DRUG TRADE ENGULFS TAJIKISTAN, SPILLS INTO RUSSIA.

Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 21

On January 26, a special, enlarged session of Tajikistan’s Security Council acknowledged the explosive growth in the narcotics traffic via Tajikistan to Russia and Europe. President Imomali Rahmonov, chairing the session, made several scathing remarks about the authorities’ failure to stop the transit of Afghan-made drugs. The carefully selected official information about the session suggests that the leadership is aware of the crisis, yet remains reluctant to expose its true proportions and the factors behind it.

The Security Council’s secretary, Amirkul Azimov, reported to the session that the narcotics traffic has become pervasive, that an increasing number of Tajiks are becoming involved in the drugs business and in drug-related criminality, and that more and more citizens of Tajikistan are being arrested as drug couriers in CIS countries. Among those countries, Russia provides the main market as well as way stations for the Afghan-made drugs sent via Tajikistan to Europe.

Azimov’s report admitted to the fact that many drug merchants and couriers are members of Tajik state agencies, including law enforcement bodies and security services. The report severely criticized the state authorities responsible for failing to implement presidential decrees, governmental programs and Security Council decisions against the narcotics trade. Those decrees, programs and decisions, issued in the last five years, have remained a dead letter. The report identified one cause behind this failure: “law enforcement officers themselves being involved in the drug trade and making it possible for the dealers to evade the law.” Azimov’s report concluded that the drug business has reached a level which “poses a direct threat to national security.”

For his part, Rahmonov warned the heads of law enforcement bodies that “drastic measures would be taken against them if they fail to turn the situation around in the near future.” The president’s published remarks indirectly revealed the extent and level of official corruption. He warned the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Supreme Court, the State Customs Committee and the State Border Protection Committee [border troops’ command] to take measures against “unscrupulous staff;” and he announced an investigation into the operations of the Drug Control Agency, a body directly subordinated to the presidency. Rahmonov, furthermore, called for tracking down the Tajik drug money laundered and banked “in other states”–meaning primarily Russia.

The authorities, however, lack both the means and the integrity to carry out the president’s and the Security Council’s instructions. Rahmonov resorted to the Soviet-style method of ordering the State Committee for Women and State Committee for Youth to launch propaganda campaigns, and commissioned a five-year program of antidrug measures for 2001-2005, which may well turn out to be as declarative as predecessor documents of this type.

The Security Council itself includes heads of deeply corrupt state agencies such as those named by Rahmonov in his speech. The officially published excerpts, however, do not include references to the State Security Ministry, the staff of which is widely suspected to be complicit in the interrelated trades with drugs and arms. The president’s Kulob clan is overrepresented in that ministry, and the Kulob area near the Afghan border is known as a major transit point for Afghan-made drugs. Kulob, moreover, is one of the country’s few areas to which the writ of Dushanbe does extend.

In that presidential stronghold, the Tajik State Security Ministry and Russian military intelligence operate the covert Parkhar airfield, which lies beyond the jurisdiction even of the Russian army and border troops in Tajikistan. Helicopters and light planes shuttle regularly between Parkhar and Afghanistan’s northeastern area which is held by the anti-Taliban coalition. According to Russian border troop officers in Russian media interviews, the Parkhar operation serves both to supply the anti-Taliban forces and to ferry Afghan drugs into Tajikistan for further shipment to Russia. Those Russian officers’ allegations are generally considered credible, though they may partly be intended as an excuse for the border troops’ failure to stop the bulk of the cross-border drug trade overland.

Two recent developments in the Afghan narcotics trade have made the situation in Tajikistan worse than it already was. First, the raw and processed drugs from the 1999 Afghan bumper crop of opium are now being moved to markets by wholesale drug traffickers via Afghanistan’s war-torn northeast. And, second, following the Taliban authorities’ measures last year against poppy cultivation and opium processing, those activities have tended to move beyond the Taliban’s range to northeastern Afghanistan and to Tajikistan itself. Tajikistan is, by now, not only a drug transit country but also a drug producing country–a development not mentioned in the official reports of the Security Council’s session in Dushanbe.

Meanwhile, Russian media reports help explain the Tajik leaders’ hand-wringing about their citizens–state employees included–serving as the principal drug couriers to and in Russia. On January 27, a Tajik “former” security officer was arrested at the border while carrying 17 kilograms of opium. On January 29, two consignments of heroin–of 760 grams and 1.1 kilograms, respectively–were confiscated from three Tajik couriers–one of them a Dushanbe police officer–on arrival at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport on the regular flight from Dushanbe. That same day, one kilogram of heroin was found on three Tajik couriers on a train bound via Uzbekistan for Russia. On January 30, a Tajik courier was arrested with 450 grams of heroin on him in the middle-Volga city of Samara. And in Astrakhan on the lower Volga that same day, Russian police arrested a Tajik courier with 280 grams of heroin in his possession. Russian media carry such reports on a daily basis and Russian police consider that the Tajik drug mafia now heavily dominates the narcotics trade in Russia’s cities (Hovar, January 26; Itar-Tass, January 26-30; see the Monitor, December 13, 22, 2000, January 23).

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