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Kyrgyzstan seeks to reduce drug crime
Kyrgyz law-enforcement agencies have seen some positive statistics in fight against drug crimes, but they face a number of challenges.
By Asyl Osmonaliyeva
BISHKEK – Kyrgyz authorities are fighting to stamp out drug trafficking, but several challenges make the drug fight an uphill battle.
"The people [involved in drugs] are aggressive," Central Asian Centre on Drug Policy Director Aleksandr Zelichenko said. "For example, once in Toktogul Oblast [in 2006] people tried to lock police officers in a building and burn it down. High-ranking officials had to step in to free them."
But the state is not letting that difficulty get in the way of its fight against drugs.
The State Drug Control Service (GSKN) is taking a two-pronged approach. First, the agency is committed to arresting major drug dealers, said Timur Isakov, head of the drug control and prevention service at the GSKN; and second, it is working to destroy drug crops.
While it's important to bust drug traffickers, Isakov said, it's "also impossible to ignore 10,000ha of [wild] hemp that could be used to make 140 tonnes of marijuana and roughly 10 tonnes of hashish."
The efforts seem to be paying off. Since 2000, police officers have teamed up with national and local authorities in conducting a strategy of crime prevention and raids. The result has been a downward trend in drug crime. In 2000, drug crimes accounted for 9.2% of all crimes committed. In 2012, their share had fallen to 6.2%.
The annual Kara-Kuurai plan, where officials find and destroy wild and cultivated drug crops, has also been a success, the MVD said.
More than 200 brigades – more than 1,000 personnel – operated in each of the two stages of this year's Kara-Kuurai plan. They mapped more than 4,000ha of wild hemp and destroyed more than 800ha of it, the MVD said. This year's operation, conducted from May to October, also ended with police solving 83 drug crimes and the removal of more than 6 tonnes of drugs and drug precursors from circulation.
Drug availability in Kyrgyzstan
Even with those successes, the country faces an uphill battle against drugs. The challenges include an abundance of drug plants, the lure of making quick money, and drug addiction within the country.
The country, for example, has a vast acreage of cultivated and wild drug crops, the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry (MVD)'s Chief Administration for Fighting Drug Trafficking said.
Wild hemp – which the locals use to make marijuana and hashish – grows on more than 100,000ha in Issyk-Kul, Jalal-Abad, Talas, Chui and Naryn oblasts, he said, and opium poppy was grown in the country until 1973 for legal and medicinal purposes.
"In the 1950s, the republic cultivated up to 80% of the raw opium in the USSR, which accounted for 16% of global production," Aleksandr Zelichenko, director of the Central Asian Centre on Drug Policy, said.
In the 1980s, however, an order was issued to completely destroy the opium plantations, but the lure of drugs remained, he said.
"After the Soviet Union fell, border security weakened. This created an opening for supplies of Afghan drugs," Zelichenko said. Indeed, the UN reports that 30% of all drugs produced in Afghanistan cross through Central Asia.
Economic attraction of drugs
The drug trade also provides a flow of money that people throughout the trafficking chain can profit from.
After the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, the Kyrgyz economy shrank, causing desperate residents to seek illegal income, Zelichenko said.
"Twenty years ago, many people in Issyk-Kul Oblast started growing wild hemp for sale," he said. "Afterward, when legal industries like tourism and agriculture began to make money, crime overall went into recession. The problem, however, still exists."
With that history and the past availability of drugs, the country is also dealing with a number of addicts.
The authorities have registered 9,900 drug users, Jyldyz Bakirova, head of the organisational and methodological division of the Republican Narcology Centre of the Ministry of Health, said.
"Eighty percent of them use opiate drugs, which includes heroin," Bakirova said, adding that Bishkek and Osh have the most drug users because they are major transit and distribution hubs.