Tajikistan The Republic of Tajikistan is situated in Central Asia, and shares borders with Kyrgyzstan, China, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. Cannabis has been utilised in this region for at least 10,000 years, and is an important aspect of the indigenous culture. As violence continues to beset the region, cannabis trafficking is increasing.
History of cannabis in Tajikistan
The region now known as Tajikistan has been occupied and controlled by various different ethnic groups over the millennia; the Neolithic and Bronze Age Sarazm culture, the Persian Achaemenid and Samanid Empires, the Hephthalite Empire (a nomadic Turkic people also known as the White Huns), and the Mongols. The Tajik people and language are Persian in origin, and developed subsequent to several waves of Persian migrations into Asia. By 1000-1200 CE, Persian chroniclers had begun to refer to descendants of these original settlers as Tajiks.
In 1864, the Russian Empire took control of the region, and from 1919 to 1991, the Soviet Union controlled the area. After its collapse, Tajikistan was almost immediately thrown into a civil war that lasted five years (1992-1997) and caused significant upheaval, ripples of which continue to be felt to this day.
Tajikistan occupies an important position on the routes linking China, India, the northern Steppes and the Arab world, and as such has enjoyed a long history of cultural and economic exchange with its neighbours. There is substantial evidence of the importance of cannabis throughout the history of the region; indeed, cannabis is thought to have evolved in Central Asia, and modern testing has indicated that the centre of genetic diversity may lie in the Pamir plain in Tajikistan itself. The subspecies C. indica is generally thought to have evolved in the region comprising Kashmir, the Punjab, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and the western Tian Shan mountains.
Cultivated and wild cannabis in Tajikistan
Tajikistan’s domestic cannabis industry is relatively minor, and falls far short of that seen in Kazakhstan or neighbouring Afghanistan. However, as is common throughout the region, wild cannabis can be found growing in rural areas. Closer to the Afghani landraces than to the Kazakhstani or Kyrgyz varieties, Tajik cannabis is reported to be potent, flavoursome and richly aromatic—although there is substantial natural variation, and some reports state that wild Tajik cannabis contains very little THC and is rarely harvested by traffickers. It is generally thought that the cannabis growing in Tajikistan is of the indica subspecies, but it is likely that some areas also support populations of ruderalis. According to the FAO, cannabis is one of the two main indigenous fibre crops found in Tajikistan. Tajikistan’s long growing season allows for two or three crops to be harvested each year.
Cultivation of cannabis is well established in rural areas, particularly in the northwestern province of Sughd and in Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region. Anecdotal reports state that there are established landrace strains with unique characteristics in several of the areas where cannabis is commonly found—such as the Amu Darya valley that lies between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, which is known in cannabis breeding circles for being the home of a remarkably stable Kush variety that thrives in the wild, with abundant resin production and a spicy, ‘hashy’ aroma. It is possible to source Tajik landrace seeds online, but it is not always possible to be sure of their provenance.
It is likely that the vast majority of domestic production is intended for domestic consumption—but as Tajik-produced opium has reportedly been confiscated in Russia, it may be that cannabis too is being exported in minor quantities. There is no reliable evidence of hashish production occurring in Tajikistan, but as it is situated so close to several major hashish-producing countries, is it all but inevitable that some small-scale production does occur, even if only for personal consumption.
Cannabis trafficking in Tajikistan
As well as being an important step of the journey from Afghanistan to Russia and Europe, Tajikistan is becoming increasingly important as a producer of opium and hashish. In response to this development, the US has increased levels of security assistance; in the 1990s, aid to Tajikistan made up just 5% of total spending in Central Asia, but by 2007 it had increased to over 30% of the total.
Tajikistan occupies a key position within the trafficking routes that crisscross the region. Opium, heroin and hashish smuggled through the country primarily originates in Afghanistan, with which Tajikistan shares a 1,300km-long, mountainous, and poorly-policed border—although a smaller proportion may originate in Pakistan or elsewhere. In 1995, it was estimated that 80% of the narcotics trafficked through Tajikistan follow the Khorog-Osh road in Gorno-Badakhshan, which begins at Khorog (on the border with Afghanistan) and leads to the city of Osh in Kyrgyzstan, at the border with Uzbekistan.
However, it appears that the situation has changed markedly since then—in 2008, it was reported that 60% of all contraband entering Tajikistan is trafficked through the heavily-populated southwestern province of Khatlon, which lies at the western border with Afghanistan. Contraband is then transported to the capital Dushanbe, which lies at the border with Uzbekistan, and from there is taken by air or rail to destinations in Russia and Europe. The changing map of drug trafficking networks in Central Asia are both a cause and a consequence of the ongoing violence affecting the region—and affecting the lives and livelihoods of millions of local inhabitants.
Violence in the cannabis trade in Tajikistan
The conflict in Tajikistan left a legacy of deprivation to much of the country’s rural population, and although economic growth in the years following the official end to the violence has led to widespread improvements, many continue to suffer. Violence may have officially ceased, but still occurs with worrying frequency, particularly in Gorno-Badakhshan.
In recent years, drug-related violence has intensified elsewhere in Tajikistan. In February 2014, Tajik counternarcotics officers were attacked in Khatlon province near the Afghan border by a force of around thirty gunmen thought to be linked to local Afghan drug lords; two officers were killed and at least three injured before the attackers fled back across the border to Afghanistan. It is thought that the attackers were responding to an incident several weeks earlier, during which Tajik border guards killed six Afghan traffickers and seized a significant quantity of hashish and opium.
Trafficking of cannabis and heroin is largely controlled by organisations well-versed in conflict, and throughout the region, various ‘drug warlords’ have battled for supremacy over recent decades. As is often the case in regions subject to prolonged violence, the black market has become an important source of funding to various military groups. Afghanistan’s Mujahedeen and Taliban, Russian border forces, the Tajik opposition, and members of the Tajik government itself have been accused of having links to trafficking operations.
Instability in Gorno-Badakhshan
Gorno-Badakhshan is a mountainous autonomous province in the east of Tajikistan, located in the Pamir Mountains (where significant early evolution of cannabis took place) and taking up 45% of the nation’s total area. Extremely sparsely populated—just 3% of the Tajik population resides here—and subject to years of sporadic violence, the province is almost impossible to effectively police and has long been a favourite target for smugglers operating in the region.
It is also a thorn in the Tajik authorities’ side—in 2012, the stabbing of a security forces official led to a wave of violence between opposition rebels and police in which over a hundred civilians were killed. Authorities stated that the rebels were heavily involved in narcotics trafficking, which is likely to have some basis in truth—although according to many reports the Tajik authorities themselves are far from blameless in that regard.
Cannabis eradications in Tajikistan
As with other former Soviet states, Tajikistan underwent a series of large-scale eradication efforts in the 1980s, which largely proved unsuccessful. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, eradication efforts were downsized, although they still continue to this day, and have increased in scale in recent years as increased US attention is being paid to the nation.
Statistics on eradications are patchy—in 1994, fifty-one cannabis plantations and thirty-two hectares of wild cannabis were destroyed in the first six months of the year. In 2006, just over thirty-two hectares were reported to be destroyed. In 2009, one of the largest operations in recent years, it was reported that over 500,000 cannabis plants were discovered, distributed between several large wild plantations all located in the Sughd province in northern Tajikistan. Approximately 1,000 wild plants were also destroyed in Darvoz in Gorno-Badakhshan. The wild crop of 2009 was larger than previous years as drought conditions had ended and normal rainfall had resumed.
Cannabis seizures in Tajikistan
Seizures in Tajikistan have fluctuated somewhat in recent years, although overall it appears that cannabis seizures are following the same upward trend seen throughout Central Asia. Contraband seized by Tajik counternarcotics authorities in amounted to 6.5 metric tons in 2013; the vast majority of seizures took place in Khatlon province bordering Afghanistan or in Dushanbe.
Opium trafficking is of greatest concern to regional authorities, and as a result, many farmers in Afghanistan and possibly Tajikistan have switched from growing opium poppies to growing cannabis, as it invites far less attention and is less likely to be subject to eradication efforts. In the near future, cannabis is likely to become even more important to the region, as there is little sign of development occurring on any meaningful level.
In March 2014, Tajik authorities reportedly burned over 722kg of seized contraband, including 43kg of heroin and 11kg of opium. It is likely that the majority of the remainder was cannabis and hashish. The day prior to the burning, police had seized 97kg of hashish from an individual detained while driving through the village of Khusheri.
Cannabis laws, arrests and sentences in Tajikistan
Tajikistan has stringent drug laws, with custodial sentences ranging from 5-10 years for small quantities with intent to supply, 12-15 years for larger quantities, and 15-20 years if conducted as part of an organised group. Tajikistan’s criminal code also states that the death penalty may be carried out for the third category of offence, but in 2005 a formal moratorium on capital punishment was issued, and all death sentences commuted to prison terms.
In August 2014, it was reported that the ‘largest cannabis delivery channel’ into Russia had been blocked following a complicated and protracted international operation which lasted several months. As a result, 100kg of cannabis was seized, and three people were arrested. In January 2013, a 50-year-old Afghan man was detained near the Tajik-Afghan border with over 65kg of cannabis and charged with international trafficking.
Purchasing and using cannabis in Tajikistan
Tajikistan has serious ongoing problems with opium and heroin abuse, and cannabis use is for the most part overlooked. However, it remains illegal, and police in Tajikistan do target individuals suspected of drug use, although foreigners are less likely to be placed under scrutiny.
Tajikistan’s location all but guarantees that a healthy supply of Afghani hashish is available, in almost every part of the country—although it is easier to source in urban areas such as Dushanbe. As well as this, homegrown Tajik cannabis may be found in much of the country, although it is easier to find in rural areas close to the source. Tajik cannabis is reported to be smooth, powerful and sweet-tasting, with a powerful hashy flavour and aroma.
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