Fight against drugs makes Uzbekistan safer

By Maksim Yeniseyev

Uzbek law enforcement personnel in June 2015 burn confiscated marijuana in Qashqadaryo (Kashkadarya) Province. The incineration was part of the nationwide Operation Black Poppy. [Video screen shot by Maksim Yeniseyev]

Uzbek law enforcement personnel in June 2015 burn confiscated marijuana in Qashqadaryo (Kashkadarya) Province. The incineration was part of the nationwide Operation Black Poppy. [Video screen shot by Maksim Yeniseyev]

TASHKENT -- Uzbek law enforcement is not letting up in its fight against drug trafficking. Uzbekistan lies on the "Northern Route" that Afghan drug producers use to smuggle narcotics to Europe.

Curtailing drug trafficking hurts terrorists, who depend on revenue from the illicit trade. Uzbekistani authorities who seized 2.5 tonnes of drugs in 2015 -- according to the government -- are bolstering security in all of Central Asia.

Drug seizures are falling as smugglers pressured by police produce less content to seize, though.

In the past 10 years in Central Asia, the volume of heroin seized has fallen by 52%, according to UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) data released in Tashkent June 27.

More than half of the narcotics that Uzbekistani authorities seized in 2015 went up in smoke at a Tashkent incineration ceremony June 27. Government officials and journalists attended.

In the past year, Uzbekistani forces solved 6,648 drug-related crimes, lyoskhon Arifov, a spokesman for the National Information-Analytical Centre on Drug Control (NIACDC), told Central Asia Online.

Wiping out home-grown drug cultivation

Uzbekistan is committed to wiping out the domestic component of drug production. Year after year, forces conducting the annual Operation Black Poppy wipe out drug plantations.

With the problem of domestic drug cultivation largely defeated, they are turning their attention to seizing synthetic drugs like "Spice", which authorities consider dangerous to society.

In 2015, Uzbekistani forces racked up impressive successes against drug traffickers.

Forty percent of the 2.5 tonnes of drugs seized in 2015 was marijuana, Arifov said. "Opium was in second place."

Large drug busts

Uzbekistani authorities are attacking the drug trade with large-scale raids, Arifov said.

Such raids include the capture of one drug ring "last August in Bekabad District, Tashkent Province," Arifov said.

"We confiscated 17kg of drugs from them," Arifov added.

Arifov cited other major successes, including the arrest of a Tajik national in June 2015 in Surxondaryo (Surkhandarya) Province with 71kg of drugs.

Co-operating with international bodies

A major part of the Uzbekistani drug fight involves co-operation with international bodies that can bring more resources and knowledge to bear.

"The Uzbekistani government puts considerable effort into fighting all forms of drug-related crime," UNODC Regional Representative for Central Asia Ashita Mittal said in Tashkent June 27.

Those programmes include efforts to monitor shipping containers and to strengthen law enforcement, she added.

Uzbekistani authorities annually burn a mountain of seized drugs in Tashkent in a single day to celebrate the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, which falls on June 26.

This year, on June 27 -- one day after the anti-drug abuse day -- authorities in Tashkent torched "1.4 tonnes of narcotics, including heroin and opium", the National Security Service (SNB) press office said in a statement.

Journalists, government officials, diplomats and other individuals annually attend the event to certify to the destruction of the drugs.

Black Poppy squeezes out domestic producers

Meanwhile, police officers and civilians every year seek out illegal drug cultivation throughout the countryside, in an effort to eliminate the domestic production component of the drug problem. Operation Black Poppy has gone on every year since 2001.

Last year, "more than 10,000 police officers assisted by about 5,000 civilians took part", Interior Ministry (MVD) spokesman Samvel Petrosyan told Central Asia Online.

The sweep has been so effective over the years that in 2015 the police found only 0.5ha of drug crops. In 1994, before Operation Black Poppy existed, they destroyed 400ha of crops.

"We can say that the problem of illicit drug cultivation in the country has been minimised," Petrosyan said.

Fighting synthetics

Meanwhile, authorities recognise that new threats keep arising. One recent trend is the abuse of synthetic psychotropic drugs like Spice and "herbal smoking blends".

"In December 2014 and February 2015, we found two organised crime rings that had set up the smuggling and sale of synthetic smoking blends," Arifov said. "We seized 300g of Spice."

"The government ratified a new list of banned narcotics, including 80 new entries, last November 12," Arifov said.

Uzbekistanis are glad to see so much progress in battling drugs.

"I am glad that [such synthetics] are finally banned," Anton Lipnitskii, a Tashkent resident, told Central Asia Online. "Spice is very insidious ... because neither its composition nor its effect has ever been studied."

Uzbekistani figures on the numbers of drug addicts are likely incomplete, but they show progress.

In 2015, the government registered 13,218 drug addicts, down by 1,373 from the 2014 figure.

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