Tajikistan is located on one of the highest volume illicit drug trafficking routes in the world, between Afghanistan’s opium harvests on its southern border and the illicit drug markets of the Russian Federation and Eastern Europe to the north. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimated in 2011 that 75-80 metric tons (MT) of Afghan heroin and 35-40 MT of opium flowed through Tajikistan on its way north, but the country seizes only a small fraction of those amounts. The Tajik government’s high level of commitment to drug control did not result in an equivalent increase in drug seizures in 2015, possibly due to smugglers changing techniques or routes. As in past years, there were few major traffickers arrested and imprisoned. Nevertheless, Tajikistan was able to seize higher volumes of opiates than any other country in Central Asia.
The number of people with substance use disorders in the country has remained relatively stable, as the Ministry of Health registered 7,226 in 2015. However, the Red Cross and UNODC have estimated the actual numbers of addicted users is much higher.
B. Drug Control Accomplishments, Policies, and Trends
1. Institutional Development
The United States and other donor nations continued to invest in border facilities, outposts and equipment in 2015, but implementation of the 2010 National Border Management Strategy remained slow. The Strategy provides a framework for coordination and the administrative architecture for effective action on border security.
The Drug Control Agency’s (DCA) Vetted Unit, with support from the U.S. government, expanded to 23 officers in 2015. Expansion of the Unit allowed for staffing in the regional office of Khudjand and should provide the necessary resources to focus on higher level drug violators. With the influx of relatively inexperienced officers, the Unit (now three years old) will still take additional time to develop. The Tajik government’s understanding of the value of the Unit must gain traction as well.
Tajikistan has watched the development of the synthetic drug market in the Russian Federation and elsewhere in Central Asia and has some experience with MDMA (ecstasy). DCA plans to propose an amendment to the Tajik government’s existing list of illicit drugs so that new psychoactive substances (synthetic analogues which mimic the physical reaction of a drug but with a slight chemical difference) may be included.
In preparation for the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem 2016, Tajikistan convened and chaired a regional conference which agreed on a resolution which is broad in scope, but reflects regional concerns of drug control coordination and Afghan heroin production.
There is no extradition treaty or formal mutual legal assistance agreement between the United States and Tajikistan.
2. Supply Reduction
According to the DCA, Tajikistan’s law enforcement agencies seized aproximately 4.68 MT of illicit drugs during 2015. Seizures included 499 kilograms (kg) of heroin, 1.08 MT of opium, and 3.1 MT of cannabis products (including hashish). The total also includes 29 grams of cocaine, the first seizures of that drug in Tajikistan since 2012. Notably, authorities seized 11,233 dosage units of MDMA (ecstasy) in 2015, a more than ten-fold increase from 2014.
Overall, 2015’s total seizures were 24.7 percent lower than those for 2014, although opium seizures were up nine percent compared to 2014 (in real terms an 89 kg increase). Cannabis seizures (including hashish) declined by 34 percent. Seizures (in particular heroin) have been generally declining across Central Asia for five years for unclear reasons. Tajikistan’s declining seizures have been attributed to a strengthening of forces along its border with Afghanistan; other analysts claim trafficking routes have shifted further west. Tajikistan’s heroin seizures, down from their 2009 and 2010 highs, have remained relatively constant in recent years, hovering around 500 kg.
By agency, the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) made the most drug seizures in 2015, followed by the State Committee on National Security, the DCA, and Customs Service. Given the breadth of work they perform in the country (from traffic police to uniformed officers and investigators), MIA personnel have more frequent opportunities to detect and seize illicit drugs.
3. Public Information, Prevention, and Treatment
International donors, including the United States and various ministries of the government rely on the media, sporting events, and printed material to deliver the drug awareness message in Tajikistan. The Ministry of Health provides treatment services through centers in Dushanbe and four regional centers. Psychological care and specialized out-patient drug treatment exist in urban areas, but in rural areas only primary care is available.
According to the Ministry of Health, there were 7,226 registered people with substance use disorders in the country as of October 2015, 226 of whom were women. Of that number, over 80 percent were reportedly addicted to heroin. The number of addicted people has changed little in the past 12 months.
As a matter of policy, the government of Tajikistan does not encourage or facilitate illegal activity associated with drug trafficking. Significant amounts of narcotics move through Tajikistan, likely with the support of corrupt law enforcement and government officials. Extremely low salaries for state officials, the scale of the profits from illicit drugs, and the dearth of other profitable activities make profiting from drug trafficking attractive. In May, two senior officers of the Drug Control Agency were arrested and charged with extorting money from a drug defendant’s family in exchange for a reduced sentence.
C. National Goals, Bilateral Cooperation, and U.S. Policy Initiatives
In 2015, the United States provided $8 million to help improve the professionalism, effectiveness, and operational capabilities of Tajikistan’s law enforcement agencies. The aid included construction of new buildings for DCA and the Border Guards, along with training, equipment, and salary supplements to DCA staff. It also included support to fund Tajikistan’s counternarcotics liaison office in Takhar Province, Afghanistan, which improved cross-border coordination.
The original goal of cooperation between the United States and Tajikistan was to develop DCA and Border Guard capabilities while increasing proficiency regarding detection and interdiction, with progress measured by increases in seizures, arrests and operations. The abilities of these organizations have increased substantially; however, over the last five years, overall seizures have declined and arrests have remained relatively stable.
The United States supports a substance use treatment program administered by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and World Health Organization that seeks to integrate drug treatment into the country’s public health systems, including through training of treatment professionals. The United States also supports a program to develop anti-drug community coalitions.
While total illicit drug seizures may have declined in 2015 from 2014, it is promising that heroin seizures were up, especially since over 80 percent of the country’s registered people with substance use disorders are heroin abusers. Until such time as Afghanistan’s opium production wanes, Tajikistan’s law enforcement agencies should prioritize cases involving that drug.
The 2015 arrests of two senior DCA officers for corruption is troubling, especially given that the United States provides resources for salary supplements to avoid such temptations. The Government of Tajikistan should take additional steps to curb corruption to improve the overall effectiveness of drug law enforcement.