A steady expansion of drug trafficking via Tajikistan has recently led international organizations and, finally, some Russian law enforcement bodies to abandon their earlier reticence and expose the real extent of the problem.
It had become clear for some time–if only through perusal of Russian media–that Tajikistan served as the main gateway for Pakistani and Afghan drugs bound for Russia and further westward. The troops on the Afghan-Tajik border–mostly Russian officers and NCOs with mostly Tajik conscripts–proved a sieve to the drug traffic. In Tajikistan itself, the Russian-installed authorities turned that country into a “narco-state,” in which the drug money sustains the state budget and the livelihood of officials. (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “Agenda for Renewal,” December 2000). Western diplomats in Dushanbe currently estimate that one-third of the value of Tajikistan’s gross domestic product is drug-related (Christian Science Monitor, January 8).
Owing to pervasive complicity within the state apparatus, the drugs are being carried to Russia aboard airliners, trains and trucks plying the Dushanbe-Moscow routes. While drug seizures and the arrest of carriers are daily occurrences, only a fraction of the amounts shipped is intercepted by the inefficient and corrupt Russian authorities.
In recent months, the Afghan Taliban authorities’ crackdown on drug production and trafficking has had consequences on Tajikistan and on Russia. First, it has led to a concentration of poppy cultivation in Tajik-inhabited northern Afghan areas, controlled by the Russian-armed anti-Taliban alliance or by no one. Second, it has accelerated the merger of northern Afghanistan with Tajikistan into a single drug market. Third, it has spurred the establishment of drug-producing laboratories in Tajikistan itself. And, fourth, it has boosted drug “exports” to Russia while reducing prices. The price fall stems partly from the larger offer and partly from the inferior quality of Tajik-made heroin.
Russian media reports just these past few days give an idea of the extent of the problem. On January 12, 11 kilograms of heroin were seized on a Dushanbe-Moscow train, on top of 28 kilograms seized on that same route after January 1. On January 16, eighty-three plastic minicontainers of heroin were seized on that train route, and another 3 kilograms were seized from a Tajik courier in Moscow. On January 19, Moscow authorities–“after a long investigation”–cracked a network of Tajik traffickers who had been supplying Central Russia. On the same day in St. Petersburg, the authorities arrested a Tajik ring of drug traffickers and seized 35.5 kilograms of heroine. Also this month, drugs of a street value of more than US$1 million were confiscated from Tajik dealers in Ulyanovsk Oblast.
In almost all these instances, the authorities were cited as saying that the captures constitute only a fraction of the actual traffic. Russian and Western authorities are now in consensus that Tajikistan constitutes by far the largest drug route out of Central Asia, that the Tajik drug mafia has grown so powerful as to displace rival drug mafias in Russia, and that Tajikistan is turning from a drug route into a drug producer and direct supplier.
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