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Kyrgyzstan aims to curtail drug trafficking
Putting brakes on narco-trafficking key to fighting terrorism, government says
By Alisher Karimov
BISHKEK – The Kyrgyz government is stepping up its effort to fight narco-trafficking in hopes of cutting terrorist groups off from one of their main sources of income.
About 30 tonnes of Afghan heroin pass through Kyrgyzstan annually, according to the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry.
“It’s generally understood that the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) considers narcotics an income source, and this is a significant sum (of money),” said Aleksandr Kuzmin, an analyst of the Fergana Valley.
A kilogramme of that heroin sells for US $5,000-6,000 (233,543-280,252 KGS) on average but can sell for as much as US $8,000 (373,669 KGS) in Bishkek, Adilbek Botobayev, director of the Interior Ministry’s Main Directorate for Combating Illegal Drug Trafficking, said.
“This is a very profitable business,” Botobayev said.
“People who get rich off narco-trafficking possess a huge number of weapons and have political ambitions,” Russian Federal Drug Control Service head Viktor Ivanov said in late June. He suggested narco-traffickers were involved in June’s ethnic clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan.
While narcotics dealers did not play a direct role in the violence, they benefited from the strife by selling or buying weapons and equipment used in the riots, Aleksandr Zelichenko, regional advisor for the European Union’s Central Asia Drug Action Programme, said.
“Drug dealers were not interested in destabilising the situation in the south,” he said. “But they did have to … put their money in a ‘pooled fund’ in order to buy weapons and equipment.”
Many of the southern drug-trafficking routes are controlled by extremist groups, Jamal Rasulov of the State National Security Service’s Department for the Fight against Terrorism said. As a result, terrorists and drug dealers alike benefit from strife in the south.
Terrorists remain interested in Kyrgyzstan, Maj. Gen. Artur Medetbekov, head of the NGO Alpha-Anti-terror, said.
“Their aim is to reignite … fratricidal war in the south,” he said. “Terror and religious extremism require money, and most of them make their money from selling heroin, opium and other drugs from Afghanistan.”
Law-enforcement reform has occurred
Because of that, security services are making a special effort to curb southern narco-trafficking operations, Rasulov said.
Interior Ministry Rapid Response Group official Timur Vidadi said the problem can be solved, but that law-enforcement agencies' gradual reform is necessary.
“The reform is happening already,” Vidadi said. “For example, those substructures in the law-enforcement agencies that were doing the same job, were eliminated, instead the agencies themselves are being strengthened. The employees’ salaries will be raised up to a worthy level, plus right now we are discussing a more precise delimitation of official’s authority.”
Such steps, in conjunction with harsher punishment for corrupt agents, are designed to curb corruption in law enforcement, he said.
Recent regional events show that the threat of large-scale terrorist and extremist activities has increased in Kyrgyzstan, Aleksandr Knyazev, a scholar of Afghanistan at the Kazakh Institute for Political Solutions, said.
“The recent attack by militants on soldiers in Tajikistan and the activity of destructive forces throughout the region speak to a growing tension. Terrorism, drugs and religious extremism are so intertwined that it has long been possible to speak of them as a single entity.”
The strong tie between drugs and terrorism is clear, Vidadi said. “Therefore,” he said, “we are looking at the problem comprehensively and we are fighting it comprehensively.”
Part of that includes more training abroad.
He also said that in the south of Kyrgyzstan, where most of the drug trade is focused, “special operations to expose drug traffickers will be held in the near future. Many of them (drug traffickers) work with local inhabitants. Therefore our goal is to find informers among the locals.”
Depriving the terrorists of a primary income source simultaneously disarms them and hurts recruiting efforts, he said, since “the weapons are bought on drug money and many members of terrorist movements stick around only for the money.”
Top-to-bottom reform, including societal change, is necessary to solve the problem, Zelichenko said.
“Reforming the law enforcement agencies is impossible without reforming society,” he said. “Many politicians say that it is possible to reform law enforcement agencies without touching the rest of society. That just doesn’t happen. Let’s change everything together or not change it at all.”
“Certain government forces conducting intelligent work” have redeployed to southern Kyrgyzstan, Rasulov said. He would not provide more details on their operations for security purposes.
“We ask for every Kyrgyz citizen’s help in the fight against the threat of terrorism,” he said. “If you see or hear something suspicious, let us know.”
Aibek Karabayev contributed to this report