Osh and Bishkek — Kyrgyzstan’s two main cities — are major choke points for drugs on their way from Afghanistan to Russia and Europe. The drug wealth is omnipresent. I say a guy exchanging local currency into more than a million dollars at a Bishkek bank. Those who have ambitions to get rich or improve their lives turn to the drug trade.

The construction and improvement of roads and other infrastructure improvements helps drug to moved faster and with more ease. Drugs are easy to move across the borders of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan into Kyrgyzstan. When asked how much of threat the border guards are at the Uzbekistan border, one Osh resident told Newsweek, “Just pay them some money, and you can take across whatever you like.” Drugs have been found in Russian military aircraft.

According to Sensi Seeds: “Kyrgyzstan has a small illicit trade in opium, cannabis and ephedra, which it produces, as well as in amphetamines. Domestic production of opium is small-scale, and cannabis and ephedra cultivation is far more prevalent and widely-distributed. The southern borders are prone to illicit trafficking of hashish and opium from Afghanistan and Pakistan, which travels through Tajikistan or even the lawless western reaches of China’s Xinjiang province to reach Kyrgyzstan, before leaving the country once more via its northern and western borders with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan...As is so often the case, trafficking groups also tend to organise themselves according to ethnicity. Thus, many of the arrests made in Kyrgyzstan are of foreign nationals—particularly Tajiks, as such a high proportion of the drugs transiting Kyrgyzstan arrive from Tajikistan.[Source: Sesheta, September 16, 2014, Sensi Seeds sensiseeds.com -]

In an article on the drug routes between Afghanistan and Russia, David Trilling of Eurasia.net wrote: “From Tajikistan, the heroin and opium pass through Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Kyrgyzstan is the preferred route because of its porous, 870-kilometer border with Tajikistan (two-thirds of which has never been formally demarcated) and the country’s “widespread corruption.” Osh, near that border, is a “drug consolidation point,” and the stomping ground for criminal gangs that played a role in 2010’s ethnic violence. Kyrgyzstan’s ongoing instability directly and indirectly facilitates trafficking, says the report. [Source:David Trilling, Eurasia. Net, May 18, 2012]

Osh is said to be a major new international point-of-purchase for opium and heroin, which is produced in all of the countries adjoining the Fergana Valley, including Kyrgyzstan. More than 300 kilograms of opium were seized in Osh Province in 1994, an amount estimated to be less than 10 percent of the total moving through Osh. At the end of 1994, the head of the National Security Committee characterized the narcotics trade as the republic's sole growth industry, which he warned was solidifying its grip on the republic's conventional economy. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Is Kyrgyzstan a Narco-State?

B. Rose Huber of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School wrote: “Kyrgyzstan serves a powerful role in the Eurasian drug trade by playing the "mule" that carts heroin and other opiates between Afghanistan and Russia. Many researchers theorize that this lucrative industry has taken root in Kyrgyzstan – a country with few natural resources and industries – with significant support and leeway from its government, making it a "narco-state."” [Source: Alexander Kupatadze and B. Rose Huber, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton, March 17, 2014; "Kyrgyzstan – A virtual narco-state?" International Journal of Drug Policy, January 31, 2014 |::|]

According to Sensi Seeds: The “trafficking of narcotics has become so endemic that there is little economic activity outside of it, and widespread police and political corruption sustains and supports the trade. It is thought that approximately 20 percent of all Afghani-produced heroin is transported through Kyrgyzstan, which is now being dubbed a narco-state by some due to its dependence on the trade.[Source: Sesheta, September 16, 2014, Sensi Seeds sensiseeds.com -]

Researcher Alexander Kupatadze at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School writes in the International Journal of Drug Policy that government and crime are more likely to become intertwined when resource-stripped countries such as Kyrgyzstan have little economic activity outside of the drug trade. Based on more than 70 personal interviews with government officials and underworld figures in Kyrgyzstan, argues that when organized crime becomes an unofficial national industry, state officials may be less likely to enforce drug policies because doing so would eliminate the livelihoods of corrupt government officials. |::|

"The less resources a country has, the less motivated the government appears to be enforcing drug policies. In fact, 'no policy' is the policy," said Kupatadze, a visiting research scholar at the Wilson School's Niehaus Center for Globalization and Governance. "In a country like Kyrgyzstan, drug trafficking has completely changed the nature of organized crime." |::|

Rose wrote: “Because of its geopolitical location, insecure borders and extensive corruption, Kyrgyzstan has become a tunnel through which drugs produced in Afghanistan — the world's dominant opium producer — are transported to Russia, which is among the world's largest consumers of illicit drugs. These factors, coupled with Kyrgyzstan's total lack of natural resources and industry, has turned the country into a robust conduit for drug smuggling. An estimated 20 percent of opium and heroin produced in Afghanistan makes its way through Kyrgyzstan to Russia. However, there are no data regarding how much income the drug trade generates for Kyrgyzstan, nor how much of that might be kept locally or laundered abroad. |::|

“Analysts have therefore argued about whether Kyrgyzstan is a narco-state with drug lords, politicians and police working in tandem. Others say the state's radical-Islamic gangs and organizations dominate the country's drug trade. Nonetheless, there has been a lack of complete and accurate information about the scale and value of trade, the groups involved and the role of drugs-related money in politics, Kupatadze wrote. |::|

“Kupatadze said it is believed by many that Kyrgyzstan most resembled the status of a narco-state while under Bakiyev's rule, which lasted from 2005 to 2010 when he was ousted by protestors. Under Bakiyev's leadership, the criminalization of the state reached its peak, and close relatives to Bakiyev were involved in the drug trade. "The criminalization of the state penetrated so deeply during this time that corrupt interests undermined formal law enforcement institutions," Kupatadze said. "In Kyrgyzstan, there are near monopolists in the market who rarely interfere in each other's area of influence. This is reinforced by the corrupt interest of politicians and law enforcement officials." |::|

Drug Traffickers, Terrorists and Gangsters in Kyrgyzstan

According to the United Nations: “In Kyrgyzstan, over time these groups have managed to establish a presence in state structures, including winning seats in parliament and posts in other government bodies. Kyrgyz organized crime is in rapid evolution, reflecting the ongoing political, economic and social changes affecting the country. One important feature is the previously cited north-south divide that runs right through the Kyrgyz socio-political landscape. According to law enforcement sources, Kyrgyz criminal groups are located in and around the country’s main drug trafficking hubs: (1) Talas (north); (2) Bishkek; (3) Issyk-Kyl; and (4) the southern region (including Osh, Batken and Jalalabad and their respective regions). Some geographical differences can be observed: gangs in Bishkek tend to concentrate on racketeering, embezzling state assets or controlling the expanding market of Chinese smuggled goods. [Source: “Opiate Flows Through Northern Afghanistan and Central Asia”, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Regional Office for Central Asia, May 2012 |*|]

“Gangs in the southern region tend to specialize in the drug trade. There are numerous drug groups in the south: 12 in the Osh region and city of Osh, including Uzbek and Tajik groups; 7 in the Batken region; 6 in Jalalabad region versus 6 drug-trafficking groups in Bishkek city (including a Caucasian group and a Roma group) and 8 in the Chuy region (including Chechen groups, Kurdish groups and a Roma group). In all, 40 organized crime groups are estimated to be involved in the drug trade, although not all carry out transnational activities (i.e. Issyk-Kyl based groups). This is the low end of the range as the Russian FDCS reportedly estimates the number of groups to be 70. |*|

“ The main power brokers are ethnic Kyrgyz groups based in Osh and Bishkek who are reported to control up to 80 per cent of the criminal markets, following the interethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan. A typical structure consists of interdependent and essential component divisions, each with a specialized area of responsibility. Different members act as transporters, financiers and enforcers. At the top is the organizer, now likely to be an ethnic Kyrgyz. Former or current law enforcement officers, usually in the extended family of the organizer, are responsible for facilitating transport. The presence of current and former law enforcement officials in criminal groups makes it difficult to infiltrate and neutralize them. |*|

“There have long been anecdotal reports that Kyrgyzstan’s opiate trade is helping fund arms purchases and other needs for IMU and like-minded groups. Kyrgyz law enforcement is sensitive to this possibility, particularly as it relates to Batken province, but provided no evidence that this was occurring. On some occasions, seizures in Kyrgyzstan involved finding extremist literature along with the drugs; however, this is scant evidence with which to draw any definitive conclusions.” |*|

Impact of Drugs on Kyrgyzstan Society, Police and Government

B. Rose Huber of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School wrote: The interviews by Kupatadze “revealed that law enforcement officials consider the drug trade the most significant threat to national security. Overall, law enforcement officials would argue that most of the drug smuggling is disorganized. The officers did speak of petty drugs smuggling by way of camels and trucks. But everyone else – former police officers, experts studying drugs trade and nongovernmental organizations – agree that most of the smuggling is carried out by organized groups including criminal gangs protected by police. One official revealed details about a drug-trafficking hub in southern Kyrgyzstan where heroin is stashed in a mosque, and anyone can take the drugs to do business. If the drugs are not sold or returned by the would-be seller, his relatives are killed, the official said, although Kupatadze could not corroborate this claim with other sources. [Source: Alexander Kupatadze and B. Rose Huber, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton, March 17, 2014; "Kyrgyzstan – A virtual narco-state?" International Journal of Drug Policy, January 31, 2014 |::|]

“Interviews with drug users revealed that they, too, believe that drug money has changed the landscape of Kyrgyzstan. The traditional code of professional criminals – the leaders of the Soviet and post-Soviet underworlds – outlaw the involvement in the drug trade. However, traditional rules have been changing over the past decade as the organized crime groups move toward commercialization, Kupatadze writes. In one interview, an inmate said, "Now, it's all about the money," and reported that even the most unexperienced drug traffickers – with no gang affiliation – are welcome in the "upper echelons of the criminal world" so long as they pay the appropriate fees. |::|

“When it comes to police involvement, many drug users spoke openly about the "werewolves in epaulettes," a term often used to describe criminalized policemen. Kupatadze provides several cases of policemen caught with a large quantity of drugs. In 2011, the quantity of heroin confiscated from four security officers was larger than the entire amount of heroin seized in all of Kyrgyzstan in that same year. "In summary, drug money has corrupted politics as well as the traditional underworld," Kupatadze said. "Given the lack of other licit or illicit resources, drugs money has become one of they key sources of corruption and plays an important role in elections. This has lead to the criminalization of the state that reached its peak under [former] president [Kurmanbek] Bakiyev." |::|

“In terms of drug policy, Kupatadze doesn't think the government is interested in enforcing policies. His impression is that if the drugs don't travel through Kyrgyzstan, they will travel elsewhere, legitimizing acceptance or co-opting in Kyrgyzstan because the drug trade cannot be brought to a complete halt. And while there isn't accurate data in terms of how much drug money is injected into the local economy, he said it is visually obvious. "You can see the evidence when you travel to the country. You can see constructions of private lavish houses and expensive cars in regions that lack any industry or other sources of income," said Kupatadze. "Clearly, if you cut drug trade, then one of the key – and in some regions, one of the only – sources for peoples' livelihoods will disappear." |::|

“Puzzlingly, while organized crime is on the rise in Kyrgyzstan, Kupatadze said it hasn't had an impact on crime-related violence. "Drug-related violence is unusually low in Kyrgyzstan compared to Honduras or El-Salvador, its Central American counterparts that lie on cocaine transit routes from Latin America to the United States," Kupatadze said.” |::|

Drug Smuggling and Corruption in Kyrgyzstan

Researcher Alexander Kupatadze wrote: “As already mentioned several high-ranking officials are involved in drugs smuggling. However, it has to be noted that the lines are totally blurred when it comes to distinguishing and categorizing the groups complicit in the drugs trade. It can be argued that mainly mixed groups, networks comprising the representatives of purely criminal groups, law enforcement structures, sportsmen and quasi-legal businessmen being protected by high-ranking officials in the executive and legislative branches of the Kyrgyz government are operating. Empirical evidence also suggests that after the assassination of Bayman Erkinbaev in 2005, representatives of the police and special services became more important actors in the smuggling chains. For instance, allegedly at least three mid-level officers of the Drugs Control Agency of Kyrgyzstan are involved in drugs trafficking. In the South the majority of law enforcement personnel is complicit in the illegal trade in drugs. [Source: Alexander Kupatadze, PhD candidate, School of International Relations St. Andrews University, UK, 2007 ^^^]

“The intra-agency struggles for the control of drug flows have also been reported. For instance one expert mentioned that in early 2007 several police officers were arrested on charges of being involved in drugs smuggling in Osh, South Kyrgyzstan. As it appeared later, these policemen had become the victims of internal strife among various groups of policemen/traffickers over controlling the lucrative drugs trade. Re-sale of seized drugs by policemen is also a common occurrence.^^^

“To sum up, the drugs trade in Kyrgyzstan has become a serious problem since it has involved white-collar officials. The period of chaotic trading with no high level involvement in the early 1990s has been replaced by organized trading by sophisticated criminal groups with political connections. Over the past few years, drugs traffickers have managed to infiltrate the government and on the other hand, corrupt representatives of law enforcement structures and various groups linked with high-ranking officials have succeeded in getting their share of the illicit narcotics trade.” ^^^

Northern Route Drug Trafficking in Kyrgyzstan

According to the United Nations: “Most of the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan cuts across rough terrain that is difficult to control, with the most vulnerable sections bordering Sughd province in northern Tajikistan. From Dushanbe, the largest portion of the western opiate flow travels into Sughd province towards Isfara district. In addition to its role as an opiate transit area, Isfara district is linked to and has witnessed much of the IMU and other extremist violence that has taken place in recent years. This district is also a potential flashpoint for inter-ethnic conflict. [Source: “Opiate Flows Through Northern Afghanistan and Central Asia”, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Regional Office for Central Asia, May 2012 |*|]

“In Osh city, those receiving the opiates organize onward smuggling to Kazakhstan through northern Talas province where a smaller road connects with the city of Taraz in Kazakhstan. Alternatively, the drugs are transported to Bishkek along the country’s main road. Once there, there are opportunities to blend into the huge trade flows travelling into Kazakhstan and further to the Russian Federation. Opiate batches are hidden in private automobiles that travel in groups preceded by reconnaissance cars ready to divert the attention of authorities if necessary. |*|

“Although the border with Uzbekistan is much closer to the Osh hub, only small shipments are reportedly smuggled for domestic consumption, in either direction.The border with Uzbekistan was permanently and unilaterally closed following inter-ethnic violence in June 2010, which also had an impact on trafficking. Kyrgyzstan also shares two border crossings with China, although UNODC has no recent information on overland trafficking through the Chinese border. Thus, it appears that the near entirety of opiates trafficked into Kyrgyzstan continue on to Kazakhstan. |*|

“The heroin that is seized in Kyrgyzstan rarely retains the original Afghan packaging seen in Tajikistan. This may indicate that heroin seized in Kyrgyzstan is repackaged upstream in Tajikistan...Trade expansion presents clear opportunities for traffickers both of in terms of logistics and access to new markets, notably China. Finally, the possibility of Kyrgyz membership in the Customs Union of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus raises more questions than answers given the current uncertainty surrounding the impact of this agreement on trafficking.

Major Drug Trafficking Routes in Kyrgyzstan

According to the United Nations: Two main drug routes traverse Kyrgyzstan. Osh City, located in the Ferghana valley, is at the confluence both of these routes as well as several minor routes. One of these flows over the Pamir Mountains from Tajikistan’s eastern Gorno-Badakhshan oblast, while another route comes from Khujand in Tajikistan’s northwest. From Osh city drugs are mainly trafficked north toward Bishkek or west through Uzbekistan. This importance of Osh city, Bishkek City and Chui oblast cannot be overstated given the reported high levels of HIV, registered drug users, and drug related crime.” [Source: “Illicit Drug Trends in Central Asia”, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Regional Office for Central Asia, April 2008 |~|]

The border between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan is very porous. “Whether from Isfara or other border districts, most of the flow from Tajikistan crosses into Batken province in Kyrgyzstan. This Kyrgyz province is a key transit and forwarding point straddling 430 kilometers of disputed borders. In some sections, there is literally no border and more importantly no border control. As a recent UNDP report notes, “The unmarked and almost non-existent border lines cause confusion even amongst the law enforcement agencies themselves.” Appropriately enough, Tajik citizens do not need visas to cross into Kyrgyzstan. Drugs aside, a thriving oil smuggling business estimated at 1,000 tons a day also exists across the same disputed boundary.

“The other flow, travelling from eastern Tajikistan, enters south-west Kyrgyzstan through the similarly rugged mountainous Pamir region at the Bor Dobur crossing. The route connects to the Kyrgyz town of Sary Tash before reaching the city of Osh, 229 kilometers from Bor Dobur. Most heroin flows travelling through Tajikistan reconnect in Osh city. The city traditionally seizes the most opiates in Kyrgyzstan. In addition to its role as a drug consolidation point, the city also serves as an arena for extremist recruitment. A recent example concerns the arrest of various Central Asian members of the IMU and Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) in October 2011. Most arrests related to terrorism in Kyrgyzstan occur in southern Kyrgyzstan (Osh, Batken or Jalalabad).|*|

“The Osh-Sarytash-Irkeshtam road is becoming a critical transportation link between China and Central Asia. At the same time, an increasing number of traffickers are caught using this road to enter Xinjiang. Given that Issyk-kul recorded the highest level of seizures and the second highest volume of drug related crime per capita, an important drug route may be emerging in the area, possibly also connecting to western China. As trade and transportation links between Kyrgyzstan and China are improved, increases in both licit and illicit traffic are likely. |~|

Major drug routes from Kyrgyzstan : Route 1) Bishkek – Korday – Almaty – Ayaguz – Georgievka – UstKamenogorsk – Russia; Route 2) Bishkek – Almaty – Saryshagan – Balkhash – Karaganda – Astana – Kokshetau – Petropavlovsk – Russia; Route 3) Bishkek – Taraz – Shymkent – Kyzylorda – Aktobe – Uralsk – Russia; Route 4) Bishkek – Chu – Almaty – Semipalatinks – Novosibirsk (Russia).

Drug Trafficking by Air and Rail in Kyrgyzstan

According to the United Nations: Opiates transiting Kyrgyzstan are also trafficked on commercial airlines, using couriers. The key destination remains the Russian market, but neighbouring western China is also targeted. Two Kyrgyz airports offer international connections, namely Manas International Airport in Bishkek and Osh International Airport. There are regular international flights between Manas International Airport and China, Germany, India, Pakistan, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. [Source: “Opiate Flows Through Northern Afghanistan and Central Asia”, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Regional Office for Central Asia, May 2012 |*|]

“From Osh, there are regular flights to Moscow, St-Petersburg, Novosibirsk in the Russian Federation and Urumchi in China. Seizures at both airports range from 1 to 5 kilograms on average, although larger seizures (12-15 kilograms) involving sophisticated concealment methods have been reported at Osh airport. One method to avoid X-ray scanning reportedly involves wrapping the heroin with carbon paper. No cases of using airfreight to conceal heroin consignments have been reported to date, but the State Service on Drug Control (SSDC) suspects that this also occurs. Most seizures are effected on roads, but 2010-2011 also saw small seizures of heroin (2-5 kilograms) and much rarer opium seizures (20-30 kilograms) on trains originating in Kyrgyzstan. |*|

“Currently, the Kyrgyzstan railway system has one line continuing on to Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation in Moscow, Novosibirsk and Yekaterinburg: The country’s rail system is set to undergo major expansion; the governments of China, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have agreed in principle to set up a regional rail line. Once these links are fully operational, the amount of illicit drugs smuggled by rail through Kyrgyzstan may increase unless commensurate capacity upgrades in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan are undertaken.” |*|

Drug Trafficking and Politics in Kyrgyzstan

The most evident opportunities for traffickers have risen from the political instability which has plagued Kyrgyzstan, starting with the 2005 Tulip revolution and continuing with the tragic inter-ethnic conflict in June of 2010. Following the 2005 Tulip revolution and lasting until 2009, a number of criminal bosses were assassinated in Kyrgyzstan. This violence -of the kind generally associated with Latin American drug markets- was not a classic turf war between rival gangs. It appears rather to have been a takeover orchestrated at the highest political levels whereby criminal networks gradually came under the control of high-ranking officials. A clear indication of this new direction was the disbanding in late 2009 of the country’s independent Drug Control Agency (DCA), which had increasingly set its sight on highlevel targets. The following year, political protests in April and ethnic pogroms in June both directly and indirectly facilitated traffickers in their operations. Indirectly, uncompromised law enforcement had no choice but to shift the focus away from drug trafficking to contain the violence and instability resulting from both events. [Source: “Opiate Flows Through Northern Afghanistan and Central Asia”, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Regional Office for Central Asia, May 2012 |*|]

“Directly, some of the inter-ethnic violence in June 2010 appears to have been criminally motivated as Kyrgyz politico-criminal organizations successfully chased ethnic Uzbek criminal groups out of southern Kyrgyzstan. A report from the Central Asian Regional Information and Coordination Centre (CARICC) analytical unit concludes: “It has to be acknowledged that the reduction in the number of registered drug-related crimes and seizures in Kyrgyzstan is affected, for the most part, by political events within the country.”Kyrgyz seizures dropped by half in 2010 (see chart below), reaching their lowest point in seven years. |*|

“There have recently been encouraging signs of a return to normalcy with the prime ministerial elections in November 2011. Heroin seizures have also picked up again in 2011, coinciding with the reinstatement of the DCA (renamed the SSDC) in mid-2010, by current Kyrgyz leader Roza Otunbayeva. Like its predecessor, the SSDC maintains excellent relations with the Tajik DCA and several joint operations have been successfully carried out because of this positive relationship. At the border, it is hoped that the forthcoming establishment of a border guard training centre in Batken will eventually lead to interdictions on Kyrgyzstan’s volatile southern borders. Indeed, the key to maintaining and strengthening this fragile balance lies in southern Kyrgyzstan where the social and economic costs of the June 2010 events are emerging. Increases in already high poverty rates are expected, which could in turn lead to more reliance on illicit revenue. The relationship with crime is a direct one, as one Kyrgyz analyst notes: “Impoverished rural areas are a fertile breeding ground for criminal organizations in Kyrgyzstan. Young men unable to find a job face a choice of going into the army or joining criminal groups, which will guarantee some earnings as well as social status.” |*|

“The previous Kyrgyz administration is widely denounced as criminal enterprise and most senior regional officials appointed by the ousted president have been fired. One exception concerns elements within the southern political administration, which appear to be highly autonomous from the Presidential office. Moreover, there are strong allegations that these same political structures are acting against and in spite of the central Government’s renewed commitment to fight drugs. In its August 2010 report, the International Crisis Group warns against an enduring regional divide: “If the south remains outside of central control, there is a strong risk that the narcotics trade, already an important factor, could extend its power still further, and that the region could quickly become a welcoming environment for Islamist guerrillas.” Indeed, in southern Kyrgyzstan, economic, social and political insecurity tend to occur simultaneously with a mutually reinforcing convergence.” |*|

Combating Drug Trafficking in Kyrgyzstan

According to the United Nations: “Despite the attention and assistance of the international community, the volume of heroin and opium seizures in Kyrgyzstan are not increasing significantly. Although much of the opiate traffic from Tajikistan is believed to transit Kyrgyzstan, Kyrgyz authorities intercepted only 16 percent of the volume claimed by their Tajik counterparts in 2006. [Source: “Illicit Drug Trends in Central Asia”, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Regional Office for Central Asia, April 2008 |~|]

Saltanat Berdikeeva wrote in China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly: “The Drug Control Agency (DCA) set up in Kyrgyzstan in 2003, exclusively funded by the U.S., was hoped to make more progress than previous agencies. DCA coordinates all anti-drug activities of state agencies and is “a key pillar in the country’s fight against drug trafficking.” But DCA may be edging to becoming another ineffective agency due to internal politics and power struggle for well-paid positions at the Agency.A potential for corruption also exists in the DCA. [Source: Saltanat Berdikeeva, China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, Volume 7, No. 2 (2009) p. 75-100, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies]

Obstacles Combating Drug Trafficking in Kyrgyzstan

As of 2001, there were only 14 drug officers in all of Kyrgyzstan. They had two vehicles and a single computer and earned $38 a month, making them susceptible to bribes. Kazakh authorities have placed a barbed wire barricade near populated parts of the Kazakh-Kyrgyz border and the country reportedly reduced the number of crossing points from 12 to 7. A Drug Profiling Unit has been established at Manas International Airport with mixed results. Osh International Airport represents an obvious target for traffickers given its proximity to supply routes.

According to the United Nations: “The number of Kyrgyz border guard personnel along the Batken province section of the border reportedly exceeds two to three times that of Tajik border personnel, but both agencies are accused of corrupt practices. Within Batken province, Kyrgyz law enforcement identifies the Tajik enclave of Vorugh as one major opiate forwarding area before Osh city. One obvious factor is that Kyrgyz law enforcement authorities are not allowed to operate within Vorugh, which administratively forms part of Tajikistan territory although not contiguous to Tajikistan. It is perhaps for this reason that the area was used as a sanctuary by the insurgent group that targeted Tajikistan in 2009. [Source: “Opiate Flows Through Northern Afghanistan and Central Asia”, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Regional Office for Central Asia, May 2012 |*|]

“Single heroin seizures in Kyrgyzstan are rarely above 50 kilograms and generally consist of much smaller volumes; seizures along the Kyrgyz borders are negligible to non-existent. In 2010, 159 kilograms of heroin were seized, along with a virtually insignificant seizure of 39 kilograms of opium. Kyrgyz law enforcement concedes that these volumes constitute only a small part of the overall flow transiting through Kyrgyzstan. Difficulties in making significant seizures have long been a feature of the law enforcement regime in Kyrgyzstan. This continued flow invisibility is unsurprising given the country’s corruption-prone environment obvious in day-to-day life in the cities and rural areas of Kyrgyzstan. For underpaid public service officials this can range from accepting payment in exchange for not inspecting vehicles to acquitting those traffickers who are arrested by the police. This permeates throughout society as reported in the local press and verbally by concerned law enforcement officials. Corruption aside, trafficking is also dependent on stealth and traffickers use a wide array of concealment methods to avoid detection. This includes dissolving heroin in liquid as attested by a record 44-kg seizure in 2009. In such cases it is likely that high quality opiates are being transported to the country of destination, rather than being sold on the local market. |*|

Heroin and Opium Seizures in Kyrgyzstan

According to the United Nations: “Since 1999, the volume of heroin seizures in Kyrgyzstan has increased roughly tenfold although it still has the second smallest overall volume of heroin seizures in the region. In 2006, the largest volumes of heroin seizures were in Osh oblast (84.01 kilograms), followed by Bishkek city (54.29 kilograms) and Osh city (47.12 kilograms). Likewise opium seizures occurred mainly in Bishkek city (153.93 kilograms), Osh city (67.76 kilograms) and Osh oblast (59.9 kilograms). Geographically, this seizure pattern reflects the location of a major drug trafficking route with drugs entering from Tajikistan in the south and exiting toward Kazakhstan in the north. Furthermore, the geographic distribution of seizures reflects the higher level of opiates typically found in major cities used as centres for repackaging, distribution, and onward trafficking. |[Source: “Illicit Drug Trends in Central Asia”, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Regional Office for Central Asia, April 2008 |~|]

Osh city is thought to be one of Central Asia’s drug capital, serving as a jumping off point for drugs trafficked through Tajikistan to transit westward to Uzbekistan and, via Bishkek, northward to Kazakhstan. In 2006, Osh city accounted for 22 percent of total opium seizures and 18 percent of total heroin seizures. Given the vast amounts of opiates believed to transit the country and Osh city in particular, seizure statistics remain relatively low. |~|

Kyrgyzstan opiate seizures (kilograms), 1996-2006: 150.3 in 1996; 380.5 in 1997; 640.1 in 1998; 319.0 in 1999; 524.7 in 2000; 563.0 in 2001; 178.0 in 2002; 196.6 in 2003; 1,519.7 in 2004; 1,643.9 in 2005; 1,622.0 in 2006.

In 1992 republic narcotics police uncovered thirteen drug-refining laboratories and seized two tons of ready narcotics. The police reported that drug-related crime rose 222 percent from 1991 to 1992 and that 830 people had been arrested on drug-distribution charges. At that time, the head of the country's narcotics police estimated that only about 20 percent of the narcotics traffic was being interdicted, mainly because resources are very inadequate. Government officials fear that this industry will continue to grow, especially in the absence of large-scale international assistance; in 1994 Russia ceased its cooperation with Kyrgyzstan in narcotics interdiction. An emerging distribution chain moves opium to Moscow, then to Poland, from where it is transferred to Europe and the United States. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated April 2016

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