Appearing on national television recently, Deputy Interior Minister Anatoly Vyborov stated that over the last ten months, the amount of drugs seized in Kazakhstan from traffickers increased by 25%, compared to the same period for last year. Police also detained over 4,000 drug dealers. The most successful police raid focused on a gang hideout in West Kazakhstan and yielded 2.5 tons of marijuana. This particular gang had amassed a sizeable arsenal of weapons to protect their cannabis fields from rival groups. Vyborov added that three months ago narcotics officers seized 21 kilograms of heroin, a substance largely unknown in Kazakhstan only ten years ago (Khabar TV, November 6).
Drug smugglers easily transit the porous borders between the Central Asian countries. In summer 2004 reporters from the government newspaper Kazakhstanskaya pravda bought 30 grams of heroin in Kyrgyzstan and easily brought the contraband into Almaty just to prove that the border guard service neglects its duties. Last month a Kazakh special taskforce detained a resident of Russia’s troubled Ingushetia region when they discovered 25 kilograms of heroin hidden in his car. What impressed the police was not the size of the haul, but the ease with which the suspect had crossed the Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan and Kyrgyzstan-Kazakhstan borders during his long journey to Novosibirsk.
Drug traffickers from Tajikistan and Afghanistan are usually bound for Russia, and until recently Kazakhstan was used almost exclusively as a transit route. But Kazakhstan itself is increasingly becoming one of the major drugs providers in the region. Fields of wild hemp in the Chu Valley in south Kazakhstan cover 130,000 hectares and produce more than 40 tons of hashish annually. In the socialist era authorities tried to eradicate wild hemp by using herbicides, setting hemp fields on fire, and plowing the fields under. No measure got rid of the hemp.
On January 11, 2003, the government issued a special decree that laid a good foundation for creating a Kazakh-German joint venture to reprocess the Chu hemp for industrial use. But while government officials are pondering the specifics of the joint enterprise, drug dealers are doing a thriving business in the Chu Valley. Deputy Minister Vyborov said that the situation in the Chu Valley was particularly alarming because more and more people are being drawn into the narcotics business. “Local gangs are gaining ground. They are practically always armed and put up stiff resistance. They even mine access [roads] to hemp plantations,” he complained (Express-K, October 29).
Given the lucrative stakes involved, it is not surprising that criminal rings can easily acquire landmines and firearms. In some cases high-placed police officers assist drug dealers by providing them with a reliable cover. Last year two police officers were sacked for their links to illicit drug traffickers. The chiefs of the narcotics squads in Zhambyl and Karagandy regions were dismissed from their jobs for “serious shortcomings.” But such mild punishment did not serve as a lesson to others.
In the first half of 2004, 14 officials from the Interior Ministry were fired for collaborating with drug traffickers. “The work of the anti-drug committee in the first half of the year was a complete failure,” Vyborov admitted. He went on to say that the locals in the Chu Valley have set up drug syndicates managed by criminals (Izvestiya Kazakhstan, October 29).
Officially, 49,000 drug addicts are registered with the Interior Ministry of Kazakhstan. But even ministry officials admit that it is a strongly underreported figure. Health Minister Zhaksylyk Doskaliev reported that last year 52,800 drug users were registered with his ministry (Kazakhstanskaya pravda, January 24). These conflicting figures indicate the failure to coordinate the anti-drug activities conducted by various government branches. In fact, nobody knows the exact number of drug users in the country because sources are largely not reliable, as regional departments usually give false figures to show that they are doing an efficient job. Even so, it is generally believed that some youth become addicted to drugs as early as age 13.
Many researchers are searching for the reasons behind the spread of narcotics in a society that once was proud of its high moral standards. Some psychologists attribute drug addiction to the influence of the Western lifestyle emulated by young people. There may be a grain of truth in that. Many of the disco bars and nightclubs that have sprung up in the post-communist era long ago turned into places where anyone can get Ecstasy pills imported from Western Europe. But all this is only a small fraction of what filters through the open borders from Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. Even if Kazakhstan successfully eradicates the cannabis fields in the Chu Valley, cheap hashish will undoubtedly still be imported from the Issyk Kul region in Kyrgyzstan.
Analysts have raised the alarm that the spread of illegal drugs seriously threatens the official demographic policy designed to raise the population of Kazakhstan to 20 million by the year 2030. So far government efforts to at least to curb the rising tide of drug abuse have been unsuccessful. More than 585 million tenge is earmarked from the state budget to implement anti-drug program, but money alone cannot solve the problem (Khabar TV, October 6).