THE GOLDEN CRESCENT AND CENTRAL ASIA: HEROIN EXPANSION
Irina Zhmuida, Senior researcher, Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences
Marina Morozova, Senior researcher, Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences
By the mid-1980s radical changes had come to stay on the world illegal drug market: the Golden Crescent became another center of production and distribution of drugs together with other two major international centers (the Andes Group in South America that produced cocaine and the Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia producing hard drugs—opium and heroin). The new center (Afghanistan, and its neighbors Pakistan and Iran) specializes on raising opium poppy and cannabis indica from which soft drugs (hashish and marijuana) are produced.
The war in Afghanistan that destroyed the country’s national economy, and an actually open border with Iran and Pakistan helped the Golden Crescent develop at a fast pace and join in international drug business. By that time the Golden Triangle countries (Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand) had passed laws that envisaged death penalty for drug pushers. This cut down the local production volume by more than four times.
The roles within the Golden Crescent, or the spheres of influence typical of any criminal community were distributed to fit specific conditions. Afghanistan with its non-existent economy and the natural conditions in which poppy and cannabis could be raised high in the mountains extended the areas under these crops. Iran where the cultivated areas had somewhat contracted and which had an access to the sea and a developed transportation network concentrated on transit corridors. Drugs were moved to Europe mainly via Turkey and the Balkans. In Pakistan, the local drug dealers abandoned their previous transportation bias in favor of processing raw materials and on delivering the final product to Europe and other parts of the globe.
Drugs, mainly hard drugs such as heroin, are for the most part moved to the west (Jalalabad-Kandahar-the Hilmand Province-Zahedan-Tehran-Tabriz-Istanbul-Europe) and to the south (Peshawar-Karachi and further on across the sea to Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and the United States). In the 1980s the Afghan drugs were mainly moved through the southern corridor (the Pakistani port of Karachi): by that time a great number (from 2 to 3m) Pashtoon refugees from Afghanistan had been already concentrated there and preserved ties with drug dealers back at home. Until quite recently Pakistan was a fairly large, by the regional scale, drug producer. Early in the 1980s the international drug mafia had helped the local dealers set up a network of state-of-the-art heroin laboratories in the North Western Frontier Province and in Karachi.
It was in the 1980s that Pakistan lived through a “heroine boom” the causes of which were quite obvious. In 1979 the unfolding campaign to make the country an Islamic state forced Zia-ul-Haq to pass a law that banned production and the use of drugs as contradicting Islamic principles. To avoid complications drug producers had to get rid of their stocks promptly. They started taking opium out of the country. In Iran the traditional system of transportation, processing, and partly growing of opium poppy and cannabis had been crippled, which also pushed drug dealers to outside markets. In the 1980s and 1990s despite the frantic efforts to destroy poppy plantations and drug-producing laboratories drugs brought more that $500m to the dealers. Other sources cite the figure of 7 billion Pakistan rupees (1.5 percent of GNP) that was more than the state spent on health protection and education in the later 1980s.
The United States, Great Britain and some other countries helped Pakistan fight drug production without much success. First, poppy brings too much money that cannot be abandoned in haste—many poppy growers depended on what they are doing for survival. Second, drug dealers had penetrated state structures at a local and international level, which makes anti-drug efforts less efficient or even absolutely useless.
Representatives of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, now at the helm in Pakistan, announced that while ten years ago Pakistan had produced up to 800 tons of opium in bump years, it stopped producing it altogether and all 100 laboratories had been destroyed.1 Even if this is true one doubts that Pakistan stays away from drugs: back in the 1990s up to 75 percent of drugs produced in Afghanistan were moved across Pakistan.2 Today, the country remains a major drug corridor: drugs go to the Balkans and further on to the West, and across Central Asia to Russia.
By the early 1990s the drug flows along the traditional (southern and western) routes had grown shallow because of the U.N. and U.S. pressure on Pakistan and a firm stand of the Iranian leaders. In 1989 the Iranian parliament had passed a law on death penalty for anyone on whom more than 30 grams of heroin or 5 kg of opium were found. In 1982-1992 over 2,000 were executed. Starting with 1993 under a barrage of criticism of international organizations that accused Iran of “reprisals against political opponents” the Iranian authorities have become reluctant to frequently use the law, yet the number of drug-related criminal cases is still high: today, over half of the prisoners in Iran were sentenced for dealing with drugs.
Since three neighbors of Afghanistan (Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan) tightened their drug-related legislation and resorted to harsher measures Afghanistan acquired an even greater role in the worldwide production of drugs. Smugglers from Baluchistan who regularly move heroin, opium and hashish from Iran to Europe frequently initiate fire exchange at the deserted borders with Iran close to Zahedan. According to Iranian sources not less than 2,700 military and policemen were killed in such skirmishes in the last 20 years.3 On the whole consistent efforts of the Iranian authorities are gradually reducing drug production: in 2000 production of drugs (mainly opium) was estimated at 35 tons a year, that is nearly 40 times less than in Afghanistan.
The Soviet Union’s disintegration urged the international drug dealers to look for new, even more profitable markets and corridors for their drugs, heroin from Afghanistan in the first place: the CIS turned out to be a promising market and an easily accessible transit route. There were at least four reasons that pushed the Afghan drug dealers northward, to Central Asia, Russia, and Europe: economic advantages offered by a capacious and still vacant heroin market; political instability in Tajikistan, the border with which is virtually unprotected; continued fighting in Afghanistan especially when the Taliban took shape and the anti-Taliban coalition appeared (fighting demanded money that could be earned by extending the areas under drug plants, increasing drug production and conquering new markets); strategic aims of Islamic extremism that wants to disintegrate the CIS and undermine territorial integrity of its members, Russia in the first place.
It should be noted that despite the global political changes that presupposed a clash between the Christian Orthodox-Slavic and the Muslim civilization and that could not but affect the world drug market (the very fact of the Golden Crescent appearing in Islamic states is one of the graphic manifestations of this) the pressure to the north was caused not so much by political as by economic reasons. It seems that the Soviet, and Russian, habit to lay blame for the country’s misfortunes upon outside enemies has played its role in this case too. Indeed, back in 1991 the KGB of the U.S.S.R. warned that the country’s speedy integration into world economy would inevitably attract international crime and stimulate the use of drugs.
Russia’s example illustrates how fast drugs spread and how great is the danger. According to official sources there are between 2 to 5m more or less regular drug users in the country. There is an opinion that the real figures are higher. Experts say that by the middle of the 21st century about 50m Russian citizens will become drug addicts. In 1996 law enforcement bodies had found heroin in 14 federation subjects, in 1999 heroin was found in all regions of Russia.4
Drugs from Afghanistan occupied over 60 percent of the Russian black market of drugs; experts believe that the figures for Europe and the United States are nearly 80 and up to 35 percent, respectively. Today, Afghanistan is responsible for up to 75 percent of the world’s total opium production.5 In 1998 Afghanistan grew slightly over 300 thousand tons of raw opium, in 1999 the figure was 450 thousand tons, in 2000, 700 thousand tons—more than enough to produce at least 30 thousand tons of pure heroin. (One gram of it makes 20 to 40 doses—3 or 4 doses make a normal man a drug addict. In northern Pakistan 1 kg of Afghan heroin fetches $650; in Kyrgyzstan, from $1,100 to $1,200; in Moscow 1 gram costs up to 2,000 rubles.6)
Afghanistan lacks adequate technological facilities to process these huge amounts of raw opium to produce 30 to 45 thousand tons of heroin. So far the aim seems to be to lower the raw material prices rather than to extend production. The drug cartels are trying to increase their incomes—together with them the share of hard drugs will also increase.
Practically all political forces of Afghanistan deal with drugs (production and trade) as well as numerous criminal groups that nobody can control. According to international assessments, in 2000-2001 nearly 90 percent of the country’s economy depended on the drug-related business. The Afghan provinces of Hilmand and Nangarhar were responsible for 75 percent of total heroin production. On the whole, over 400 laboratories with a potential total annual output of over 100-110 tons of heroin were functioning on the Taliban-controlled territory. Huge laboratories and even plants near Jalalabad and Peshawar in Pakistan also processed large amounts of raw material.7
Northern Pakistan could compete with Afghanistan where drug production is concerned despite Pakistani leaders’ repeated assurances that they are resolutely fighting drug trafficking. In the Chitral district people from Afghan Badakhshan buy drugs wholesale, move them to Zebak and Ishkashim and to the Wakhan district across the Baroghil pass where drugs are sold in small parties to drug pushers who take them further on to the Tajik border.
A similar, yet not similarly efficient, mechanism was working on the territory controlled by the anti-Taliban coalition. Drugs were mainly produced around the city of Feyzabad. Ahmad Shah Masoud who commanded the troops of the Northern Alliance and got military aid from CIS countries had banned opium poppy from the territories he controlled. His troops were ordered to destroy poppy plantations. The order was of a nominal value and nobody heeded it. At the same time it is wrong to say that huge amounts of drugs were flowing to Tajikistan across the lands under the Northern Alliance’s control. With meager 10 percent of opium poppy grown in the north the anti-Taliban coalition had not much opium to send abroad.
At first the Taliban encouraged drug production and trade in drugs—it needed money to buy weapons. In fact, for about 20 years now Afghanistan has been specializing in growing poppy and exporting drugs. Drugs were the only source of subsistence in a poor country in which poorly educated population has no jobs—this explains why even high placed officials, landowners, etc. are also involved.
Part of the raw material was processed inside the country, the latest processing plants were brought from Pakistan; part of the poppy yield was moved across the border to Pakistan where it was processed in the laboratories scattered across the zone of tribes: in Gilgit, Chitral, Swat, Bannu, Kare, and elsewhere. According to the media back in the 1990s local businessmen, corrupt administration officials and even people from military intelligence used the services of the international crime community to move drugs from Afghanistan and Pakistan abroad. People from the top echelons of power in Pakistan (a son of a former governor of the North Western Frontier Province, another governor of the same province, and relatives of the late President Zia-ul-Haq) were accused of ties with the drug mafia. The military were also involved: the trucks that delivered weapons from Pakistan to Afghanistan brought back drugs.8
The Taliban started eliminating poppy fields under pressure of the U.N. and other international organizations. Later it banned poppy altogether and ordered to replace it with very-much needed wheat. According to the U.N. in 2001 the drug-created incomes of the Taliban dropped by half as against 2000 partly because smuggling was blocked and partly because of a severe draught.
In January 2001 the U.N. approved the ban on growing poppy in Afghanistan introduced by the Taliban leader Mullah Omar in 2000. At the same time the U.N. experts pointed out that the farmers knew nothing of the ban and the penalties the poppy growers were expected to pay.9
In 1999 poppy production dropped by about 30 percent, yet the number of villages that grew opium poppy increased—they appeared in another 21 districts. New fields were found mainly in the north, close to Central Asia. In 2000, total areas under opium poppy contracted by 10 percent yet the number of villages and districts that started growing poppy increased. A U.N. special report pointed out that the areas under poppy were expanding and new centers of poppy growing had appeared, and added that this could not but cause concern.10
Violations of the ban cost dearly—experts are convinced that because of the ban and a poor yield many farmers will barely manage to survive, and this without taking account of the events of 11 September. Some of them will replace poppy with wheat. Peasants believe that new loans, migration to Pakistan and Iran, selling out small daughters and leasing out land are the only solutions.11 The farmers find it hard to repay debts; the south and east of the country were badly hit: many of the farmers had to sell their cattle and land. Lower poppy yields created a deficit of fuel—poppy stalks are used to heat homes. Today, farmers have to use other plants previously used as fodder, and dung.12 Despite the ban opium poppy covered ten times vaster areas than wheat.
The events of 11 September, 2001 radically changed the situation on the drug market. In two weeks heroin prices in Jalalabad and Kandahar dropped from $700 to $100 per 1 kg. The world drug-dealing community expected a flow of cheap drugs. One should take into account, however, that in 2001 drug production in Afghanistan dropped by nearly 95 percent. This became possible thanks to an active cooperation between the Taliban and the U.N. Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention—UNODCCP. This radical decline should not create an illusion that there was precisely this amount of drugs in the country—undoubtedly there were considerable stocks of drugs accumulated in the past. U.N. officials believe that the Taliban, al-Qa‘eda and the Afghan and Pakistan drug barons had no less than 280 tons of heroin.13
The press informed that in the areas liberated in November 2001 opium poppy was sown en masse so that to reap it in spring and send more opium, morphine, and heroin to the world markets.
In the middle of January 2002 the new government of Afghanistan passed a law banning drug production and trafficking. The text was sent out to all provinces with an instruction to explain it to the peasants. The Afghanistan authorities, together with international organizations, decided “to use economic rather than police instruments to persuade the peasants to stop growing opium poppy.”14 This was what Abdul-Hai Ilahi, head of the Drug Control Commission of the provisional administration of Afghanistan said. In 2002 the European Union has already allocated $70 billion to pay the peasants who abandoned poppy in favor of other crops. Each of the peasants will have $350 for each poppy-free hectare.
The efforts to suppress drug production caused popular unrest in the south and east of the country. In April 2002 peasants took to the streets in Hilmand, Kandahar, Kunar, Paktia, and Nangarhar to protest against Hamid Karzai’s ban on growing and gathering drugs.15
Drugs from Afghanistan mainly go to post-Soviet Central Asia and further on to the CIS and Europe along four major routes. Two routes cross the border with Tajikistan: Kunduz-the Khalton Region of Tajikistan-Russia; Peshawar-Chitral-Badakhshan-the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region-Kyrgyzstan. One route crosses over to Uzbekistan and one to Turkmenistan: Kandahar-Balkh-Jauzjan-Uzbekistan and Kandahar-Herat-Turkmenistan.
The porous frontiers between Afghanistan and post-Soviet Central Asia are one of the main reasons why Afghan drug dealers moved northward. Today, the Federal Border Guard Service of Russia protects the mountainous Tajik-Afghan border (1,300 km)—the longest, and the most vulnerable, stretch of the post-Soviet frontier with Afghanistan (the border with Uzbekistan is 150 km long, with Turkmenistan, about 900 km). U.N. representatives believe that Tajikistan receives a third of drugs produced in Afghanistan, the larger part of which goes further across the republic. Every year Russian border guards confiscate about 1.5 tons of various drugs—not more than 10 percent of the total amount moved from Afghanistan to the CIS, according to experts of the Russian Federal Border Guard Service.16 It should be added that there is not a single drug-producing laboratory in Tajikistan—all drugs arrive from Afghanistan.
From Tajikistan drugs are moved to Kyrgyzstan: from Khorugh along the Pamir highway and mountain roads to Osh, then to Bishkek, and then by air and rail across Kazakhstan to Russia. Part of them is consumed directly in Kyrgyzstan.
The law enforcement bodies of Russia, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan have managed to neutralize, to a certain degree, the “Osh Knot” with checkpoints on the road between Khorugh and Osh and tighter border control. The drug mafia responded with shifting the main drug traffic to Khujand in Tajikistan and Gushty in Turkmenistan with the route leading to Uzbekistan. The latter introduced visas and tightened control at the border thus turning the drug flow that was moving along the automobile roads to Tajikistan back to Kyrgyzstan. The route that crossed Gorny Badakhshan along the Khorugh-Osh highway returned its drug-related importance lost in the last few years.
The situation in Kyrgyzstan was seriously aggravated by inroads of armed extremists: when defeated some of them just blended with the local people. They could have undoubtedly meddled with drugs to survive.
The main part of the drugs arrives in Uzbekistan from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan—the countries have no border to speak of and the terrain is hard to control. From Uzbekistan drugs cross Western Kazakhstan to Russia and the Southern Caucasus. In Uzbekistan as in other Central Asian republics the amount of captured heroin is steadily growing: from 12 kg in 1996 to 70 kg in 1997 and 120 kg in 1998.
In 1998 Russian border guards were removed from the border between Turkmenistan and Afghanistan because Ashghabad had unilaterally withdrew from the relevant agreement. The border control slackened and much more drugs are now moved into Turkmenistan. In 2000, the Committee for National Security of Turkmenistan confiscated 2,200 kg of drugs (220 kg of heroin) from drug carriers. At the same time Ashghabad had to admit a lack of trained staff to rebuff the drug pressure. It is interesting to note that in 1998 the republic confiscated 2.3 tons of heroin, the largest amount confiscated in Central Asia in one year.
There is practically no drug production in Turkmenistan to speak of yet, large batches of heroin regularly cross its territory. (In January 1999 Russian border guards found 220 kg of heroin on a ferry that arrived in Astrakhan from Turkmenistan.) In 1997 the republic received a new Criminal Code under which drug pushing was punished with death—so far, nobody has been executed, as distinct from neighboring Iran.
The inadequately protected (or simply unprotected) southern borders of the CIS allowed Afghan drug business to reach Kazakhstan. In the mid-1990s there were several regularly used routes—today drugs are sold on the republic’s entire territory. Together with the open borders drug pressure was eased by a well-developed, and uncontrolled, network of railways and roads, and liberal laws. The drugs that come to Kazakhstan are mainly moved further on: about 30 percent of them are sold locally. Every year 100 to 150 tons of drugs cross the republic.17
A lot of drugs are raised locally, in the Chu valley on the area of 138 thousand hectares with the climatic conditions perfectly suited to cannabis from which up to 4 thousand tons of marijuana can be produced. In 1999 the amount of heroin captured in Kazakhstan increased by over two times—from 16.3 to 33.8 kg; in the eight months of 2000 177 kg were arrested. It should be noted that the law enforcement bodies arrest no more than 15 to 20 percent of the drug flow. Heroin is very expensive (on the market 50 g of heroin may fetch $3,000), therefore it is brought to the republic in small batches and even smaller amounts of it are captured.
The special services of the CIS countries are facing two major, and still unresolved, problems: inadequate material and technical provision (this is also true of the Russian border guards at the Tajik-Afghan frontier) and an absence of coordinated anti-drug strategy on the CIS and global level. In fact, the mafia is much better equipped and organized: the drug barons constantly adjust their tactics, they use night vision devices, and mobile communication lines of the closed type while the Russian border guards receive meager 25 to 30 percent of the needed fuel and lubricants. There is no shortage of special anti-drug services in Central Asia while the CIS is still waiting for a single anti-drug center to coordinate the national special services. Without such coordination joint operations are hard to conduct. In fact, the Russian border guards stationed in Tajikistan which is a sovereign state have found themselves in a legal vacuum: they can operate within a border strip 1 to 3 km wide and they cannot pursue smugglers beyond the strip.
To rebuff the drug smugglers Uzbekistan placed landmines along its borders both with Afghanistan (which is a state border) and with the CIS countries (which are administrative borders). Local people are blown up and this creates additional tension among the post-Soviet republics.
The Turkmenian authorities officially declare that the country is ready to join international anti-drug cooperation—yet they do nothing practical in this respect. The U.N. is convinced that their participation in the joint efforts to stem the drug flow is nominal.
Being aware of the fact that the international drug mafia is looking at the CIS as a single territory and a single market for their drugs the majority of the post-Soviet republics, Russia among them, concluded relevant bi- and multilateral agreements. The Russian special services speak highly of their cooperation with Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan; Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan come second where the opposition to the international (including Afghan) drug business is concerned. Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have nothing to boast of: drugs rather than information about them reach Russia from their territories. Recently, the Federal Security Service of Russia destroyed 50 international channels through which drugs (including heroin) came to Russia. It confiscated more that $1 billion-worth of drugs, arrested 300 big drug bosses.
Today, Russia is more actively involved in cooperation with the far abroad. Despite certain problems created by lack of coordination between the legislatures of different countries the officers of the “N” Administration of the Federal Security Service of Russia have established good working contacts with their colleagues in the United States, Germany, Colombia, France, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Poland, Peru, Spain, and Turkey.
After his Moscow meeting with Vladimir Putin (then prime minister of the RF) in September 1999 UNODCCP head Pino Arlacchi said that the Russian leaders had allowed the program to use satellites of military intelligence. They made it possible to obtain “detailed photographs of the most remote corners of the Afghan territory and identify places where drugs are stored.”18 Judging by press reports Russia offered the Kosmos-2365 satellite that can photograph objects of up to 40 cm on earth. UNODCCP used it to locate every single hectare sown with drug-containing plants: it was found that in 2000 opium poppy covered over 82 thousand hectares in Afghanistan.
Time alone will show whether the anti-drug measures of the new government of Afghanistan bear fruit. So far, the struggle against drug pushing and drug expansion across the world has proved futile: poppy growers and drug dealers outwit authorities. It seems that as long as the much-suffering country continues living in the Middle Ages rather than embracing an order recognized by the world community and oriented toward international laws no anti-drug efforts will bring good results. Today, the effects and not the root of evil are being attacked.
1 See: The Economist, 28 October, 2000; Pakistan Observer, 24 April, 2000.
2 See: Financial Times, 20 May, 1996.
3 See: The Economist, 20 October, 2001; The News, 25 June, 2000.
4 See: Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie, No. 20, 2000.
5 See: Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie, No. 32, 2000.
6 See: A. Ikonnikov, Narkotiki v Tsentral’noi Azii: portret segodniashnego dnia [www.eurasia.org.ru/2000].
7 See: Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie, Nos. 17, 19, 2000; No. 4, 2001.
8 See: Washington Post, 13 May, 1990; Pakistan Times, 10 April, 1990.
9 See: The News, 23 January, 2001.
10 See: Ibidem.
11 See: The News, 5 July, 2001.
12 See: Ibidem.
13 See: The Economist, 20 October, 2001.
14 Izvestia, 20 April, 2002.
15 See: Ibidem.
16 See: Iu.P. Cherkassov, “Narkosituatsia v Tsentral’noi Azii i Kazakhstane” [www.kisi.kz/analytic magazine/01.2000].
17 [www.kisi.kz/analitic magazine/1.2000/].
18 Vremia novostei, 25 October, 2000.