Recent weeks have seen a number of major narcotics busts in Tajikistan. On June 17, a border patrol found a cache containing almost 420 kilograms of cannabis in Shurobod district, on the country’s southern frontier with Afghanistan. On June 11, the authorities reported busting some 14 kg of hashish in the country’s north. One day earlier, police in Shurobod spotted a group of Afghan smugglers that had crossed the Panj River separating the two countries. Following a brief shootout, the smugglers retreated to Afghanistan, leaving behind about 100 kg of cannabis. On June 9, police reported capturing some 107 kg of narcotics, including 38 kg of heroin, in Hamadoni, another Tajik district lying on the southern frontier. On June 6, police intercepted more than 90 kg of narcotics after a two-hour clash with Afghan smugglers in Shurobod. Overall, almost 800 kg of drugs have been seized in Tajikistan since the beginning of June (news.tj, June 7, 10, 11, 18).
These interceptions represent only a tiny portion of the total flow of narcotics transported through Tajikistan en route to Russia and other destinations. In a report released in May, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that 75 to 80 metric tons of Afghan-made heroin and 18 to 20 tons of opium is smuggled through the country annually. This means that about 200 kg of heroin and 50 kg of opium pass through Tajikistan every day. Most of these narcotics end up in Russia where demand is driven by an estimated 2.5 million drug users (“Opiate Flows Through Northern Afghanistan and Central Asia: A Threat Assessment,” UNODC, May 2012; fskn.gov.ru, May 3).
The flow of narcotics through Tajikistan is likely to increase over the next several years. Reports by the UN estimate that the production of opium in Afghanistan increased from 3.6 tons in 2010 to 5.8 tons in 2011. Moreover, the Afghan drug business is increasingly targeting Tajikistan as the primary transit country for heroin bound to Russia and Eastern Europe. Recent reports indicate that the cultivation of opium poppies in the northeastern areas of Afghanistan, lying along the border with Tajikistan, has lately increased by half while the number of laboratories that process opium into heroin has doubled (interfax.ru, May 31; rferl.org, March 28).
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is unlikely to receive a very warm welcome during his state visit to Tajikistan scheduled for September. The gradually cooling relations between the two countries have hit a new low after Boris Gryzlov, the speaker of the lower house of Russia’s parliament, wrote in Nezavisimaya Gazeta on August 2 that Russian border guards should return to Tajikistan’s southern frontier (from which they pulled out in 2005) in order to stem the flow of narcotics from Afghanistan. Aware of Dushanbe’s unwillingness to share its security duties with Moscow, Gryzlov proposed to introduce visas for Tajik nationals travelling to Russia if Tajikistan persists in opposing the return of Russian border guards. Remittances sent home by an estimated one million Tajik labor migrants in Russia account for about 40 percent of the country’s GDP, keeping hundreds of thousands of Tajik families out of extreme poverty.
For over one year, Moscow has been pressing for the return of its border troops to Tajikistan. Russian officials are genuinely concerned about the impact of Afghan narcotics, most of which are smuggled into the country through Central Asia. An estimated 130,000 people in Russia die each year from heroin overdoses and drug-related crime (www.telegraph.co.uk, April 28, 2010). Last year, Russia’s anti-narcotics chief, Viktor Ivanov, suggested that about 60 percent of Russia-bound Afghan heroin is smuggled through Tajikistan, which needs support in fighting drug trafficking through its borders (www.rg.ru, May 6, 2010).
On May 31, a group of Afghan cattle raiders stole some 80 cows from a farm in Shurobod district, on Tajikistan’s southern border with Afghanistan. Under the cover of the night, the armed raiders drove the cows across the Panj River, which separates the two countries. Earlier in the year, Afghans kidnapped two residents of the district. One of them was recently released after his relatives paid the ransom money (www.regnum.ru, June 2; http://www.avesta.tj, June 7).
These incidents demonstrate that almost six years after Tajik border guards assumed full control of the Afghan border, the frontier remains severely ill-protected. Part of the problem is the border’s geography. Much of the 1,344 kilometers (840 miles) Tajik-Afghan frontier is mountainous terrain, which makes it easier for Afghan smugglers to hide from Tajik border patrols and escape quickly when they are spotted.