Why Is It So Hard To Stop Central Asia’s Drug Trade? | EurasiaNet.org

Posted: October 6, 2012 in Economy and Resources, Politics, Region, Relations

An underreported and underappreciated aspect of international security in Central Asia is the fight against drug trafficking. As everyone knows, Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium, and it reaches world markets through Central Asia and Russia. Central Asian countries’ western partners have been increasingly focusing on drug trafficking in their security assistance to the region, but thus far to little effect.

In a paper presented on Friday at a conference at the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at George Washington University, Sebastien Peyrouse divided the Central Asian drug trade into three types: “green” refers to trade by Islamist networks to raise money for militant activities, “black” refers to small-time criminals who smuggle drugs on their person to supply local markets, and “red” describes the trade by large, organized crime networks, with the collaboration of government officials. Peyrouse notes that Central Asian governments, in their rhetoric to the international community, focuses on the green and black drug trade, while by far the greatest amount of trafficking is red. But the international (US, European, UN) efforts tend to follow the lead of the Central Asian governments, focusing on the small-scale trafficking while ignoring — and even unintentionally abetting — the red trade.

Defining drug trafficking as a “spillover” effect from Afghanistan also leads to a poor assessment of the mechanisms that are needed to counter it. International institutions are focused on improving border security, principally its material aspects (like buildings, infrastructure, and equipment), again in accordance with the needs that local authorities express…. It is, of course, true that Central Asian states need better border security. Their border guards require better material conditions and training in new technologies and best practices. And as new states on the international scene, they require foreign assistance to rise to international standards.

However, it is naïve to assume that the fight against drug trafficking can be waged successfully with such measures. To secure a border with checkpoints, barbed wire, and watchtowers is not enough to make the frontier impermeable, as the recurrent failure of the United States to “close” its southern border with Mexico has shown. In Central Asia, all border points, even those that the international community has best equipped, are open borders, as corruption has rendered them permeable. Every entry into Central Asian territory can be negotiated (by buying a false passport, bribing a border guard to forego a document check, and so on). The smaller-scale “black” and “green” drug traffickers are the only ones that try to get across borders by avoiding checkpoints, through mountain passes or across rivers. The “red” traffic, on the other hand, utilizes the main roads and official checkpoints, recently upgraded with the international community’s assistance.

Central Asian borders with Afghanistan cannot be made secure by physical means alone. It requires the political will to fight against corruption, and for the longterm. To be effective, efforts to combat drug trafficking in Central Asia must therefore be first political in nature.

Why Is It So Hard To Stop Central Asia’s Drug Trade? | EurasiaNet.org.


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