Since the 1990s, Tajikistan has become a major hub for drug trafficking. Each year, around 100 tonnes of opium and heroin is smuggled across the Tajik-Afghan border. This makes the drug industry account for around 30% of the country’s GDP. This has not only weakened state powers as terrorist networks have infiltrated the region, but has also limited economic growth due to worsened public health outcomes, and eroded state legitimacy. Although State policies have attempted to subside and counter these effects, they have thus far been relatively ineffective. This is evident as the heroin industry continues to make up a high percentage of GDP and the high number of medical cases resulting from drug abuse.
Tajikistan’s Current Drug Policy: A Failed Attempt
Tajikistan’s current drug policy was adopted in 2013. It aims to counter the “illicit proliferation of narcotic drugs and their non-medical use, the scale of consequence of their illicit trafficking for the safety of people’s health, society and the state.” This was enacted through legislations and domestic agencies, such as the Coordination Council and the Drug Control Agency (ADC), coupled with foreign actors, such as the EU and the UN Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Together, these agencies and laws have attempted to enhance the security, economic growth and social wellbeing of the country.
However, whilst these mechanisms and organisations have been introduced to address the rising issue of drug trafficking in Tajikistan, they have been largely ineffective. Reasons for this include the lack of state resources, state corruption and securitisation of the drug issue.
Failure of Tajikistan’s Drug Policy
Lack of Resources: The Weak State
Tajikistan remains an underdeveloped state, attributed predominantly to a civil war in the 1990s. In 2018, its GDP per capita was USD $1073 and its poverty level was 27.4%. Whilst these figures are improving, the state continues to be one of the poorest post-Soviet nations. As a result, the government lacks the resources to impose effective control over drug supply and demand.
Regarding drug supply, border troops lack the equipment and skills required to address drug trafficking in the State. An ADC official substantiated this, stating “not only do police and militaries not have at their disposal specialized equipment such as night-viewers, passport readers, x-ray devices, but they are also running short of basic equipment such as vehicles, gasoline or winter clothes.” Law enforcement agencies also lack the necessary means to tackle the heroin industry, and are unable to enforce laws effectively. The factors combine to further hinder the effective coordination between the different organisations. This, in turn, inhibits policy efficacy concerning drug supply.
Beyond drug supply, the government has been unable to curb drug demand as it fails to fund rehabilitation and treatment facilities for those suffering from drug addiction. The public healthcare system remains underfunded, and, thus, the quality and quantity of staff and facilities remain inadequate. The little investment that exists tends to focus on the capital, Dushanbe, neglecting more rural regions in particular. As a result, drug demand continues to proliferate.
To that end, Tajikistan’s small GDP per capita has contributed towards the government’s unsuccessful attempt to control both drug supply and demand.
State Corruption: Lack of Motivation
Low GDP affects the level of motivation amongst state officials to counter drug trafficking. The poor prospects of career advancement and levels of income have led to rampant corruption within the government, amongst high-level politicians and law enforcement officials. This has fostered a lack of motivation to implement effective drug policies.
Numerous individuals have turned to corrupt practices to gain political influence, which gives them greater access to financial privileges and political legitimacy. Others, in particular low-income civil servants, are motivated by monetary incentives. With an average monthly salary of 136 USD (September 2019), many workers desire higher incomes to escape poverty. This has resulted in border guards turning a blind eye to drug shipments passing through the state in return for monetary payments. The violent tendencies of drug traffickers further exacerbate the likelihood of officials turning to corrupt practices.
Consequently, corruption has become pervasive throughout Tajikistan’s society. The Secretary of Tajikistan’s Security Council has acknowledged that many representatives of the Tajik state agencies, including law enforcement bodies and security customs, are drug merchants and couriers. Over the years, many high profile and petty cases have emerged. For example, in 2005, the commander and two senior officials of the State Border Protection Committee Unit in the Shurobod District were detained for drug trafficking. Moreover, the expensive houses and cars that lower-level officials possess provide evidence of petty corruption as these workers could not afford such goods on their salary.
The result of this corruption has had severe implications on the State’s development and security. The lack of motivation of State officials has often rendered border protection and law enforcement ineffective in their duties. According to scholar Engvall, “it is virtually impossible to counteract the criminalisation of society.” Those that do try face a security risk, as exemplified by the Deputy Interior Minister Sanginov in 2001 who was most likely murdered due to his anti-drug stance. Tajikistan’s failing drug policy also has ramifications for the wider international community as they lack adequate instruments and information to form an effective policy vis-a-vis drug trafficking in Central Asia.
An Overemphasis on Security: What about Development?
Disregarding the lack of resources and motivation, the existing drug policies lack a focus on development, or, in other words, the initiatives that reduce the public demand for drugs. Instead, the focus remains on the importance of security, placing an emphasis on supply reduction.
Whilst numerous international agencies, such as the UNODC, EU and US, have provided funds and assistance to counter-narcotics initiatives and organisations, their focus remains on supply reduction. This is evident by measures such as renovating border outposts, training officials and providing defence equipment, a more militarised approach. Whilst few drug prevention strategies do exist, these are outdated, for example, using traditional methods, such as sporting events, to engage the current generation, which would perhaps be more suited to online campaigns.
This strategy has enabled the regime to consolidate itself, albeit with a heavy reliance on foreign aid. This foreign assistance has enabled the government to focus on internal issues as opposed to external threats, such as terrorism. This, in turn, has strengthened the regime and enabled them to, at times, improve their relations with the drug industry. The foreign aid has been directed at small players within the industry, targeting and charging numerous lower-level narcotics groups. This lessens the competition for major actors, allowing them to consolidate their influence. It further appeases the international community as arrest figures rise. However, in the long term, it may be questionable whether this strategy is sustainable due to the heavy reliance on foreign aid.
Drug trafficking in Tajikistan remains rampant and current policies have failed to adequately address the issue. The poor levels of development have created a weak state that is unable to adequately provide the resources needed to counter drug supply and demand. In turn, this has contributed to weakening State legitimacy as corruption is prevailing throughout all government sectors. Such rampant corruption explains and exacerbates the lack of motivation of officials, as well as inhibits international organisations attempting to counter drug trafficking. The policies, in particular adopted by the international community, present an inherent failure. This is attributed to the securitised approach that is adopted, which neglects drug demand policies that tackle drug addiction and prevention. Such ramifications make it evident that current policies need to be reorganised toward a long-term, development approach that requires a development-oriented commitment from the international community, matched with State authorities that are resolute to combat the existing corruption.