Tajikistan is claiming success in its counter-narcotics capabilities based on its performance during the “Operation Channel 2006” program conducted among Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) countries October 9-15. In fact, during the second stage of these rapid response and preventative operations (the first stage was held in May), Tajikistan’s law-enforcement agencies and border troops detected and prevented 21 drug-trafficking crimes and seized 441.1 kilograms of narcotic substances, including 125.4 kg of heroin, as well as firearms and ammunition (Avesta, October 18).
Tajikistan’s Drug Control Agency (DCA), Interior Ministry, Security Ministry, Ministry of State Revenue and Tax Collection, by Tajikistan’s border troops all participated in the operation. Observers from the intelligence services of Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the United States, and Ukraine took part in the second stage of the operation. It is difficult, however, to gauge accurately whether these results simply reflect the high frequency of drug trafficking across the Tajik-Afghan border, or a genuine step forward in the capabilities of the national security structures. What is clear is that the multi-agency participation was professional and well coordinated, confirming a more “common front” approach in combating drug trafficking.
Moreover, it comes at a time when Tajikistan’s security agencies are promulgating a double-edged message: security threats are real and appear to be increasing, although these are not specified, while the public is exhorted to have confidence in the authorities to respond adequately. Reflecting increased concern about the activities of armed militants in the Fergana Valley, Tajik border guards stepped up security measures at the Lakkon checkpoint with Kyrgyzstan by reinforcing the sector with three military subdivisions drawn from other regions as well as tightening border control.
Border guard, intelligence, and police officials agree there is a threat of incursion that should be taken seriously, but they are vague as to what has triggered these concerns. In general terms, Uzbek, Tajik, and Kyrgyz security agencies have reacted to the threat made against the national leaders by Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) leader Tahir Yuldashev. Moreover, authorities remain convinced of the security threat posed by members of the avowedly peaceful Hizb-ut-Tahrir.
Playing down these fears, Tajik Security Council Secretary Amirqul Azimov has repeatedly expressed his confidence in his country’s ability to suppress any potential act of terrorism. “There are no organizations that could pose a realistic threat to the security of our state. However, there are certain groups, capable of committing crimes of a terrorist nature with the aim of destabilizing the situation in Tajikistan,” General Mahmadsaid Juraqulov, the chief of the Tajik Directorate for Combating Organized Crime, concurred. “They do not pose a realistic threat. We have enough forces, technology, and armament.”
Questions are being asked publicly about the façade of safety in the face of these possible threats. Many wonder how the poorly trained Tajik army, lacking uniforms, equipment, and food, would respond in an emergency. In reality, a crisis provoking the intervention of military forces would almost certainly involve the airborne brigade assigned to the CSTO Collective Rapid Deployment Forces. “We can do anything and ensure security within a brief period of time,” Alexei Balashev, a captain of the airborne brigade, says. “The brigade is an elite one. Recruitment to our brigade is very strict.” Brigade personnel are reportedly receiving $200 per month, where the national average is around $40, and this highlights the plight of the underpaid Tajik armed forces in general (Asia-Plus, October 12).
Tajikistan has never been in a position to rely on “forces, technology, and armament.” But the authorities are also aware of this, and this knowledge may contribute to a sense of unease, given heightened security risks. On October 16 Abdurahim Qahhorov, first deputy interior minister, confirmed the involvement of 61 officers from Tajikistan’s security agencies in corruption cases since the beginning of the year. This figure has, he claimed, decreased compared with last year. On the same day Tajik Prosecutor-General Bobojon Bobokhonov said that the number of detected corruption cases had increased compared with the same period in recent years. “I do not want to accuse anyone of corruption in particular, but it exists in all the authorities, ministries, and departments,” he noted.
In September 2005 Drug Control Agency officers in Tajikistan accused Akbarali Juraboyev of smuggling 255 kg of heroin, 66 kg of opium, and 8 kg of hashish into Russia. DCA officers investigated the incident for more than six months before concluding there was no case. It was then passed to the Interior Ministry, which reached the same conclusion. “Only officers of the Prosecutor-General’s Office have managed to prove completely Juraboyev’s guilt; and he was convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to 18 years in prison at the end of last week,” Bobokhonov said. Corruption in Tajikistan’s state structures is widespread, but it seems. Tackling this corruption within the security structures depends, it seems, on the entity handling the investigation (Avesta, October 16).
Counter-narcotics successes cannot be isolated events; they must be a regular component of the continued struggle to stem the flow of illegal drug trafficking. Tajikistan’s success in the Channel 2006 Operation may be rationalized as a step toward improved border security representing a “common front” approach to tackling these challenges. Yet this strategy could be undermined by a lack of political will to tackle corruption.