At least two people were killed in Tajikistan’s troubled eastern mountain town of Khorog on May 21, local news agencies reported, citing unofficial sources. Murky cases of violence are nothing new in the area: Khorog was the epicenter of a military operation in 2012 that killed dozens, including at least 22 locals, but was never clearly explained by authorities.
In one version of today’s events recounted by the Asia-Plus news agency, a shootout started when police attempted to arrest a brother of local warlord Mamadbokir Mamadbokirov, leaving two supporters dead and a police officer in serious condition. In response to that, and possibly some subsequent arrests, angry residents reportedly burned down the police station. Estimates of the crowd varied from several dozen to 700.
Fergana News cited the head of the regional branch of the opposition Social Democratic Party, Alim Sherzamonov, as saying that riot police opened fire “without warning” when they encountered some sort of unofficial local powerbroker. "Spot checks of tinted[-windowed] cars were underway in the city; a car was stopped. The policemen began arguing with the driver, but then the OMON [riot police] came and opened fire without warning,” Sherzamonov said. “One person was killed on the spot and two injured. They opened fire because the guys in the car had informal power in the city. Weapons were used by one side only – the OMON."
The United Nation’s Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released its annual World Drug Report today. There are not a lot of surprises for Central Asia watchers, but the study is a good reminder of just how entrenched Afghan narcotics are in the region.
Afghanistan remains the world’s largest producer of illicit opiates, accounting for 74 percent of global production in 2012. Those narcotics continue to pass relatively unhindered from Afghanistan through Central Asia for markets in Russia and Eastern Europe. On the way, they wreck havoc, as increasing numbers of Central Asians succumb to heroin addiction and HIV.
What’s being done? The striking chart to the right shows how, over the past ten years, interdiction in the region has actually fallen, especially in Tajikistan (shown in pink).
Over the same period, Afghan drug production generally increased (with the exception of 2012, when, due to adverse weather and disease, production fell by 36 percent). “A preliminary assessment of opium poppy cultivation trends in Afghanistan in 2013 revealed that such cultivation is likely to increase in the main opium growing regions, which would be the third consecutive increase since 2010,” the report says.
Why, then, the dramatic decline in seizures in Central Asia? The UNODC sort of sidesteps issue:
Not long ago Tajik police were forcing men to shave their beards, convinced a terrorist lurked behind every whisker. Now the health minister has recommended salons stop trimming Tajikistan’s chins lest dirty razors spread HIV.
Nusratullo Salimov said barbers are not doing enough to disinfect their shaving equipment, RIA Novosti quoted him as saying on January 10. The health minister emphasized, however, that the majority of Tajikistan’s new HIV infections are transmitted via dirty needles and unprotected sex. He gave no statistics for new infections from tainted razors.
Facial hair is a popular topic of official chatter in Tajikistan. In late 2010, a number of bewhiskered men told local media outlets they were being harassed by police. Some reported being stopped and forced to shave. At the time, an Interior Ministry spokesman confirmed police were detaining “suspicious” men sporting long beards as part of their search for members of banned Islamic sects. Muslim men, moderate and radical alike, often wear beards out of reverence for the Prophet Muhammad.
More recently, in November, a new injunction sponsored by the State Committee on Religious Affairs reportedly prohibited men from wearing beards longer than their fists, though some officials later denied the existence of any rules. (Ironically, across the border in Afghanistan, the Taliban were once said to forbid men from wearing beards shorter than fist-length.)
American airmen at the Manas Transit Center outside of Bishkek could be smuggling drugs on their military planes, says a senior Kyrgyz official, and their cargoes should be subject to inspection by Kyrgyz authorities.
The recommendation came from the head of Kyrgyzstan’s drug control agency, Vitaly Orozaliyev, who was speaking before a parliamentary committee on June 5, 24.kg reported.
According to Orozaliyev, under current agreements neither the cargo that comes to Manas, nor its workers, are subject to searches. “Yes, there’s been information about narcotics. We have held talks with our Russian and American colleagues about this and believe it would be right to raise the issue of searching cargo shipments coming into the transit center.”
It’s been known to happen elsewhere.
Maybe Orozaliyev has seen “American Gangster,” the 2007 Ridley Scott film based on the true story of Frank Lucas. Lucas collaborated with American troops in Vietnam to ship home high-quality heroin (in coffins of dead servicemen) and build a narcotics empire in New York in the 1970s.
Since then, the heart of the heroin industry has shifted from Southeast Asia to Afghanistan, which now produces over 90 percent of the world’s opiates. And the trade in Afghan heroin through Central Asia is worth billions of dollars. So at the tail end of another disastrous war in an opium-rich region, it’s not hard to follow Orozaliyev’s logic.
Life for Tajikistan’s conscripts manning the drug-infested Afghanistan border is dismal. Frequent reports tell us they are cold, hungry and untrained (“recruits fire only nine shots over a 40-day” Russian-led training). But life for their dogs may be even worse, we now have learned thanks to Wikileaked American embassy cables.
Snow White nearly died from them. Trick-or-treating children once found razors in them. Now an ingenious gang of drug smugglers has been busted for stuffing them – yes, apples – with $14 million worth of heroin and driving them by truck from Kyrgyzstan to Russia, local news reports say.
Security officials in the major Siberian city of Novosibirsk announced this week that they have interdicted more than 82 kilograms of heroin “packed in spherical containers made of foamed plastic and disguised as apples. They were transported together with real fruit,” a spokeswoman for the regional branch of Russia’s main intelligence agency, the Federal Security Service (FSB), was quoted as saying. Officials suspect the smack-packed shipment reached Russia from Kyrgyzstan via Kazakhstan, two Central Asian countries that claim to be the apple’s birthplace.
The major bust, preceded by a months-long joint investigation by the FSB and Russia’s Customs Service, resulted in the arrest of an unspecified number of people from different countries, news agencies reported. A search for the smugglers’ coconspirators continues.
Nikolai Bordyuzha has said what we’ve all been thinking.
The chief of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the region’s dithering, would-be NATO, has said that members of deposed President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s court were trafficking narcotics through southern Kyrgyzstan. That part of the country was Bakiyev’s home base and, after his bloody ouster last spring, the epicenter of ethnic violence that left hundreds dead and thousands wounded.
"A year ago, before the events in Kirgizia, some security forces, controlled by President Bakiyev among others, controlled drug traffic through the south of Kirgizia," Bordyuzha, referring to the country by its Soviet-era moniker, said in comments carried by RIA Novosti on February 21.
Whether Bakiyev was complicit, or, as many suspect, profiting directly from the drug trade, Bordyuzha didn’t elaborate. But he made a comment about Kyrgyzstan’s current security forces, or “siloviki” -- a term referring collectively to agencies with the legitimate right to use force, including police, army, intelligence services and others -- that left journalists guessing about his meaning:
"Over the last month, several caravans of drugs have been intercepted and, moreover, this transfer was made possible by security forces," he said, adding that the new Kyrgyz authorities could use some help in the fight against drugs.
Was Bordyuzha referring to the transfer of troops that stopped the drug shipments? Or was he suggesting, as interpreted by Lenta.ru, that some members of the security forces continue to smuggle drugs?
Bishkek’s pleas for help to combat narcotics trafficking are finding a sympathetic Russian ear. The new head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), high-ranking diplomat Yuri Fedotov, is eager to lend a helping hand.
On June 6, Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said Moscow is “not happy with what the world community [i.e. NATO] is doing in the anti-drug war" in Afghanistan, agencies reported. Without elaborating, he said Russia is ready to "make several counter-drugs rings around Afghanistan to intercept drugs."
It is unclear how Russia would make such a cordon without involving Afghanistan’s Central Asian neighbors, but Moscow is clearly frustrated with Tajikistan’s languid drug war. Indeed, Ivanov singled out Tajikistan as a primary trafficking conduit.
At least 30 percent of Afghan drugs transit Central Asia – most through Tajikistan – en route to Russia and Europe, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Yet Central Asian states only stop 5 percent of the flow. Russians consume 21 percent of the world’s heroin.
Has Moscow had enough? Some Tajiks think so.
The infamous Russian nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky (a Duma deputy chairman) recently remarked that Tajikistan had failed to achieve statehood and should become a Russian protectorate. At the same time, Moscow banned Tajik nuts and dried fruits because of a polio outbreak in the country (no, dried snacks cannot transmit polio).