Globalization of narco-traffic: "The Golden crescent" dominates.
The results of four-years working cooperation with colleagues from Balkan countries police forces, on-going analysis of correspondent statistics and other available data, information on the narco-situation development in Afghanistan, Central Asia and some countries of Balkan region leads to conclusion about continuous steadily domination of "The Golden crescent" on European narco-markets.
This conclusion, in its turn, results in necessity to focus the law-enforcement agencies on "the Afghan traces" disclosure, on essential needs to destroy the criminal ties between two continents. In the circumstances of further globalization of narco-crime this is a task of the great importance.
The following factors draw attention of international experts:
Remoteness of roots of the problem from the main transit countries and consumer countries. For example, opium and heroin produced in Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and Balkan countries are the key transport junctions, US and Western Europe are the main countries - consumers. Thus, the law-enforcement agencies of the countries, developing and implementing their own drug policies, possess very few tools, if any, to influence directly on the sources of the problem.
The cooperation and coordination of law-enforcement Agencies, both on regional and international levels, some times have been proved ineffective. One of the most significant and recent examples is the introduced by UN long-term strategy "Security belt around Afghanistan", which appeared to be ineffective because of the greatest gaps in this belt along the Afghan border with Turkmenistan and some sectors of Afghanistan - Tajikistan border.
Very fast growing number of domestic drug-addicts in every transit country. Eventual transformation of transit countries into the consumer countries results in domestic utilization by 20% of drugs transported through the territory of transit countries. The effective drug policy must anticipate these transformations, monitor the growing rates of drug-abusers in the country, analyze tendencies and involve the large-scaled programs for prevention, treatment and rehabilitation, including HIV/AIDS prevention programs. For example, according to the Ministry of Health of Kyrgyz Republic, over 90% of registered HIV/AIDS cases are directly linked to I/V drugs addiction. In Kazakhstan in 85% HIV-infection had been spread along with I/V injected drug.
Ethnic nature of the organized criminal groups, more and more firmly taking under their control the world black-markets. Structured on the principles of blood-ties, those criminal groups controlling the drugs transportation and distribution are absolutely closed and separated from the local community. It makes the task to penetrate and disclose such illegal organizations to be extremely complicated. (Examples - Chechen, Gipsy, Tajik criminal groups in Russia, ethnic organized criminal groups in Kosovo.).
Situation in post-conflict regions, such as Afghanistan, countries of Balkan region, involved into drug-trafficking: international contingents are poorly informed about local narco-situation; the personnel is rotated; newly set up domestic police forces are week and inexperienced.
Drug black-market, similar to every other market in the world is in continuous development. This development has some specific tendencies to be analyzed, such as a very aggressive penetrating of synthetic drugs on the opium and heroin markets, very fast growing number of amphetamines-producing labs, etc. It means that the effective drug policy: a) must be flexible and b) on its early stages of development and implementation must include issues of monitoring - analysis - regular revising and further improvement.
We are the eyewitnesses of new narco-corridors establishing, the corridors, capable to absorb the existing narco-roads in the nearest future or at least to become highly competitive. It is obvious that law-enforcement structures must develop "forestall tactics" today, otherwise tomorrow the control over situation will be lost for many years, as it happened many times before.
Now let's discuss some details from above-listed. "Roots" of the problem first. I'd like to describe briefly my vision of narco-situation in Afghanistan. It is worldwide known that, because of number of factors, such as: geographic, economic and political, this country currently keeps a leading position in drugs production. According to international experts, in year 2003 Afghanistan harvested from 3.5 to 4.5 thousand tons of raw opium equal to 75 % of the whole black-market volume.
All efforts invested by international community into stabilization of narco-situation in Afghanistan did not bring any considerable success. Some introduced measures, for example a special "supporting fellahs" program offered payment for the poppy-fields eradication, absolutely failed and brought unexpectedly harmful consequences: in order to earn more money fellahs gratefully extended the territories of opium-fields for the next year. Seems that this "supporting fellahs" program had been introduced by the "specialists" possessing no understanding of local mentality, mode of life and "philosophy" of Afghan fellah, the reality of his everyday life.
After many years of fruitless attempts to cut down opium production, Talibs became a first government to get some real success. According to some expert opinions, it was just a tactical trick to inflate world drug prices. Was it really so or not, but now the opium fields are totally out of control. The real owners of poppy-fields are field-commanders, regional leaders and terrorist armed groups. Just a few well-known facts: Osama ben Laden transported the harvested in Afghan opium to Chechen rebels, so they could sell it and pay for arms and ammunition. Armed clashes on the south territories of independent Kyrgyzstan in 1999-2000 international analytics called "Batken narco-expansion": illegal armed groups made an attempt to blaze new regional narco-trails, to hide on the "conquest" territories reserves of opium and heroin for further transportation to European countries via "The Central Asian corridor".
Karzay government also made some timid attempts to limit opium harvesting. In this connection government issued special decrees and raised special task forces within the Ministry of Internal Affairs structure. However all analytics, including American and NATO military and law-enforcement advisers, stressed their awareness that introduction of a wide-range campaign against narco-industry today would fall the country into the civil war abyss.
To motivate the fellahs to substitute the opium-poppy cultivation with cereals, Afghan government came to a decision to stop import of some essential foodstuff and wheat. This can lead to some desired results in long-term. But, considering the last year profit of Afghan narco-trading, estimated to be much higher than possible benefit of cereals export in 10 years, one cannot expect a soon and great success of diversification programs.
It is obviously no reason to expect any improvements in Afghan narco-situation, both in terms of opium production and trading, in the foreseeable future. More over, there are recent reports about "domestic" drug-addicts. Drug abusing was not registered in the country during dozen years, although opium cultivation was widespread. This information is an evidence of severe aggravation of narco-situation in Afghanistan. It means that international community, and very "promising" markets of Western Europe and United States above all, must prepare themselves to the next coming wave of "Afghan narco-aggression". Law-enforcement agencies must play a serious role in this combat. A memorandum on narco-trade eradication, signed on April 1, 2004 between Afghanistan and bordering Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and China probably will not result in outstanding success on the regional level, at least in the nearest future. But the international society must welcome and support by all means every step in this direction.
According to the international experts, and I'd like to support this opinion, 30% of "Made in Afghanistan" drugs are transported to the main countries - consumers via "the Central Asian corridor". And this rate is continuously growing, in spite of all taken contra-measures. A number of geographic, socio-political and economic factors facilitate this harmful process.
I'd like to describe briefly the regional situation.
Afghanistan is bordering with three ex-Soviet Union countries: Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. These countries, especially Tajikistan, according to UN, must become "a front line" of anti-drug war. A long-term strategy, titled "Security belt around Afghanistan" is in the process of implementing.
How it is going on in reality?
Duringyear2003in Tajikistan 9.6 metric ton of drugs had been ceased, including 5.6 tons of heroin. The main portion of drugs had been confiscated by Russian Border Troops that keep under their control 1271 km of Tajik-Afghan border. During last year, in continuous armed clashes, they wiped out 45 narco-couriers. In 1999 Tajikistan - first from CIS - with UN support founded the National Drug Control Agency under the President of the Republic. Meanwhile the decision of Russian Border Troops withdrawing from the country by the end of summer 2004 is made and came into force. The presence of Russian Border Troops always played a key-role in the regional narco-traffic restraining. During the year 2003 they seized 4.7 tons of drugs, including 2.5 tons of heroin. Comparing this figures with above-mentioned general data on drugs confiscations in Tajikistan leads to the obvious conclusion that Russian Border Troops made about half of all drugs confiscations in the republic. According to some analytics, the decision to withdraw Russian Border Troops, guarded the Tajik - Afghan border more than hundred years, had been pushed through by narco-barons.The opinions of domestic and international experts about capability of Tajik National Border Troops to keep their borders locked for Afghan narco-flow are controversial, mainly negative.
However, according to International Group for Crisis prevention (IRG), HQ Brussels, Tajikistan is one of 20 poorest countries in the world. IRG reported, that growing flow of narco-traffic "hampers the political will to implement economical reforms and involves governmental structures into the bribery". "The drugs-trading makes a great harm to economic development, because illegal incomes are never invested in domestic economy". Similar with their neighbors in Afghanistan, drugs became for Tajiks far more profitable than legal business or industry.
Continuous extending of opium fields, growing number of heroin laboratories, very active merging of Afghan and Tajik narco-business raise serious awareness of law-enforcement agencies.
As it became known recently, Turkmenistangovernmental structures had been involved in narco-business some time ago. According to some well-informed sources, Taliban used narco-money "to settle their accounts" for provided from Turkmenistan gas and petrol. This information caused a great scandal, the Chairman of the National Security Committee, "supervising" drugs-trading and transit via the territory of Turkmenistan, had been prosecuted along with number of high-ranked governmental officials and officers of law-enforcement and national security agencies.
The latest information: in March 2004 the UN Drug Control Commission made an official statement that Turkmenistan does not demonstrate sufficient efforts to control drugs export from Afghanistan along 700 km of Afghan - Turkmenistan border. The most serious concerns of UN Drug Control Commission had been caused by the fact that starting from year 2000 Turkmenistan never reported about opium, its derivatives or precursors confiscation.
The UN Commission also stressed that Turkmenistan is the only bordering with Afghanistan country that did not join to the started in 2001 "Topaz Operation", intended to search the acetic anhydride deliveries (key chemicals for opium into heroin lab. proceeding) .
During 2003 Uzbekistan registered about 9 000 criminal cases, linked to drug-trafficking. More than 7 000 people had been prosecuted in this connection, including more than 900 women. 177 foreigners arrested for narco-crimes for the same period, mainly Tajikistan citizens. Similar to other countries of this region, Uzbekistan is under the strong pressure of Afghan drugs. Meanwhile, the existing schemes of cross-border cooperation with neighboring countries are not working, although could be really helpful. Just one example: the recent statement of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan about burning necessity to have a joint data-bank on drug-trafficking and narco-criminals; and to share this information with colleagues from the bordering countries. But a similar Memorandum on mutual cooperation, including a provision for such data-base establishing, had been initiated by The United Nations' Drug Control Program (UNDCP) and signed by Central Asian countries in the middle of 1990th. The fruitfulness of this working cooperation had been proved by practice, nevertheless, for a few years the idea had been forgotten and raised up again recently, as unprecedented innovation.
Kyrgyzstan consistently implements drugs-combating policy. This country first in the region:
- Developed "the anti-drugs strategy",
- Realized number of governmental anti-drugs programs,
- Set up a separate Drugs Control Service within law-enforcement structures, The State Commission on Drugs Control under the government of Kyrgyz Republic, and in last year - The State Agency on Drugs Control under the President of Kyrgyz Republic.
Ministry of Internal Affairs reported that 3062 criminal cases on drug-trafficking had been opened in 2003 in Kyrgyzstan, 3 tons 548 kg of drugs confiscated, including 150 kg of Afghan opium and heroin. According to experts, a cumulative income from the illegal drug-trafficking is about 40-50 millions US dollars. The major share of this narco-money comes from drugs, produced in Afghanistan. According to some data, almost 3000 kg of heroin and 5000 kg of opium are annually transited via territory of Kyrgyz Republic by over hundred different narco-corridors.
The special action with code name "Barrier", involved all law-enforcement structures in Kazakhstan and during four weeks of October - November 2003 withdrew from the illicit narco-trading 3 metric tons of drugs, including about 500 kg of heroin, produced in Afghanistan. Officials from The Committee of National Security that coordinated this special action shared their opinion that the impressive results of operation confirmed the existence of the large-scale drug-trafficking channels for transporting "hard drugs" (heroin and opium) via Kazakhstan.
It is necessary to stress that Kazakhstan is a kind of "out-post" on the way to Europe, because its common border with Russia is more that seven thousand kilometers long ... In its turn Russia, according to statistics, becomes the largest sale-market and transit center for transporting opium and heroin produced in Afghanistan to the countries of Eastern and Western Europe. The experts from The State Customs Committee characterized the continuous bulk deliveries of Afghan heroin to Russia as narco-expansion. In his speech on the official meeting of the Federal Service on narco-control on March 30, 2004 The President of Russian Federation Vladimir Putin stressed the necessity "to stop the narco-transit via Russian territory". He assigned to the Security Council and Ministry of Foreign Affairs a task to develop "the unified and clear approaches to cooperation with other CIS countries in cross-border narco-threats combating". "We must get a clear understanding, what we may count on cooperating with our Central Asian partners", - The President said.
About some Balkan states, it is important to highlight that drugs produced in Afghanistan transported here mainly via the Balkan narco-route. After being "frozen" in the period of regional conflicts in 1990th this drugs-transporting way is in its "renaissance" now. It is well known that by 80% of confiscated in Western Europe in 2003 heroin had been delivered by the Balkan narco-route.
The situation in Kosovo is of outmost concern. Regardless of presence of international police forces and military contingents, this region steadily develops into "the narco-dealer's Klondike". International police forces are poorly informed about local narco-dealers and their plans; also their service is structured in rotation basis. The local police forces were recently set up from the "zero" level and have unsatisfying, if any, experience in drug issues; the current anti-drug legislation is ineffective. All above constitutes a favorable environment for organized criminal groups, structured on the principles of ethnic ties and that's why very straitened for penetrating and disclosing; favorable environment for drug-trafficking and money laundry. Majority of reported arrests of drug-dealers and confiscation (very limited) are accidental. Meanwhile, the number of domestic drug-addicts is growing steadily.
Serbia made some successful steps in its fight against narco-mafia. Law enforcement agencies reported heroin confiscations during first six months of year 2003 exceeding cumulative weight of this drug seizure during previous five years. These improvements of the working results of local law-enforcement had been highly facilitated by their close cooperation with US Drug Enforcement Administration. It is necessary to stress the role of OSCE, that provided local police forces and prisons personnel with professional training and re-training, involving highly experienced police instructors from different parts of the world.
One of undoubted successes of Serbian law-enforcement became, followed the murder of the Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Jinjitch in March 2003, the Zemun criminal clan neutralization - the most powerful drugs "distributor" on the territory of ex-Yugoslavian countries. However, the recent statements of some Serbian governmental officials from the Ministry of Interior that Mafia is neutralized and ruined seem to be doubtful and even groundless. There are numerous facts to prove this opinion. For example, according to some officials from the Czech Republic, the Serbian mafia had appeared at the heroin market in the Czech Republic, which had been monopolized for years by the Kosovo-Albanian Mafiosi. "The status of Kosovo Albanians as elite on the Balkan drug trafficking route is weakening. At the same time, Serbian criminal groups as well as Albanian criminals from Albania itself, are springing up", - they stated.
Albania also is used as one of the biggest traffic point on the "Balkan route". The existing reports about numerous heroin confiscations in growing volumes all over the Albanian borders are to prove this. Just a few most recent examples: January 31, year 2004 - 55 kg of heroin confiscated on the border of Albania with Serbia and Montenegro; beginning of February 2004 - a drug-shipment, confiscated on the Vrbnica check-point (Albania - Kosovo), estimated in over 2 millions Euro in black market prices.
The Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia recently reported about neutralization of the five biggest channels of drug trafficking. During the summer 2003 Macedonian law-enforcement agencies seized 210 kg of drugs, including 54 kg of heroin.
Finally I'd like to add that the Balkan black-market is actively supplied now with synthetic drugs produces in local clandestine laboratories. According to some local experts, there is a tendency of heroin supplanting with synthetic substances. Not arguing with this prognosis, I'd like to admit that, looking on European drug markets, heroin never gave up its positions regardless of aggressive penetration of amphetamines and ecstasy.
There is one, considerably new "narco-tendency", to be regarded. In addition to the "traditional" narco-trafficking corridors, such as "Balkan narco-route", a number of new very "promising" roads of drugs delivery are in the process of establishing in front of our eyes. We mentioned already "The Central Asian corridor" of transporting Afghan opium and heroin to Russia and European countries. According to Georgian experts, the new transport corridor, developing during last 10 years within the supported by European Alliance "TRACEKA" (Transport Corridor Europe - Caucasus-Asia) could make a strong alternative to the well-known Balkan narco-route. TRACEKA program involves the railroads, ground and over-sea transporting corridors building and restoration, connecting a European coast of Northern sea with China sea-ports in Pacific Ocean; and simplifying some "bureaucratic procedures" along this corridor, including customs rules and regulations. According the recent information, 13 counties - member invested into the TRACEKA infrastructure over 700 millions Euro, starting from year 1993. It is expected, that TRACEKA program will move Caucasus and Central Asia to the higher level of development, will form big transport centers, in fact, will get back their, lost in middle centuries, positions, when goods from China had been transported to Europe by land. That is why this new transport corridor is called "The Great Silk Road". Recently a first shipment of 200 tons of humanitarian aid crossed 6000km of this corridor and reached Afghanistan. There is a real danger that the new transport corridor, intended to facilitate communication between Europe and Asia, will be involved into extensive narco-transit. That is why, the countries-members of TRACEKA program urgently need to develop "a joint forestall tactics" and to implement a package of measures against narco-traffic. In the current circumstances of obvious narco-crime globalization this step is of vital importance.
That is why I am absolutely convinced that law-enforcement activity will become much more effective if they cooperate better and coordinate their efforts against the Afghan narco-expansion and pay more attention to the roots of the problem.
Aleksandr Zelichenko, Police Colonel,
PhD, Team-leader of OSCE international police instructors
in Serbia and Montenegro.
Since 2000 the author have been working for UN, OSCE Missions to the Balkan countries - Kosovo and F.Y.R. of Macedonia. Since May 2002: Team Leader of the International Police Instructors operating in the post-conflict area of South Serbia.
"The Golden crescent" - a generally accepted title of the high mountain territory on the junction of Iran - Afghanistan - Pakistan borders.
"Serbian mafia makes it to heroine market in Czech Republic". LED News Bulletin, Friday, 06 February 2004. OSCE Mission to Serbia and Montenegro, Law Enforcement Department, Strategic Development Unit.
"Massive heroin haul on Albanian border". LED News Bulletin, Monday, 02 February 2004. OSCE Mission to Serbia and Montenegro, Law Enforcement Department, Strategic Development Unit. "Drug haul at Kosovo border". LED News Bulletin, Thursday, 05 February 2004. OSCE Mission to Serbia and Montenegro, Law Enforcement Department, Strategic Development Unit.
"Prekinuto pet narco-canala". "Politica", Belgrade, 22.09.2003.
L. Girsiashvily. "The Silk Road: dangerous potentialities". htpp://www.centrasia.ru/news 07.11.2003