Tajikistan Series: Drug Trafficking Pt. 2 – Routes

I’d first like to apologize for the noticeable delay – over a month! The demands and problems of real life were able to steal away my focus; however, with some free time over the last few days, I have managed to put together part II in this drug trafficking segment of the Tajikistan series. In this post, I will focus on the peculiarities of the movement of narcotics through the region as well as the routes themselves. In part III, I will focus on drug trafficking as it pertains to poverty, narco-terrorism, and societal consequences. Finally, in part IV, state-level considerations of corruption and politics will be addressed.

This article is longer, more detailed, and more useful than the first; likewise, observant readers will notice I have changed the format slightly to better present the material. Those informational sources utilized and available on the web are also included within a single link at the end.

It might be a good idea to take the reading a section at a time – a one-time, determined plowing through may be too long for most to bear.


1. Background Info, Sustaining Factors, and Statistics

1.1 The 90s
Even before I go anywhere, I must make a slight correction to part I, wherein I stated:

This underscores the contemporary assessment that the reason trafficking has developed into such a huge, intractable problem in Tajikistan of late is because of the overwhelming scope and explosive zest of drug-pushing efforts that started shortly after the fall of the Taliban.

More correctly, this zest of which I speak started in the mid to late 90s, after the Taliban had encouraged the development of the industry for several years. In 2000-2001, when increasing prices indicated opium supply was becoming strained (resulting from the Taliban ban of 2000) and with the new war disrupting the networks, it may have created a temporary lull in opium production and trade; regardless, most accounts assert that Tajikistan was already a major route of Afghan opium by the late 90s. But, it was only in 1996 that the first heroin seizures in Tajikistan were made. And the amount confiscated in 2003 was over 1000 times the amount of 1996. Arguably, either increased heroin production/trafficking or increased law enforcement activity and effectiveness could be responsible for the exponential growth there, but I will tend to believe that it was not until the mastering of opium and heroin production following the US invasion that trafficking into Tajikistan reached astronomical levels (as the majority of opiate and drug trafficking is heroin at this point). Overall, some enthusiastic estimates claim that Central Asia now carries up to 65% of the Afghan heroin and opium that is transported to Russia and Europe.

The 2004 seizures in Tajikistan were as follows: Cannabis 1,424.9 kg; Opium 2,315.6 kg; Heroin 4,794.1 kg. Heroin seizures continue to increase (and opium seizures decrease) as heroin production becomes more established in Afghanistan, especially in the Northern Alliance-controlled area. The Drug Control Agency of Tajikistan in 2004 estimated that there are around 400 heroin laboratories in Afghanistan and 80 functioning near the Tajikistan border. In 2005, after several raids by the Afghan Special Narcotics Force, the estimated number was reduced to 50.

1.2 The Government and the Economy
It’s important at this time to mention a significant sustaining factor for trafficking in Tajikistan. Tajikistan’s post Soviet experience and mindset is sometimes said to be dominated by the bloody civil war of 92-97. Interestingly, as was mentioned in my previous article, not only did trafficking help fund both of the opposing sides, but, following the peace accords of ‘97, it was whole-heartedly incorporated into the personnel framework of the new government. Tajikistan’s economy also began a period of growth for the first time after the breakup of the USSR following the cessation of the civil war, and it is argued that trafficking profits were on the same order of magnitude as international assistance.

In short, there is reason to believe that private agreements over post war narcotics trafficking routes and profits were as central to the peace accords as any other consideration. Understandably, some of those still in the present day political scene from that time period are suspected of longtime involvement in trafficking.

Perhaps as a direct result of this, just as opium and heroin production are now an integral part of the Afghanistan reality, trafficking (of chiefly heroin, opium, and marijuana) is the Tajikistan reality. As one analyst points out concerning the drug trade in Central Asia, “Regional economies are increasingly criminalized as a greater proportion of the economy is controlled by drug money. Not only is the legal economy decreasing in strength, it is also being bought up by drug money; the result is that the legal economies are increasingly controlled by criminal interests.” The internal Tajik drug market is estimated at 120-200 million dollars. Right now, it is believed that 100-200 tonnes of heroin move through Tajikistan each year (the annual demand of heroin of Western Europe and North America combined). The profit from this amounts to 500 million to 1 billion dollars. For the same reason, it is reasonable to assume that Trafficking proceeds are equal to around 1/3 of Tajikistan’s GDP (~2.1 billion).

1.3 Language, Region, and Other Things
Sustaining factors for drug trafficking north out of Afghanistan include linguistic considerations. The language, ethnic, and tribal connections that straddle the Tajikistan/Afghanistan border provide social support for any kind of trafficking network that would need to span the two sides. The majority of the 20-25% of Afghans that share ethnic links with Tajiks live in the nearby northern regions of Afghanistan. Following in this theme, a second linguistic consideration for drug trafficking through Central Asia is the Russian language. Starting from the northern Afghanistan border, a single language is sufficient to facilitate coordinating communication all the way to and through Eastern Europe.

Tajikistan also lacks some of the deterrents which other nations bordering Afghanistan feature. For example, Pakistan has introduced a death penalty for drug traffickers. Uzbekistan has put together the best border guard of Central Asia (thanks to barbed wire, patrols, and mines). The increasing effectiveness of Iranian counter-narcotics has caused the Iran route to decline in importance as trafficking costs there go up. If current trends continue, Tajikistan will become the most trafficked country in the region – if it does not already hold this honor.

Succinctly, Tajikistan is increasingly becoming the most important corridor for Afghan opium and heroin. And compare its population of 7 million to that of Iran: 70 million, and Pakistan: 170 million. As experience shows, any corridor for narcotics ultimately pays the price as its associated crime and consumption take hold locally. This will be addressed in Part III where I will examine the damage the drug trade has wrought and will continue to exact upon Tajikistan society as well as accord the drug paths themselves (more on these in a bit) to the poverty of the regions through which they run.

2. Geographic Considerations and Transportation Infrastructure Review

2.1 Space-Time Continuum of ….the Drug Trade
In our universe, where time and space will (hopefully?) be forever intertwined, the world of trafficking contraband through Tajikistan (or really any kind of smuggling) must operate upon the same philosophical considerations. This is to say that drugs take up space, are comprised of matter (a potent kind no doubt), and likewise they do not materialize in Western Europe after a previous dematerialization in Northern Afghanistan. In fact, much to the surprise of police who venture to take a look into wheel wells, gas tanks, cargo spaces, train cars, and human orifices, they see that drugs must somehow undergo the normal spacetime manipulation of “someone/something carrying the shit from point A to point B”. Yet, in this occlusive process, the perpetrators usually go to some pains for it to appear as if the “matter” in question suddenly turns up at its destination, ready for sale or consumption. Contrastingly, sometimes it’s just a strategy of sending everything you got and waiting to see what makes it through. With corruption and drug supply up, and police competence and local living conditions down, the latter strategy seems to be the most prudent for trafficking through Tajikistan.

And so the question becomes, “How do you send 100+ tons a year of anything through Tajikistan?” Certainly it is not all being carried on the backs of migrant workers, nor even hidden under the car seats of amateur couriers. It seems that there is some determined organization to the madness. And surely this organizational scheme, forced to operate within the larger space-time construct of our world and its atmosphere, must abide by the geographical, climatical, and technological infrastructural restrictions of the region in which it is situated.

2.2 The North: Seasons, Weather, and Geography
From part I, it was established that opium season in Afghanistan starts as early as March and can continue on into May and June. This is not an overwhelmingly significant factor in trafficking yet still relevant; stockpiles exist (as the Taliban ban of 2000 showed), and likewise immediate trafficking of fresh opium is not a necessity. But in light of the favorable transporting conditions offered during summer, the warmer months are the most logical time for moving drugs north through the mountainous Tajikistan. And just how mountainous is it? Well, more than 50% of the country is over 3,000 meters (10,000 feet). The Pamirs rule the landscape, featuring several ranges with mountains over 15,000 feet as well as a few, more famous 6000-7000m (20,000-25,000ft) peaks. The Pamir highway (aka M41), which runs from Mazare Sharif in Afghanistan, quickly through Uzbekistan and then crossing east through Tajikistan, going north through the Gorno-Badakhshan region and finally ending in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, is the second highest highway in the world. Due to snow in the winter months, much of it is not usable. Most of Tajikistan’s northerly situated roads are similarly affected.

The precipitation of the region is also pertinent; Tajikistan has the most water resources per capita in the world. Much of this is thanks to snow and glacial melts. Therefore, even with the passes finally free of snow in the summer, they are prone to being affected by mud/landslides, avalanches, and other types of erosion-based damage. While these do not usually result in more than delays and inconveniences, they do prohibit the free-flow of automobile movement over any of its road-based transportation grid in the north. This is not enough to stop the usage of these roads as the main routes of drug transport, but it is enough to encourage alternative routes to the east (incidentally the Kulma-Karasu Chinese border-crossing and road was opened to locals in 2004) and west into Uzbekistan, as well as prompting alternative transport methods from south to north (to Khujand) by rail and plane. More recent developments of the transnational transportation system will be addressed in the last section.

2.3 Borders, Barges, and Bridges (and Swimming!)
Regarding Tajikistan’s borders, the break down is as follows: total 3,789 km; Afghanistan – 1,344 km, China – 414 km, Kyrgyzstan – 870 km, Uzbekistan – 1,161 km. The border guarding of the Afghanistan border is sparse (until recently a job of the Border Guard Service of Russia) and will be the subject of its own discussion in the last section. The Panj River, a tributary of the Amu Darya, provides much of the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border demarcation. And so anything that crosses the border must also cross the river. The most significant of crossing methods, in terms of payload, are barges and bridges. They allow the 200+ kg shipments of opium and even high-grade heroin to make their way into southern Tajikistan. The oldest bridges are in a continuous state of disrepair and can’t always be depended on. The Aga Khan foundation is responsible for the building of the three of the newest: the first connecting Tem (near Khorog) on the Tajik side with Demogan on the Afghan side in 2002, the second, the “Tajik-Afghan Friendship Bridge” at Darwaz in 2004, and the third, Ishkashim bridge, in 2006 (which has led to the establishment of weekly Afghan-Tajik markets at all three border crossings). Barges are also in use at several road crossings and may carry 60 to 80 cars at a time. It is said that the Afghan side of the border, even at crossings that experience heavy traffic, often remain completely unregulated. Likewise, if the Tajikistani border guards are tired, absent, or uninterested (especially after a small bribe), there is very little stopping locals from transporting huge amounts of narcotics in their automobiles (and the Northern Alliance is pretty free in that regard too).

But with only a few safe, working bridges and barges, machine-based drug trafficking over the border is limited enough to encourage energetic Afghans to swim across narcotics. They are frequently met on the other side by Tajik traffickers who will start the Tajikistan leg of the journey either by truck, car, mule/camel, or foot.

I will argue, as do many others, that a draconian border enforcement at bridge and barge crossings alone will never seriously hamper smuggling. This is especially true in the Badakhshan region where the river is manageable and does not hold a significant threat to swimmers (and in fact small consignments of smugglers are the chief actors of trafficking in the region). Any increased counter-trafficking efforts focusing on roads will only encourage more swim-trafficking at easy crossing points. For the same reason, the building of new bridges and opening of borders does not present a threat by itself. For the impoverished Badakhshan region, these actually support licit trade and economic growth.

It is also evidenced that drugs make it through a closed border, guarded or not. That is not to say that the existence of bridges, barges, and roads should not be acknowledged intelligently in interdiction policy and practice, but they should not be seen as enabling a trafficking problem; and indeed, in the case of Gorno-Badakhshan, any improvement in its internal and transnational transportation infrastructure will work to combat the current economic-survival necessity of trafficking (something unfortunately reminiscent of the current economic-survival necessity of opium production in Afghanistan).

2.4 Generals of Roads, Rail, and Air
As most of the routes north through the Pamirs are snowed-in during the winter months, the best time for those roads (the southern roads are open year round) is May through October. And since roads (as discussed above) are problematic throughout the region, air travel is a viable and much used alternative; however, since most of the air travel is done with small passenger planes, they too can be affected by the weather of the winter months since they fly relatively close to the ground (often lacking the ability to completely clear the high Pamirs). Mist, snowstorms, and cloudiness frequently preclude air travel alternatives in the winter.

Regarding the rail, a travel website succinctly observed, “There are no rail lines directly connecting the north of Tajikistan with the south – it is necessary to go via Termez (Uzbekistan), a torturous journey which takes more than twice the time of traveling by road.” The tortuousness of the journey, however, does not bother the stoic, neatly-stacked opiate cargo. It does, however, imply that narcotics smuggled via this route are facilitated by some level of transnational criminal collaboration, enough that would be necessary to help secure shipments and profit margin. Interestingly, when heroin and opium reach southern Kazakhstan later in their journey, they are almost exclusively smuggled north by railroad, with the cooperation and coordination of national Kazakhstani gangs and then transnational cooperation of Russian and Kazakhstani gangs. On a side note, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan share a rail network with Tajikistan. Afghanistan does not, and China has a break of gauge.In all, it seems roads are still the preferable methodology of transport even in the winter months. It is also relevant that the most used route changes from Gorno-Badakhshan-> Khorog -> Murghab -> Osh, Kyrgyzstan in the summer (via the Pamir highway) to Khatlon -> Khujand -> Batken Oblast, Kyrgyzstan (via air and ground roads) in the winter. And, having stated city and region names, there is nothing stopping us from taking a more detailed look at the actual routes themselves.

3. Routes and Regions
Perhaps the most beneficial thing at this point would be to link a page with a decent map!

here: Travel Tajikistan Road Map and Info

This website has some of the most detailed information I have found concerning the condition and usability of roads in Tajikistan (and a wealth of other info). The two areas that concern us most will be Gorno-Badakhshan, in the southeast, and Khatlon, in the southwest. But first, we will begin on the Afghanistan side of the border.

3.1 Afghanistan, the Border, and Past Routes
It is said that trafficking until 97-98 consisted primarily of opium. Also, it is said that in the mid to late 90s most of this went from Badakhshan in Afghanistan north through the mountainous route of Gorno-Badakhshan of Tajikistan and finally to Osh in Kyrgyzstan. At that time, Badakhshan in Afghanistan grew only 5% of Afghanistan’s opium; likewise, the Tajikistan route was not a chief route of export. By 2000, however, the total amount of opium equivalent (opium and heroin-in-opium-cost together) was 300-500 tons a year. It was estimated that 80% of that went through Gorno-Badakhshan, mostly in the form of heroin.

But the absence of river crossing points inhibited large scale drug smuggling in the Gorno-Badakhshan region. This does not mean an enormous amount of drugs did not and does not get through the border, but it means that this is mostly done by covert groups of night-swimmers and not by barges and automobiles. And until 2004, smugglers of this area had the Russian Border Service to deal with, at which time the last Russian deployment turned over their positions to the Tajik Border guard (in 2006 the handover process completed). A more in depth discussion of this development in border security will be presented in the final section.

It is stated that many Afghan warlords involved in opiate trafficking along the Tajikistan border enjoy good relations with Tajik border posts. The departure of the Russian Border Service (which had been staffed mostly by Tajiks, but with a much higher salary) seems to indicate a more corruptible security force. Once again, border security on the Afghan side is weak, and many of the Afghan commanders in charge of border control should be understood to have strong links to the drug trade. Up until 2000-2001, primary routes and smuggling points were mainly in the east of the country. As the IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan) at this time were said to control more than 70% of the drug trade, their main bases of operation facilitated trafficking through Gorno-Badakhshan, via the Pamir highway route, as well as cutting directly north from Jirgatal and Garm in Tajikistan to Batken in Kyrgyzstan, completely avoiding the Western provinces, Dushanbe, and the government’s reach.

However, this soon changed (helped along by the displacement of much of the IMU into Afghanistan and many of their deaths in the US invasion). In March 2001, it was reported by a few Russian news services that the situation of the Tajik-Afghan border near the Tajik city of Moskovsky had deteriorated. This perhaps signaled the rising significance of the Khatlon province as a trafficking route as well (currently the region with by far the most drug seizures in Tajikistan).Today, many reports cite the area of Taloqan in Afghanistan, and those cities around it, as the most significant area for heroin smuggling into the Khatlon region. Opiates are often moved en masse by armed convoys to a multitude of crossing points along the Panj and Moskovsky border areas. Once again, these areas were the most protected and patrolled areas of the Russian Foreign Border Service. Now, this hot spot is increasingly seeing the employment of sophisticated planning, technology, and force by well-organized smugglers. Also, just as heroin trafficking is increasing over opium trafficking, high-grade heroin is becoming more common than low-grade (thanks to the quick learners manning the Afghan heroin laboratories).

3.2 Badakhshan/Khatlon and Khorog/Khujand
From separate, sparse accounts (I hope to get a much better picture once I am able to visit Tajikistan this summer), the differences between the contemporary main drug routes can be summed up like this: the preferred is the Khorog-Osh route – the Pamir Highway – in the mid-late summer following the harvesting of opium and production of heroin in Afghanistan. This seems to entail that the main entry-smuggling points during this period will be along the Gorno-Badakhshan region of Tajikistan. As the northern Gorno-Badakhshan passes become inaccessible in October and November (until May), the route is refocused on the Khatlon region, then north to Khujand and out of the country into Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

However, given the road information provided on the above linked page, I am interested in further analysis of the routes. For example, it seems that the Anzob Pass, which connects Dushanbe to north Tajikistan via highway M34 “is closed for most of the winter – usually from late November until the end of May. Shahriston Pass also closes but usually not for as long.” A second route was also constructed, and it passes through Kyrgyzstan. It seems that this second route, unnamed at the moment, would prove to be the favorable road into Kyrgyzstan in the winter (on a side note, a bored analyst who works and lives in the region confirmed that the Tajikistan government’s tunnel project that would allow M34 to remain open year round is nearly complete and usable; however, we were both high from Chu Valley weed, and the lucidity and accuracy of the moment is in question. I have yet to hear back definitively from a few emails I sent to others regarding the tunnel’s completion, but confirmation should be relatively easy if I gave it more than a half-assed effort). Finally, it seems that the daily flights between Khujand and Dushanbe, that apparently operate even in the winter, should be seriously suspect of involvement due to the inconveniences of the roads during that time period.Perhaps unrelated to the usual routes of trafficking, the main road from Dushanbe to Khorog (from West to East across the country) is closed in the winter. Flying is an option, and so is an alternative route through Kulob (home to the President!) that seems to work when Panj river bridges are intact.

Taking these different ground-travel aspects into consideration, it seems that entry-point decisions for smuggling are serious money questions – no one wants to waste time with closed roads, getting back and forth between the east and west of the country, and making one’s way through treacherous, snowed in passes. This kind of information could be utilized for Afghanistan’s future interdiction policy; right now, that policy, regardless of what it may be, doesn’t work and is barely enforced. Traffickers seem to have a sort of pursuit-of-happiness freedom concerning where they would prefer to illegally enter Tajikistan. Raising the cost of trafficking by forcing it to inconvenient routes is another way to help shift societal dependence from it as profit margins and personal security erode and alternative sources of income become more attractive.

And so if we look at Khatlon, and specifically Moskovsky (everyone’s favorite town to demonetize), it seems that the Russian Border Service did indeed see most of its action in this area. Apparently some traffickers, even in the summer, would rather run back and forth between Moskovsky and the border (a 2-3 km round trip), risking life and limb, for the quick money of the Moskovsky drop than put in the effort of the Gorno-Badakhshan mountain hiking campaign that might take days (or weeks) with smelly companions and a few mules in order to reach drop points. I have to say that I might prefer to risk a Moskovsky minefield to the inescapable temptations that arise among men, mules, and the Gorno-Badakhshan loneliness.

Regarding the trip north from Khatlon, there are apparently security checkpoints along main roads; however, a little money goes a long way to prevent too much attention from the underpaid security personnel. It is reported that the more expensive, definitely-rich-and-important-man automobiles are not usually required to stop. No one who prefers to continue breathing wants to piss off important, rich people in Tajikistan.

In finality, possibly due to my preoccupation with other things, I was not able to locate more specific information from which I could build a concrete model of road networks, town names, seasonal smuggling rates, and security checkpoints. Part III will delve a little deeper into this, but it is suffice to say that most of this hammering out of on-the-ground route info will have to wait on my personal investigation and questioning of more law enforcement/analysis groups within Tajikistan. As much as I read and quote informed reporters, analysts, and UN officials, I don’t comfortably trust anyone who hasn’t been there and done the work personally. Present company included (me).

4. Mules and Methods

4.1 Who are you…who who…who who
Here I will begin to answer the questions of “who” and “how”. “What” was answered in part I, “where” and “when” were addressed above somewhat, and “why” is a relatively easy one and will be addressed in part III.

The question of “who” can be broken down into different categories of identification: nationality, ethnicity, demographics, government/private employee, soldier/civilian, mafia/amateur criminal, etc. Unfortunately, I do not have the information nor expertise to answer all of these questions exhaustively. I will answer what I can with the information that I have, identifying what seems to be the implications of the facts and what is conjecture.

First, given that large-scale state involvement is the real situation of trafficking in Tajikistan, almost all sectors of society can be assumed to have some level of participation. From the lax and bribed border guards, to the poverty-stricken citizens, to the armored/escorted transports permitted by compromised (or even heavily involved) Dushanbe officials, it is hard to readily determine who is most integral component for perpetuating the process. And yet it is no stretch to assume that the trafficking’s organizational successfulness, massive amounts of cash flow, and general reliability/steadiness are largely in the control of powerful political leaders and warlords under them. As I mentioned earlier, part IV will try to work out state-level considerations (e.g. Is Tajikistan a Narco-State?). For now, it is enough to say that trafficking routes, social networks, and drug revenues are somewhat inseparable from the political power of any given region in Tajikistan.

In terms of everyday narco-corruption, it has been acknowledged that many drug merchants/couriers are representatives of Tajikistani state agencies. Coincidentally (or understandably), those agencies said to be the most severely affected are law enforcement and security services; it is an earmark of Organized Crime that any relevant police personnel are corrupted and rendered impotent for counter-narcotics (drug trade being the prime money-maker for organized crime). It is logical to assume that national/transnational mafias are not only in control of the trafficking in Tajikistan but either 1) exert some amount of control over the state apparatus or 2) are included within its framework. The second model seems more accurate in Tajikistan’s case. For example, one would be hard-pressed to discern whether a few choice politicians in Tajikistan are former regional warlords, drug-runners, or respectable, reform-minded leaders of the people.

On a regional basis, in the south-southeast of the country, Afghan-Tajik Badakhshan family/tribal gangs are most influential in the trade. In the north-northeast, transnational Tajik and Kyrgyz gangs run the show. In the southwest to mid-northwest region, the government and its shared State/Bureaucratic-Space with Organized Crime regulate the drug trade. North from there towards the Ferghana valley, somewhat coordinated Uzbek, Tajik, and Kyrgyz gangs are the principal actors. All in all, it was recently suggested that, unlike in Kyrgyzstan, organized crime groups do not threaten the security of the state chiefly because they operate within the permitted state structure. There is a belief that even in regions outside the official and recognized control of the Dushanbe Government, the government’s control and maintenance of the politics and profit of the the drug trade is still tangible.

4.2 Demographically and Technologically Challenged
Throughout the entire nation, perhaps the most significant demographic for transport is just the impoverished populace. As we will see in part III, Khatlon and Gorno-Badakhshan are perhaps the most severely affected by poverty, and it is no wonder they are the principal actors in running narcotics north from the Afghanistan border. In general, the trafficking done by villagers of an area are controlled by regional, tribal gangs, which turns out to be an exploitive trafficking network (like the exploitive opium farming of Afghanistan) – wherein the elites persuade or demand the involvement of the locals (who also assume most of the risk), enjoy the majority of the profits, and loosely cooperate with the elites of the next region, in terms of transport logistics, in order to maintain the flow of money and narcotics.Unsurprisingly, as trafficking is encouraged by poverty, the most common trafficking methods are technologically unsophisticated. On Tajikistan techniques, Oxford Analytica reports:

a. stashing drugs in the false bottoms of cars and trucks when crossing the border;
b. using mule carts and camels for transport;
c. swallowing sachets of drugs to discharge later.
d. An increasing number of women and children act as couriers (estimated to comprise over 30% of the drug mules),
e. providing smugglers with a cheap means of moving the contraband.
f. Some mothers hide drugs on their children; others in their own clothes.

Other less polite yet present methods of drug-package smuggling include taping under the breasts and insertion into orifices. A magazine article paraphrased a news clipping that stated “a woman flying to Moscow from Dushanbe had swallowed more than seven kilos of the stuff: In terms of volume, that’s bigger than a basketball—it’s probably closer to a beach ball.” I want to reiterate that much of the transport is for the most part an exploitive arrangement; understanding this will be crucial for the appreciation of its societal consequences, especially as they pertain to which group takes the risks and which group reaps the rewards, and which group is more likely to be confronted by the violence, disease, criminalization, and imprisonment that follow from the appearance of a trafficking route.

5. New Developments, Thoughts, and Conclusion to Part II

There are a few things that are sort of up in the air at a moment.

5.1 Departure of the Russian Border Service
As I alluded to several times above, the Russian Foreign Border Service began a staged withdrawal at the Chinese border in 2004 and completely finished the handover to Tajikistan security forces in the very west of the country in 2006 (after a postponement of the original deadline of 2005). Accusations had been leveled at the Russian service for being involved with illicit trade (an arrest of an officer just outside Dushanbe with 8 kilos of heroin in 2004 seemed to substantiate those rumors somewhat). And it has also been pointed out that they were the only segment of the border service to volunteer their services. But the Russian border security forces consisted of mostly ethnic Tajiks anyways (80%), with Russians filling primarily officer positions. In fact, the main difference between the former guard and the new arrivals will be pay (they inherited the infrastructure and weapons as well). The Russians doled out quite a bit more cash than the Tajikistan government can afford for their soldiers. Many former conscripts have refused to return for their own country. In all, it is estimated that they are now operating at about 25% (6000 men) of the manpower needed – this is without even examining such considerations as low salary and its inevitable corruptibility. According to the account of a villager who lives along the Gorno-Badakhshan border, prior to the Russians’ departure, the villagers used to buy extra food off the Tajik conscripts and Russian officers. Now, the Tajik border patrols are begging food off the villagers. The situation, as has been the trend for the last ten years, will continue to deteriorate.

5.2 Asia
There are a few important developments here. First, the opening of the 2004 Tajik-China border via the Kulma Pass (as well as the existence of many of unguarded crossing-points) in conjunction with the increasing illicit trade in general suggests that Tajik-China drug trafficking could be a growing problem. Cross-border marriages/social groups and developing trade networks further support this possibility. Finally, the poverty of the these two adjacent border regions are simply ripe for trafficking to take hold. Another China route passes through Kyrgyzstan and then Kazakhstan prior to its entry. Regarding either path, I have found no official statistics. Another interesting development is that Southeast Asian drugs are increasingly being trafficked through Central Asia to Europe and the West. It seems that Central Asia has made itself into such a renown and efficient corridor of contraband that it offers possibilities and promise to enterprising drug cartels the world over.

5.3 Afghanistan
In part I, I pointed out the unlikelihood of production to be subdued anytime soon in Afghanistan. An integral component of this snowballing activity is that the Northern Alliance is neck-deep in the trade, and for them to clamp down on production and trafficking would mean that they would be cutting off their biggest source of income. Not likely. Secondly, even if large-scale eradication of opium poppy in Afghanistan were achieved, Central Asia would likely experience the Andean effect, or the tendency of production to move to other, nearby favorable locations. In this case, it would be the unregulated areas of the Central Asian Republics. Activities would shift from simply trafficking to opium production, heroin production, and trafficking. It is hard to say whether this situation would be an improvement to the current. Just as counter-trafficking must enjoy transnational cooperation to be successful, so must intelligent eradication policy.

5.4 Regional Transportation Developments
There are always big plans on the table in Central Asia for regional projects that, upon completion, would set the stage for unparalleled economic growth and development. These often include the connecting of rail lines and international highways. For example, Pakistan has build a road link with Afghanistan through the Wakhan corridor in order to facilitate economic activity. Tajikistan and Pakistan have agreed they should be connected by this road and have plans to implement it (if such a project has not already started). Tajikistan and Iran have talked about implementing a highway link that would run through northern Afghanistan. As I mentioned earlier, while these kind of roads might turn out to be main routes of trafficking, they are also some of the precious few ways to take a swipe at the drug economies where it hurts the most, in their monopoly on the basic economic subsistence of the locals. Fighting illicit trafficking is sometimes best done with encouraging licit trade. It’s sort of the democratically-minded approach to the issue: Rather than forcibly (and ineffectively) attempt to suppress a bad idea, you drown it out with better ideas that people will freely choose once the benefit is there and palpable.

5.5 Borders, Security, Central Asia, and YOU
States in Central Asia, in part, define their national securities with regards to the maintenance and regulation of their borders. This is not due only to drug trafficking, but also people trafficking, uncontrollable migration, refugees, the terrorist disturbances of 2000-2002, and the developing civil unrest in several places (e.g. Kyrgyzstan). The idea of creating a security belt has been talked about, but almost every proposal will be stymied by insular politics and refusals for regional cooperation on key issues (often refusals of action, not words). One example of the seriousness of the situation is the report of a small container with 3 grams of plutonium seized by the Tajik Drug Control Agency in 2004 which was en route, allegedly, to Afghanistan. That is to say that there are worse things that can be smuggled from Russia to Pakistan, China to Iran, and Asia to Eastern Europe than opiates. Having a corridor of general illicit trade, so well-established and so ignored by the international community at large is, well, ….typical? In the least, it provides an interesting place to visit, practice the language skills, and shoot the shit with people who have real problems. At best, it reminds everyone of what an asshole they are for living the good life and smoking the good reefer (on the other hand, I can’t recommend the heroin. By all accounts, its an effective way to destroy your life in a rather agonizing fashion).

So, I hope the physical trafficking network is more clear at this point. The next part, surely to be out in less than a month, will once again focus on specific regions and names, but will do so in order to highlight poverty as it encourages trafficking, religious extremism, and how in turn society itself is affected by those developments. Until then, consider rerouting your summer trip with the fam through Murghab or Khujand, and visit the links below for additional information and insight (not that I supplied either to any worthwhile extent).



Useful Links
Tajikistan Series: Drug Trafficking Part 1(The 1st post of this series)
Travel Tajikistan – Travel info site. Wonderful.
Pamirs.org – More wonderful travel info.
Central Asia – Caucasus Analyst – good analytics source with some news
Eurasianet.org – good news and analytics source

Some Organizations with Experts
American University in Kyrgyzstan
The Central Asia-Caucasus Institute
Peace and Conflict Research of Uppsala University
The Islamabad Policy Research Institute
United Nations Central Asia Office on Drugs and Crime

I decided to include a more complete listing of references and sources in a separate file located on my own site. This allows me a little more compositional integrity without cluttering up this post. For those sufficiently interested in the topic to pursue personal study, I recommend a glancing over of it.

References and Sources


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