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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tajik Drugs Run Riot

It is no longer a secret for anyone that the Tajik-Afghan border is not only a tangle of political problems for Tajikistan and Russia, but one of the world's largest corridors for the narcotics business.

If only two years ago, the discovery of 10 or 15 kilograms of raw opium among local Tajik inhabitants was a sensation, then today no one is surprised: The figures now run into the hundreds of kilograms.

The last operation the Russian border guard intelligence groups carried out a month ago in the Gorny Badakhshan region of Tajikistan yielded fantastic results. In the gas tank of a truck that the border guards had followed into the Kyrgyz city of Osh, they discovered about 400 kilograms of raw opium, whose market value is estimated in Moscow at $4 million.

The contrabandist turned out to be a simple agricultural worker who was going to neighboring Kyrgyzstan for provisions. He did not put up any resistance when he was detained but refused to answer any questions concerning the goods. According to the border guard intelligence service, the truck belonged to Islamist fighters who have already been struggling with the pro-communist regime of Tajikistan for five years.

Experts at the republic's state security service with whom I spoke say the volume of opium that comes from Afghanistan and Pakistan and runs through the Tajik corridor into Russia already reaches hundreds of tons per year.

This year, Russian border guards began to detain traffickers of a far more expensive narcotic -- heroin. The narcotics cartel known as the Golden Triangle, which includes Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan, has tested the Tajik corridor with opium and is now putting heroin in circulation throughout Russia and into Europe.

If in the border zones, a kilogram of heroin costs from $7,000 to $10,000, by the time it reaches Moscow the price can reach as high as $150,000.

The Russian border guards have been keeping statistics on the volume of narcotics that have been seized as they passed through the Tajik corridor. In 1994, 260 kilograms of raw opium were seized at the border; in 1995 the figure reached 1720 kilograms and during the first seven months of this year, 2000 kilograms have been confiscated.

Two years ago, when I reported on the Islamic Tajik opposition in Gorny Badakhshan, I came across an Afghan fighter. During our conversation he told me: "You have destroyed through 10 years of occupation our entire country, driving it to a long civil war. But we will still get our revenge. We'll shower you with narcotics and you will choke on them." Unfortunately, his predictions were right.

The main push that was given to the narcotics business was undoubtedly the civil war in Tajikistan, which resulted in hundreds of thousands of Islamists fleeing to neighboring Afghanistan. For the past five years, tens of thousands have died from hunger and sickness. The rest have tried to survive by forming into fighting divisions and, with the help of arms, have again begun to return to their homeland.

If at first small groups of contrabandists engaged in the narcotics business, then now the opposition fighters have found a common language with the local law enforcement bodies as well as the Russian military in Tajikistan. High profits have eclipsed most hatreds or ethnic enmities.

During the past few years, opium has been found on board Russian aircraft flying from the border regions into Russia. The narcotics trade is no longer simply a matter of struggling with hunger and poverty. It is now big business.

A year ago, almost the entire southern republic was planted with cotton -- the only good which brought hard currency into the budget of the country. Having traveled some 200 kilometers around Khatlonskaya Oblast, or region, I did not see one large plantation or bale of cotton at the factories, from which the republic's government officials lived fairly well.

Today, kolkhoz workers plant wheat, fruits and vegetables to guard themselves against hunger. But what could the republic be exporting to sustain the many people who now drive along Tajik roads in Jeeps and Mercedes?

By law, the Russian border patrol is obliged to hand over the confiscated narcotics to the local law enforcement officials for destruction. But as a border patrol commander told me, the federal forces do not trust local law enforcement bodies who have on more than one occasion resold the contraband. This is where conflict arises with the border guards. Moreover, the fact that bribes to Russian officers can reach up to $20,000 for the goods to be given over or for cars to be allowed to pass through checkpoints testifies to the growth of the million-dollar narcotics trade.

Tajikistan's soil and climate are ideal for cultivating special kinds of poppy plants and marijuana. The worsening of the economic situation and continuation of the civil war has forced the local population to follow the example of their Afghan neighbor. Poppy and marijuana are not complex cultures that require much work, skill or capital investment. You sow the seeds in the spring and harvest in the fall.

Only by stopping the civil war and controlling the Tajik-Afghan border can the flow of narcotics from the Golden Triangle be stopped. Moreover, the republic must return the cultivation of cotton to its leading role so the government can once again receive hard currency revenues. These problems are tied to the refusal of the Islamists and pro-communist forces to sit down at the negotiating table and create a coalition government.

Meanwhile, narcotics will continue to flow into Russia and further to the West.

Mumin Shakirov is a special correspondent for Literaturnaya Gazeta. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.