TASHKENT -- With UN help, Uzbekistan is fighting to keep Afghan-made drugs from entering its territory.
On October 20, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) launched a project to halt Afghan drugs from breaching the Uzbekistani border.
The programme will operate in Uzbekistan during the next three years. It will cost $2.5m (7.8 billion UZS), an expense picked up by Japan.
Extremists control opium production in northern Afghanistan,and the funds from drug sales finance the Taliban and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the UN says.
Fighting drug trafficking will choke off a lucrative income source for militants, officials predict.
Outside observers like the UN have noticed the terrorism--drug-trafficking nexus for years.
"It should also not be excluded that members of the IMU or other Taliban-linked groups would seek to acquire a share of the Central Asian opiate market," the UNODC said in a May 2012 study. "In Afghanistan, the involvement of Taliban insurgents in the drug trade is evident, [particularly in the south]."
The Taliban earn between US $100m and US $300m (31 and 91.3 billion UZS) per year from Afghan drug production, Dutch counter-terrorism analyst Tomas Olivier predicted, according to a January report by Deutsche Welle.
Catching drug traffickers
Uzbekistan, which rigorously polices its frontier with Afghanistan, routinely breaks up attempts to smuggle drugs.
"On October 21, border troops found a cache of 3.5kg of opium on the border with Afghanistan," Iyoskhon Arifov, a spokesman for the Tashkent-based National Information-Analytical Centre on Drug Control, told Caravanserai.
"Then on October 25, they arrested an Afghan citizen, Abdullah Ahmadkamol-ugli, who attempted to cross the border .... on a home-made raft," Arifov said. "[Ahmadkamol-ugli] had 6.9kg of opium and 2kg of hashish."
"Around the same time, Ikrom Azimov of ... Surxondaryo Province, who had 962g of opium in his vehicle, was arrested in Qashqadaryo Province during a raid," Arifov said.
Drawing on the UN's help
Recognising the urgency of crushing drug trafficking and terror financing, Uzbekistan is relying on the three-year-long UNODC programme to help it cement border security.
"Co-operation and co-ordination between law enforcement agencies are key to countering the illegal drug trade," UNODC Regional Representative Ashita Mittal said during the project's opening ceremony on October 20 in Tashkent, according to Gazeta.uz.
"Special inter-agency mobile teams will be established in Uzbekistan," Arifov told Caravanserai. "Law enforcement agencies, the Interior Ministry, the Customs Committee, and the National Security Service [SNB] will be involved in the programme."
"Mobile teams will uncover individuals who smuggle drugs by train," Arifov said. "Moreover, the programme will develop human potential through seminars and training sessions, strengthen infrastructure and modernise equipment."
In 2015, Uzbekistani authorities recorded 709 cases of drug smuggling.
Uzbekistani authorities, meanwhile, are deadly serious about nabbing any citizens who have fallen for extremists' sales pitch.
"A Samarkand court convicted two residents of Kattakurgan District October 19," Arif Atajanov, a spokesman for the General Prosecutor's Office, told Caravanserai. "They were planning to go to Syria to fight alongside ISIL [the 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant']."
The defendants, Mamaniyez Rasulov and Farkhod Khudaiberdiyev, drew nine- and eight-year prison sentences, Atajanov said.