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f_0018901_16162 - David Lewis senior research fellow in the...

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David Lewis, senior research fellow in the Department of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford, England, served previously as director of the International Crisis Group’s Central Asia Project, based in Kyrgyzstan. In medieval times, traders carried jewels, spices, perfumes, and fabulous fabrics along the legendary Silk Route through Central Asia. Today,the goods are just as valuable, but infinitely more dangerous. Weapons and equipment for American troops in Afghan- istan travel from west to east, along the vital lifeline of the Northern Supply Route. In the other direction, an unadvertised, but no less deadly product travels along the same roads, generating billions of dollars in illicit profits. As much as 25 percent of Afghanistan’s heroin production is exported through the former Soviet states of Central Asia, and the UN’s drug experts express grave concerns. Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN’s Office of Drugs and Crime ( UNODC ), claims that the “Silk Route, turned into a heroin route, is carving out a path of death and violence through one of the world’s most strategic, yet volatile re- gions.” A report from his office asserts that there is a “perfect storm spiraling into Cen- tral Asia” with drug trafficking funding ter- rorist groups and insurgency, fostering in- stability and conflict, and leaving a host of health problems behind. This should be a wake-up call to Central Asian governments. Yet, oddly, nobody seems to care very much. In theory, the United Nations is right to be worried. At first glance, drug trafficking seems like a major threat to the region, since it is so inextricably linked to violent crime and political instability in many other parts of the world. More people died in Mexican drug violence in 2009 than in Iraq. In Brazil, the government admits about 23,000 drug-related homicides each year— some ten times the number of civilians killed in the war in Afghanistan. And it’s not just Latin America that suffers. On Afghanistan’s border with Iran, there are regular clashes between Iranian counter- narcotics units and drug smugglers. Hun- dreds of border guards have been killed over the past decade in fights with heroin and opium traffickers. But Central Asia’s drug trade looks rather different. A closer look reveals a murky world of corruption and official pro- tection, with three strange and paradoxical outcomes. Three Paradoxes A Taliban prohibition on heroin production in 2000 was remarkably successful, reducing exports from the Afghan territories they controlled in 2001 to almost zero. But after the U.S.-led invasion, the Taliban gave up their apparently principled stance against drugs, and reverted to an earlier position— demanding a tax from both farmers and © 2010 World Policy Institute 39 High Times on the Silk Road The Central Asian Paradox David Lewis
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traffickers, and sometimes providing logisti- cal support and protection for cross-border smuggling, under the profitable rationale
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f_0018901_16162 - David Lewis senior research fellow in the...

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