of a process generally overlooked by Western media and governments. The Afghan side of that process has, however, been observed onsite and reported by UN antidrug and relief agencies.

Meanwhile, Russian media report a booming increase in drug trafficking out of Tajikistan to European Russia, for consumption there and for transshipment to points West. Most of that trade is in heroin. Consignments carried by individual drug couriers are often so large as to suggest that the risk of detection is relatively low.

Much of that heroin is now being produced in Tajik-inhabited areas of northern Afghanistan, controlled by anti-Taliban forces or by no one. Opium cultivation and heroin-making laboratories now tend to concentrate there as a consequence of the Taliban crackdown elsewhere. Moscow and Dushanbe have until now officially pretended to ignore this trend. It has now, however, been partially acknowledged by Oleg Kharichkin, head of the Interdepartmental Antinarcotics Center of Russia’s Internal Affairs Ministry. In a March 29 press interview in Moscow, Kharichkin admitted that at least seven heroin-making laboratories relocated to northeastern Afghanistan near the border with Tajikistan in January and February alone. According to him, each one of those laboratories produces 10 kilograms of heroin each day for shipment via Tajikistan to Russia.

A natural symbiosis has developed between the Afghan Tajik drug producers and Tajikistan’s citizens who act as couriers in the drug trade, using their access to Russia and other CIS countries. Daily reporting by Russian media lifts a curtain corner on a process that is taking on dramatic proportions. Russian officials–both those in Russia and those stationed in allied Tajikistan–commonly estimate that only one tenth of the drugs in circulation are being intercepted by Tajik or Russian authorities.

On March 23, Tajik police seized 4 kilograms of heroin from two traders in the Lenin district near Dushanbe. On March 24, the Tajik antidrug agency in Dushanbe arrested two Russia-bound traders with 12.2 kilograms of heroin on them, destined for a wholesale buyer in Russia. Also on March 24, police in Russia’s Baltic enclave Kaliningrad arrested a group of thirteen, mostly Tajik, sellers of “hard drugs.” On March 25, Russian border troops in Dagestan arrested three Afghans with 6 kilograms of heroin on them on the Dushanbe-Moscow train. That same day, Uzbek border guards seized 8 kilograms of heroin from two Tajik couriers en route to Russia. On March 25 and 26, Tajik border guards found three separate consigments of heroin totalling 10.3 kilograms on three Tajik women on the international train to Russia.

On March 28, the Belarusan parliament’s commission on international and CIS affairs blocked ratification of an intergovernmental agreement on visa-free travel between member countries of the CIS Customs Union. The deputies explained that visa-free entry for citizens of Tajikistan would open the door to the Tajik narcomafia. On March 29, the Internal Affairs Directorate of Manghystau Region in western Kazakhstan publicly lamented that it “only manages to detect a small part of narcotics in transit from Tajikistan to Russia.” The Dushanbe-Moscow train crosses the Manghystau Region, where Kazakhstan’s main Caspian oil port Aktau is situated.

“Stopping the narcotics traffic” has all along been one the main rationales for stationing Russian border troops on the Tajik-Afghan border. The international community somewhat lightly accepted that rationale. Those border troops, however, are clearly failing in that mission, as the Russian border troop command in Moscow now admits.

In the current issue of that command’s official journal, Granitsa Rossii, Colonel-General Aleksandr Yeremin, deputy chief of staff of Russia’s border troops, concedes: “It is common knowledge that about 10 percent of drugs crossing the [Afghan-Tajik] border are confiscated.” Nevertheless, Yeremin goes on, “even that 10 percent is worth the trouble.” His panacea is to deploy more Russian troops to that border for antidrug action.

But the problem will persist because the Russian and Tajik governments, their militaries and their security agencies are inefficient and underequiped, pervasively corrupt, and bent on fanning conflict in Afghanistan through their clients (Granitsa Rossii, no. 11, March 2001; Asia Plus, March 26, 27; BNS, March 26; Itar-Tass, RIA, March 26-29; see the Monitor, December 13, 22, 2000, January 23, 31, February 9, March 12; Fortnight in Review, March 16).

The Monitor is a publication of the Jamestown Foundation. It is researched and written under the direction of senior analysts Jonas Bernstein, Vladimir Socor, Stephen Foye, and analysts Ilya Malyakin, Oleg Varfolomeyev and Ilias Bogatyrev. If you have any questions regarding the content of the Monitor, please contact the foundation. If you would like information on subscribing to the Monitor, or have any comments, suggestions or questions, please contact us by e-mail at, by fax at 301-562-8021, or by postal mail at The Jamestown Foundation, 4516 43rd Street NW, Washington DC 20016. Unauthorized reproduction or redistribution of the Monitor is strictly prohibited by law. Copyright (c) 1983-2002 The Jamestown Foundation Site Maintenance by Johnny Flash Productions