On January 16, Afghanistan’s interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai issued a decree banning the cultivation and trading of opium poppy, as well as its processing into heroin or other derivatives. The decree responds to a resumption of poppy cultivation in some parts of Afghanistan, and the rampant drug business in the Tajik-inhabited northeastern part of the country, which together with Tajikistan forms a single drug market.
The Taliban authorities had, in 2000-2001, virtually eradicated poppy cultivation in the 90 percent of Afghanistan’s territory under their control. That measure, which reversed the Taliban’s previous policy, was subject to differing interpretations by the outside world, but its short-term effectiveness was beyond dispute. The ban led, however, to an explosive growth of poppy cultivation in the Tajik-inhabited northern Afghanistan–stronghold of what was then the Northern Alliance–and a corresponding increase in drug smuggling into Tajikistan, en route to Russia and points west. Last month, Baltimore Sun correspondents Will Englund and Dan Fesperman reported seeing “poppy fields throughout the Northern Alliance territory.” On January 3, the Globe and Mail reported from the scene that Northern Alliance commanders are protecting poppy cultivation and the refining of opium into heroin, taxing the business, and using helicopters to smuggle the drugs into Tajikistan. At least three heroin refineries were reported operating near the Afghan Tajik stronghold of Faizabad.
Officials of the UN Office for Drug Control estimated that 80 percent of Afghanistan’s opium production came from the Northern Alliance’s 10 percent of the country’s territory, essentially the northeast.
This month, drug seizures at the Afghan-Tajik border are of a size that suggests a thriving trade. The intercepted loads of heroin typically weigh 10 to 20 kilograms. While the size is spectacular, the incidence of interceptions is low or very low. Russian and Tajik border guards admit to not being able to intercept more than 10 percent of the estimated total traffic.
On January 11 in Moscow, the head of Russia’s border troops, Colonel-General Konstantin Totsky, met (at his initiative) with military attaches and representatives of border guard services accredited to Russia from thirty-three countries. Totsky stated that the drug trafficking from Afghanistan into Tajikistan and other Central Asian countries has increased, and that Russian border troops on the Tajik-Afghan border cannot stop it without international assistance. Apparently, Totsky had in mind modern equipment, funding and advanced training to help the under-equipped and poorly trained Russian and Tajik border troops.
On January 16, Totsky discussed the situation with Tajik President Imomali Rahmonov in Dushanbe. In a public understatement, the two agreed that “the flow of drugs is not diminishing.” Totsky urged Rahmonov that “resources should be found to maintain our border troops”–apparently a plea for increased Tajik contributions to the joint effort. Meanwhile, opium cultivation is rapidly resuming in the Afghan areas liberated from Taliban control. The Kurzi government is looking for urgent assistance in the form of crop substitution programs, which it hopes to gain at a conference of donor countries and international agencies, scheduled to be held in Tokyo in the very near term (Baltimore Sun, December 13, 2001; RIA Novosti, January 2; Globe and Mail, January 3; Financial Times, January 10; Krasnaya Zvezda, January 12; Interfax, Reuters, January 16; New York Times, January 17, 19).
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