Russia, Eurasia, and the West

The issue of drug trafficking from Afghanistan in Central Asia and proposed solutions

May 5, 2016

The issue of drug trafficking from Afghanistan in Central Asia and proposed solutions




A brief summary of the problem 


During the Soviet Union drug was considered a ‘capitalist disease’, and therefore, the drug problem in Central Asia seems to be new. Drug trade is rooted especially in the war in Afghanistan (1979-1989), during which drug addiction spread and transnational trafficking began. Trafficking of drugs embraces production, sale, and transfer of narcotics. More than 75% of the current world heroin supply originates from Afghanistan and the global market is estimated at 55$ billion annually. About 120 tonnes of heroin per year are transported from Central Asia to Western Europe and the Russian Federation through the ‘New Silk Road’. The Kazakh Security Committee identified 125 drug-related organized crime groups in Central Asia and data are only growing. The most well known is Lesha Gorbaty’s. As a result of the high demand and the consequentially high profits, a terror-crime nexus has developed in Central Asia. It is particularly visible within state institutions, which are corrupted and infiltrated by criminals (true in Kyrgyzstan under former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, or currently in Tajikistan).


The drug trafficking problem in Central Asia persists for several reasons. First, the conflation of terrorist groups with drug cartels is used to serve the interests of the political elite. Second, corruption impedes an efficient control of the physical border checkpoints between Central Asia and Afghanistan. Third, the focus is on security when it should be on demand reduction and treatment.

Another issue is that terrorism and drug trafficking are approached separately, one being considered a domestic issue and the other a global one. But terrorist groups are involved in drug trade to finance their activities (as does the Islamic movement of Uzbekistan).

Moreover, if many actors are involved

  • ‘UNODC wants to strengthen its role in CA
  • The EU will continue to finance the Border Management in CA (BOMCA)
  • The US has launched a CA Counternarcotic Initiative (CACI)
  • Russia wants to assume the head of a new international anti-drug campaign, if possible in cooperation with NATO’

Solutions are mainly rhetorical.



Assessment of its wider political, economic and social impact domestically and internationally


Domestically, drug trade and consumption impact the region very negatively.

One of the main political impacts is the high degree of corruption of the ruling elite in the region. It also leads to the destabilization of the states, which are already weak. The profit from drug trafficking provides opportunities for violent groups and makes the region more prone to violence and to conflicts.


Economically, drug trafficking generates a shadow economy and induces its criminalization (money-laundering, contraband). The latter can lead to either disaffection or protest movements.

Plus, the economic conditions are deteriorating, which makes the police and border guards more willing to accept bribes, and the population more eager to take risks for the transportation or cultivation of drugs.

The cost for the government is high with an increase in crime rates and a diminishing public safety, a rise in the levels of domestic violence and child abuse, the costs of health care with the spread of infectious diseases such as HIV. If drug trafficking generates benefits in the short term, this is not true for the long term where the productivity is expected to drop. A ‘Dutch disease’ could also take place if drugs flew freely in CA and if the other industries stagnate. The economy would then be fully dependent on the illicit drug trade.


Socially, the biggest impact is related to health with many becoming addicted and contracting diseases. Drugs damage the physical psychological, and emotional health of people. They are mostly consumed by the young, which makes their future uncertain.


All this domestic impacts are also correlated with the international level with the terrorism issue being the most worrying. Separatists, radical religious and terrorist movements are becoming ‘financially self-sufficient’ thanks to the benefits of the drug trade, which is a source of instability for both the region and the world as a whole. The poverty issue also needs to be tackled as well as the health problem. 



Recommendations for one or more actions that national or international bodies could adopt to address these 


1- Fight terrorism and organized crime together:

Cooperation needs to be reinforced at all levels, with both security (for terrorism) and law enforcement (for organized crime) measures. The sharing of information and intelligence among states is crucial. In order to fight a network (typical structure of drug-traffickers in CA), it would be a good idea to also use a network. Infiltration and external attacks would help the dismantlement of criminal groups. Eventually, fighting drug groups could help counter terrorist groups, and would be beneficial for the society as a whole.



2- Stop defining drug trafficking as a ‘spill over’ effect from Afghanistan and fight against corruption:

This definition prevents an accurate assessment of the mechanisms needed to improve the situation in CA. Corruption has rendered borders permeable and therefore, focusing on the material aspect and securing checkpoints is not enough. Personal training as part as the BOMCA framework is a start but will not work if corruption continues to be the norm. A long term political will to fight against corruption is necessary. This will only be possible if ‘clan politics’ are tackled. It is problematic in the sense that such a policy is not acceptable from the point of view of CA states and that the International Community cannot interfere in their international affairs. Some authors also conclude that it is the illicit trade that allows stability in the region. 


3- Reduce the demand of drugs:

This should be done at the national but also global levels. If it is important to combat illicit drug trade by limiting the production (destroying crops), but this is not a long-term viable solution, as Afghan farmers do not have other alternatives. What could work on the other hand, is to reduce the demand for drugs, to focus on treatment and prevention campaigns. This would help the society in its social aspect (less drug addicts, less drug carriers, less diseases), and in its economical aspect (the demand for other products will develop and the previously stagnant companies will become more productive and will benefit the economy of the state). However, the current budget of UNODC for CA consists of 11% for prevention, while 88% is assigned to the fight against organized crime, corruption and terrorism. 



4- Have a common coherent strategy for all actors involved:

Russia is targeting the production, and tried to have a resolution passed at the UNSC to declare Afghan production as a threat to global peace and security; and requires the help of NATO (‘Rainbow-2’ plan for poppy eradication). The US is not very interested as it is far away from this field and only a small proportion of drugs from Afghanistan reach the US. The EU is more engaged through the UN and Interpol but lacks funds and is frustrated to engage with unwilling governments. Consequently, all initiatives in the region are disparate and poorly coordinated, and sometimes more concerned with geopolitical realities and interests. The Paris Pact Initiative has been fruitful but the number of projects planned is quite small considering the scale of the problem. The initiative should then be renewed. 






Academic articles:

Bleuer C. qnd Kazemi S. (2014), Between Co-operation and insulation – Afhanistan’s relations with the Central Asian Republics, Afghanistan Analysts Network

Howard R. and Traughber C. (2008), The ‘New Silk Road’ of Terrorism and Organised Crime: the Key to Countering the Terror-Crime Nexus

Olcott M. and Udalova N. (2000), Drug Trafficking on the Great Silk Road: the Security Environment in Central Asia, Working Papers, Russian and Eurasian program, Carnegie Endowment for international peace

Peyrouse S. (2012), Drug Trafficking in Central Asia – A Poorly Considered Fight?, PONARS Eurasia Policy Memo No. 218, George Washington University

Ramtanu M. (2010), Drug-infested Ferghana Valley: Target of the Axis of Three Devils, EIR

Thomas T. and Kiser S. (2002), Lords of the Silk Route: Violent Non-State Actors in Central Asia, USAF Institute for National Security Studies, Colorado



UNODC Central Asia:

UNODC: pact Initiative: 


Rapport by UNODC and The Paris Pact Initiative on : Illicit Drug Trends in Central Asia (2008)




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