TAJIK MINISTER PROPOSES TO BUY AFGHAN OPIUM YIELD
On May 4, 2012, Tajikistan’s Minister of Internal Affairs, Lieutenant-General Ramazon Rakhimov, made an appeal to the European Parliament during the second session of the Parliamentary Cooperation Committee between the EU and the Republic of Tajikistan. Repeating a proposal previously made during the conference on border management and security in Central Asia held in Vienna, the Minister proposed to buy up the opium yield from Afghan farmers for immediate destruction or for use in pharmaceutical production. According to the Minister, this would present an efficient means for fighting drug production in Afghanistan.
The Minister’s speech covered various issues related to cooperation between the EU and Tajikistan, mostly related to fighting international terrorism and the anti-terrorism campaign in Afghanistan. However, the one issue attracting the most interest was his proposal to buy all opium yields from Afghan farmers directly on site without middlemen, thus ensuring low purchase price. Depending on global demand, part of the purchased opium could then be used in pharmacology and medicine production, while the remaining raw opium would be destroyed.
The Minister highlighted that Tajikistan is currently deeply affected by the drug flow from Afghanistan as it constitutes a buffer zone of the Afghan drug trafficking. During the last eleven years, about 73 tons of drugs were withdrawn from illegal circulation in Tajikistan, of which 31 tons consisted of heroin. According to the Minister, the suggested opium purchases could ensure a more effective reduction of drug flows from Afghanistan.
Rakhimov also proposed to investigate the possibilities of developing a coordinated international financial scheme for buying up Afghan opium, underlining that all parties involved in fighting terrorism, extremism and drug trade would benefit from such a scheme. According to the Minister, curbing the drug trade is central also to combating terrorism in the region, as such activities are “tightly linked to international drug dealing” and “illegal drug production and turnover is the key source for financing international terrorism.” The Minister mentioned that criminal groups earn at least US$ 65 billion annually from the Afghan drug trade and only about US$ 1 billion of this amount goes to Afghan famers producing raw opium.
Moreover, Rakhimov claimed that developed norms and regulations of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), promoting operational measures for combating money laundering and terrorist financing, “do not bring the desired outcomes,” since the profit made from drug trade is still funding terrorist groups.
The Minister’s proposal was criticized by several observers in Tajikistan, who claimed that it would further spur the growth of drug production in Afghanistan. Independent expert Davron Zokirov, cited in ca-news.org, claimed that the initiative would have an adverse effect. Zokirov said that buying up opium from Afghan farmers would only stimulate their business by making it legal. Furthermore, Zokirov stated that the initiative is not sustainable, since international purchases of Afghan opium could work once or a few times, but would not be feasible in a longer perspective.
Instead, the expert proposed to invest more into the “revival of Afghanistan’s economy,” but not into military operations to “restore peace and stability”. Zokirov claimed that “for those funds invested into military operations, it would be possible to construct industrial enterprises, develop agriculture and rehabilitated infrastructures in Afghanistan”.
Other local experts support Zokirov’s criticism of the Minister’s initiative. They claim that the initiative would only enlarge the market demand for opium, which would be followed by a rise also in supply.
Furthermore, experts claim that the global demand for raw opium for pharmaceutical production is not so high, and there is little reason to purchase Afghan opium for this production. As an alternative to the Minister’s initiative, experts propose to invest more into creating employment opportunities for Afghan youth and the development of legal agriculture.
Most of the local experts raised doubts about the effectiveness and sustainability of the Minister’s initiative. According to the experts, the only benefit of this initiative would be improved availability of operational information about the number and location of opium producers in Afghanistan. However, this benefit by no means compensates for the costs of the initiative. Meanwhile, the Minister’s initiative has so not received any response from Tajikistan’s international partners.