Crime reports prove that drug traffic is sweeping Kyrgyzstan.
In 1994, serving as a commissioned officer in the Kyrgyz battalion guarding a section of the Tajik-Afghan border, I took part in capturing a drug courier…
There was no shooting, as the courier did not expect an ambush in this place in the night. The man carried a large soldier's bag containing cellophane packets with a dark substance. We opened the packets and felt a specific smell of opium.
The Afghan spoke fluent Russian. Probably he was an ethnic Tajik who had often been on the Tajik side of the river, to meet somebody here. During the interrogation, the courier started a discussion about drugs. In his opinion, smoking opium is part of ancient culture and is absolutely harmless to society…
Indeed, society is actually dependent on drugs, judging by the volume of opium and heroin annually delivered from Afghanistan to Central Asia an on to Russia and Western Europe…
Drugs come to Kyrgyzstan along either of two routes: through Tajikistan's Gorny Badakhshan (the only road connecting the Pamir and Kyrgyzstan) or through the Batken province bordering on Tajikistan's Hudzhant province. Most drugs are seized at the border guard checkpoints. Long-distance truck drivers, women, and drug couriers who cross the border at nights with donkeys along secret mountain paths deliver drugs.
We can judge about the volume of drug traffic by Tajik reports, because Tajikistan is the major transit route of Afghan drugs. During the first five months in 2002 Tajik law enforcement agencies and Russian border troops seized 1,769 kg of drugs, including 1,251 kg of heroin. In the same period this year the catch was 4,679 kg, including 3,158 kg of heroin. A great increase!
Of course, the law enforcement agencies do not seize most drugs coming from Afghanistan. However, the efficiency of anti-drug operations is increasing, as local drug enforcement agencies have received the latest Western and American drug-detecting devices.
The problem is that over the past two years the volume of Afghan heroin has increased by several times. Many experts think this is connected with the Taliban's defeat by the US army. While controlling Afghanistan, the Taliban spoke against drugs (at least declaratory) and punished drug producers with death. These tough measures have considerably restricted Afghanistan's drug production.
However strange it is, since the pro-American government of Hamid Karzai has come to power in Afghanistan, drug business in this country has strengthened because nobody kills drug traders and the opportunities of heroin transit through Central Asian countries have increased.
Today Turkmenistan is becoming another drug traffic destination in Central Asia, despite in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan drug business is punished with the death penalty. Kyrgyzstan has no death penalty for drug business. Moreover, in many cases people sentenced to long terms in jail for drug trafficking are released from prison in 1-2 years and continue this business. So Kyrgyzstan looks the most attractive drug traffic destination in the region. Through Kyrgyzstan, most opium and heroin goes to Russia (Siberia, Urals, Moscow and St. Petersburg), but part of these drugs remain in the Kyrgyz market.
No doubt, drug traffickers have already established drug routes to Western Europe where drugs are high in demand…
Kyrgyzstan is combating domestic drug producers by its own forces. Since long ago the country's Issyk-Kul province was famous for opium production for the export to China. In the 1970s a famous Kyrgyz director, Bolot Shamshiyev, made a milestone feature film of the Soviet cinematography, "Scarlet poppies of Issyk-Kul."
The Soviet government declared a war on drugs and opium poppy plantations were destroyed.
At the dawn of Kyrgyzstan's independence, the government discussed the proposal to restore the cultivation of opium poppy in the Issyk-Kul area, to earn large money for the state treasury by opium export. When this question was under discussion, the prices for land areas and houses at Lake Issyk-Kul sharply increased - people rapidly purchased land for the future opium plantations.
Fortunately, the idea of opium production has been rejected and Kyrgyzstan has not become Central Asia's Columbia…
The most profitable kinds of business in the world are trading weapons and drugs. In Kyrgyzstan the first kind of the above businesses is run by the state, which is proved by several international scandals. Drug business is the realm of criminal organizations that feel very well in Kyrgyzstan because they enjoy the strong support and protection by corrupt government officials. Another reason is very lenient laws that allow drug dealers avoid a tough punishment for drug crimes.
Different international programs to combat the drug business have weak results for the reasons stated above. So Kyrgyzstan would remain a major transit point along a drug traffic route from Afghanistan to other countries.
By Alexander Kim, military observer,
The Times of Central Asia, June 19, 2003