Central Asian Criminal Networks
The environment that prevailed in Central Asia after the fall of the Soviet Union attracted a wide range of groups interested in profiting from the lucrative trade in illicit opiates. Three types of groups are involved in the regional narcotics trade: drug mafias; transnational criminal organizations; and insurgent/terrorist groups. These groups have developed extensive smuggling networks that supply the growing opiate market in the former Soviet Union and the vast European market. There are also indications that small shipments are now regularly sent to China and Japan.
The first group of actors associated with the Afghan drug trade are drug mafias. Located in Afghanistan and all five Central Asian republics, drug mafias are identified by their domestic base (they generally do not have an international network in place), and a membership normally restricted to specific clans or ethnic groups. Often engaged in illegal trade at local markets within their specific country of operation, their role in the drug chain appears to be restricted to buying raw opiates from farmers and selling shipments to international buyers. Drug mafias are thus considered nothing more than middlemen in the regional drug trade. Clearly motivated by criminal intentions, drug mafias hold one of the two extreme poles of the crime-terror nexus, and are thus relatively simple to identify.
Drug mafias in Afghanistan have operated with impunity for several decades. In fact, their control over the illicit Afghan drug trade was established prior to the Taliban attaining power in 1996. Drug mafias are directly responsible for either distributing opium poppy seeds to local farmers or for providing farmers with loans to plant opium poppy crops. These loans are subsequently repaid in opium resin (the raw form of opium). Furthermore, drug mafias constitute the first line of buyers in the international opiate trade and, as such, they exercise a considerable degree of influence in Afghanistan. Their position has been further strengthened by their long-established relations with local elites and warlords, which has the potential to disrupt the fragile attempts to bring peace to Afghanistan today. This is especially true in the primary opium cultivating areas of Helmand and Kandahar.
As the interim government of Hamid Karzai attempts to assert political control over Afghanistan, it must find a way to incorporate former drug lords into society while ensuring that they break their ties to the lucrative narcotics trade. This is a complicated task given that many individuals involved in the trade have been appointed to official government positions. Unconvinced of future security, many see drugs as the sole guarantor of economic survival. Unfortunately, the interim government is too weak and compromised to reverse the criminal environment that has existed in the country for over two decades.
There is a need for licit economic development to offer these people a viable option. Amidst decades of instability, the production of opiates has been stable, and has become enculturated in Afghanistan society.
The republics of Central Asia are also home to domestic drug mafias, but Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tajik, Turkmen and Uzbek groups are not as well established in the drug trade as their Afghan counterparts. Unlike the Afghan traders who developed in tandem with the rise of the illicit trade in opiates several decades ago, contemporary Central Asian groups have very limited experience with the trade. In fact, until the emergence of the "Northern Route," there was little reason for Central Asian groups to seek relations with their Afghan counterparts. Most of the domestic drug mafias in Central Asia are relatively small, and their activities are largely limited to the local production and distribution of hashish. Some groups, however, directly purchase opiates from Afghan traders for distribution within their respective countries of operation. Not very influential in the broader picture, drug mafias in countries such as Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan maintain a degree of community influence and have established connections with local officials, but normally do not possess greater power because they lack the necessary national and international connections.
To a certain extent, this is a relic of the Soviet era. The Soviet government limited illicit narcotics trafficking, but also established an environment of corruptible government functionaries. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Central Asian drug mafias found room to grow, and an atmosphere conducive to growth.
Another relic of the Soviet era is a reasonably well-developed and highly interoperable transportation infrastructure, which facilitates the movement of goods across Central Asia, and all the way to Eastern Europe. With a few payments into the rights hands, that includes the movement of smuggled goods.
Transnational criminal organizations constitute the second group of actors engaged in the regional drug trade. These groups pose the single greatest threat to the region, in part because they are composed of a chain of regional and international players including officials in several governments and their security services. As a result of their diverse membership, some transnational criminal groups entertain political motivations. With their propensity for using violence, these groups form the fulcrum of the crime-terror nexus. Major players in the Afghan/Central Asian drug trade include the following: a network of Afghan, Kyrgyz and Russian syndicates who move shipments of opiates through Central Asia, Russia, the Baltic states and into Western Europe; a network of Afghan, Turkmen and Turkish syndicates who regularly traffic opiates through Turkmenistan (sometimes via Armenia and Azerbaijan) into Turkey for European redistribution; a coalition of Caucasian syndicates allegedly responsible for controlling a significant proportion of the narcotics industry in the Russian Federation; a coalition of Afghan-Iranian and Afghan-Pakistani groups; and independent Tajik and Uzbek groups with ethnic diaspora links in Afghanistan.
Now we get to the good stuff: " As a result of their diverse membership, some transnational criminal groups entertain political motivations."
What we are seeing is organized crime taking over political control of geographic entities.
Although Makarenko's comments do not seem to be aimed there, Turkey with its Deep State is a shining example of this.
In addition to these networks, there is evidence of Kyrgyz and Turkmen groups attempting to increase their ties to Afghan drug mafias. There are also rumors of Chinese, Korean, American, Latin American and Nigerian criminal groups attempting to assert their influence over segments of the regional trade. Exemplifying this transnational aspect was the 1999 case of an American citizen, Andrew Klein. Uzbek security services discovered that Klein, working from Central Asia, was coordinating Afghan and Latin American drug mafias operating in the Russian, European and American drug markets. Klein was arrested in Amsterdam while attempting to organize an operation that would simultaneously transport 13 tons of illicit drugs from Asia to Europe, using Central Asia and Russia as transshipment points.
Notice the connections to the Orient -- more on that in a subsequent post -- and to the Americas and Africa.
The operations of transnational criminal organizations are not always based in Afghanistan. Established relationships with drug mafias in Afghanistan and in its neighboring countries enable transnational criminal networks to use Iran, Pakistan and the Central Asian republics as operational bases. Thus, in addition to stockpiling opiates in Afghanistan, transnational groups also stockpile in other regional centers such as Osh, Shymkent and Samarkand in Central Asia.
I think we can add Turkey to that list of operational bases.
I am going to parse the next paragraph, which is the last paragraph of Makarenko's paper addressed in this post:
As with most criminal organizations throughout history, transnational organized crime uses corruption and intimidation to establish and exert its influence. Given their membership base – including political, law enforcement, customs and military officials – the intimidation and corruption perpetrated by this group of actors is significantly more destructive for state and regional security than domestic drug mafias.
Does this ring any bells in connection with the Sibel Edmonds case?
In Tajikistan, for example, transnational groups are believed to be responsible for several bombings in Dushanbe in 1999 and 2000. Having displayed their violent inclinations, transnational groups have established a more secure base from which they can effectively bribe officials. Faced with a choice between death or injury to family members and bribery, many government and security officials have chosen the latter, especially given their extremely low wages.
Even in the presence of more adequate pay, such as that received by reasonably high-ranking officials of the US government, greed can help influence the decision to align with the narcotraffickers.
Furthermore, in addition to relatively small-scale corruption of public officials – such as the acceptance of bribes by border guards – high-ranking Turkmen, Kazakh and Tajik officials have been implicated in the operations of transnational criminal groups over the past few years. Most recently there have been allegations that Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov and other leading officials were involved in drug trafficking operations based at the Ashgabat airport.
It may thus be concluded that groups of this nature are simultaneously interested in acquiring the financial gains associated with involvement in the drug trade and in asserting political control to secure their operations.
The Sibel Edmonds case certainly sheds some light on the veracity of that statement.