Central Asia: January 3, 2004


The five former republics of the Soviet Union (Uzbekistan,  Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan) that now comprise most of Central Asia are finding drug gangs more of a threat than corrupt politicians and Islamic radicals. The only Central Asian border that provides any impediment to drug smuggling is that between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. That's because there are over 10,000 Russian border guards deployed along the 1,300 kilometer border. Last year, 24 interceptions were made, seizing five tons of drugs and killing fifteen of the smugglers. A lot more got through, either because of skill, luck or bribes.  The drugs make their way into Russia and then Europe, getting sold off to addicts along the way. The illegal profits buy guns and influence. But the drugs also bring addiction and more criminal activity. Like some countries in South America, the drug gangs are becoming more powerful than the governments. The Islamic fundamentalists, subsidized by Saudi Arabian religious organizations, are there preaching a strict form of Islam and the importance of living according to the Koran. The preachers quietly call for "Islamic" government. Russia is trying to get the governments of the five "stans" to clean up their act, and has formed an anti-terrorism alliance with them to provide air power and commandoes as a back up for any insurgent disaster. But most of the armed Islamic rebels were killed in Afghanistan in late 2001, and the biggest armed threat at the moment is the drug gangs. And these guys don't want to fight or take over the government, they just want to make money. Local police and soldiers are willing to take the bribes from the drug gangs, but this just makes the people more willing to accept armed Islamic radicals, who won't take bribes and will crack down on all the criminal activity. 


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