Last October, the Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev disbanded the Drug Control Agency (DCA) responsible for intercepting illicit drugs transiting through Kyrgyzstan from Afghanistan and destined to reach Russia and Europe. Instead, the president assigned the interior ministry to control drug trafficking in the country (www.government.gov.kg, October 26, 2009). Since Bakiyev’s decision, little is known about how effectively Kyrgyzstan is now combating drug trafficking.
Bakiyev’s disregard for the DCA shows that the president is centralizing illegal control over the drug economy, one of the most lucrative sources of shadow capital. It also reveals that Bakiyev is disinterested in international initiatives to control narcotics, and has little real desire to contribute to the stabilization of Afghanistan.
The drug economy in southern Kyrgyzstan is controlled by powerful entrepreneurs and government officials. Overall, roughly five identifiable criminal groups control drug transit through Kyrgyzstan. Although they are known to the security structures, these groups have ties to the government, or at times represent government and therefore are free to carry out their activities with impunity. Reports suggest that one of the president’s brothers is allegedly involved in controlling most drug transit through Kyrgyz territory.
According to analysis by the opposition leader Bakyt Beshimov, who was recently stripped of his parliamentary seat and forced to flee the country, Bakiyev has formed a powerful bloc of military men around him. “In essence, inside the power sector in the country a junta has been formed, united by vast material benefits and [joint] crimes,” argues Beshimov (www.ferghana.ru, February 2). He also alleges that the drug economy is potentially among the most lucrative for Bakiyev’s regime.
The problem of drug trafficking through Kyrgyz territory surfaced soon after the country gained independence. Indeed, after 2001, the volume of narcotics being transited through the country increased by 58 percent. In reaction to the increased drug trafficking, the former President Askar Akayev created the Drug Control Agency in 2004, with the UN’s strong support. Similar agencies were also launched in all other Central Asian countries.
According to expert estimates, Kyrgyzstan transfers over 25 tons of drugs, most of which originate in Afghanistan. One former member of the Kyrgyz military told Jamestown that the following routes are known to be most lucrative for transit of Afghan heroin through Kyrgyz territory:
1. Badakhshan (Afghanistan) – Gorny Badakhshan (Tajikistan) – Osh (Kyrgyzstan) – Sumgait (Azerbaijan) – Bosnia – Croatia – Western Europe.
2. Badakhshan (Afghanistan) – Gorny Badakhshan (Tajikistan) – Osh, Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) – Samara, Moscow, Yekaterinburg, Saransk (Russia) – Estonia – Sweden – US.
3. Badakhshan (Afghanistan) – Gorny Badakhshan (Tajikistan) – Osh, Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) – Moscow (Russia) – Shulyai (Latvia) – Europe.
These are further divided into smaller routes. The bulk of the drugs arrive in Russia. Since its creation, the DCA has confiscated roughly 6 tons of narcotic and psychotropic substances and precursors. The agency also participated in over 50 regional drugs operations. In 2008 alone, it intercepted 20 tons of acetic anhydride used for producing opium products, as well as 28 tons of other chemicals in Kyrgyzstan and neighboring countries.
While Kyrgyz security forces are notorious for their high levels of corruption, the DCA had a reputation for being a “clean” institution, since it was financed by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. By catching only “small fish,” most security officers presented an image of combating drug trafficking, avoiding any confrontation with the larger narco-barons (www.kyrgyznews.com, October 1, 2009). As one policeman responsible for fighting drugs in northern Kyrgyzstan told Jamestown, often the security services fulfill unofficial quotas by arresting a certain number of criminals. While persecuting lower-key drug dealers, officers often benefit from bribes paid by the criminals. Since the policeman was mainly targeting marijuana, he also added that, “if I were to be stationed in southern Kyrgyzstan, I would be driving a Lexus,” implying that his current job in the northern part of the country allows him to drive only a cheap car and bribes in southern regions are much higher.
Warnings that the Bakiyev regime is involved in large-scale drug trafficking, surfaced soon after the president took office five years ago. While the evidence suggests that the drug economy was more decentralized during Akayev’s reign, today it is becoming clear that the senior political echelons have become the major player. Given that no special agency is currently responsible for controlling drug trafficking through Kyrgyzstan, the level of illicit transit is likely to increase. At the same time, control over the shadow economy will continue to be centralized in the hands of the ruling regime.