Uzbekistan remains a significant transit country for heroin, opium, hashish and marijuana. Uzbekistan shares an 85-mile border with Afghanistan and has extensive borders with all other Central Asian countries. In addition to 134 legal crossing points, Uzbekistan’s borders afford drug traffickers ample opportunity to enter undetected via thousands of miles of open desert, rugged mountains. Afghanistan and Tajikistan are the two major bordering countries utilized by drug traffickers to smuggle narcotics into Uzbekistan. The northern route through Uzbekistan offers both direct and indirect transit for narcotics from Afghanistan to end-use markets in Russia and Europe, and is aided by Uzbekistan’s relatively intact infrastructure, corruption, and rugged border terrain.
B. Drug Control Accomplishments, Policies, and Trends
1. Institutional Development
Uzbek counternarcotics policy is expressed in the National Action Plan on Prevention of Drug Abuse and Illicit Drug Trafficking (NAP), and includes active drug law enforcement and control over illicit circulation; drug abuse prevention and demand reduction; international counternarcotics cooperation; and improvement in the drug enforcement legislation. The Government of Uzbekistan generally prefers bilateral over multilateral engagement on many issues, including counternarcotics, yet Uzbekistan adheres to its international commitments in combatting drug trafficking. The Government of Uzbekistan has signed a number of cooperation agreements with Central Asian countries as well as with Russia, Latvia, the Czech Republic, Japan, and China. Such cooperation is focused on developing Uzbek law enforcement capacities rather than operational activities or intelligence exchanges.
A 2012 memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) established the legal foundation for joint U.S.-Uzbek investigative activities and intelligence exchange. The United States continues to negotiate with Uzbekistan to develop an MOU that would establish a legal foundation for joint counternarcotics and terrorist related financial investigative activities and exchange of intelligence between DEA and the Office of the Prosecutor General’s Financial Investigative Unit.
In 2013, Uzbek law enforcement agencies benefited from U.S.-funded training and equipment to further develop their counternarcotics capabilities. With U.S. assistance, the Uzbek government initiated a process of lab accreditation and certification that improved the capability of its forensic laboratories to provide science-based evidence in drug cases. The United States conducted a number of specialized trainings for Uzbek law enforcement counterparts from the MVD and National Security Service (NSS) in such areas as drug enforcement, investigative techniques, anti-money laundering, financial investigations, informational analysis, and undercover operations. The United States also provided training and equipment to Uzbek border-control agencies that increased drug interdiction capacity.
The United States does not have an extradition treaty or mutual legal assistance agreement in place with Uzbekistan.
2. Supply Reduction
Uzbekistan’s rugged, poorly protected frontier with Tajikistan presents the country’s biggest drug trafficking challenge. Drugs are usually transported in trucks through guarded Uzbek border crossings, though there has been an increase in smuggling by rail from Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Traffickers also exploit the mountainous terrain between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to smuggle drugs into the country on foot or on pack animals.
While not as significant a transit country as some of its neighbors, Uzbekistan leads Central Asian states in seizing heroin. This reflects the relative strength of its police, customs, and NSS, bolstered by assistance from the United States and other international donors. Uzbekistan is a full member of the Central Asian Regional Information and Coordination Center (CARICC), hosts the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) Regional Office for Central Asia, and participates in a number of regional UNODC and European Union projects. Despite this participation in regional fora, however, Uzbekistan is developing border security policies largely in isolation from its neighbors, significantly reducing the overall effectiveness of regional efforts.
Uzbekistan is not a significant producer of illegal narcotics. In 2012, as a result of an annual eradication program, Uzbek authorities found 1,211 cases of illicit cultivation of narcotics plants (cannabis and opium poppy) on 1.2 hectares of land. According to UNODC, during the first six months of 2013, Uzbek authorities seized a total of 1.09 metric tons (MT) in illegal drugs, including 73.3 kilograms (kg) of heroin, 643.7 kg of opium, and 367.6 kg of cannabis products. These totals were statistically behind the pace of seizures in 2012, when 2.71 MT of all drugs were seized over the course of the year.
Uzbek law enforcement officials have reported a recent trend of Iranian methamphetamine transiting Uzbekistan and destined for Southeast Asian countries.
3. Drug Abuse Awareness, Demand Reduction, and Treatment
Official data on drug use is unreliable. The available statistics show a five percent decrease in the number of officially registered drug users in 2012 from 2011 (from 18,197 to 17,235). Of those, users between the ages of 20-39 account for 63.7 percent. The number of opium users fell to 12,914, or 74.9 percent of the registered addicts. The number of intravenous drug users decreased to 7,988, or 46.3 percent of the registered users.
NAP provides for demand reduction programs and treatment options, though they are often inadequate. In 2012, 3,727 patients were treated in rehabilitation facilities, 91.6 percent for opium addiction; 69.3 percent of patients received treatment in in-patient facilities and 26.3 percent in out-patient facilities. The Government of Uzbekistan upgraded some provincial treatment centers and reportedly increased the budget for such facilities by 40 percent from 2011. The Uzbek government organizes drug education programs for school-age youth and in colleges, along with neighborhood-based programs.
In 2013, the UNODC project “Families and Schools Together” was initiated with Uzbek government backing, and promotes drug abuse prevention among children through improving the relations among parents, students and schools.
As a matter of policy, the Government of Uzbekistan does not facilitate the production or distribution of illegal narcotics or the laundering of drug proceeds. There is evidence, however, of corruption at multiple levels of government. There are occasional reports in the local media of convictions of government officials on corruption charges, but such cases appear to target low or mid-level officers. To reduce official corruption, the Uzbek government is currently implementing a National Anti-Corruption Action Plan with the assistance of the international community.
C. National Goals, Bilateral Cooperation, and U.S. Policy Initiatives
One of the cornerstones of Uzbekistan’s counternarcotics strategy is to increase the capacity of state institutions through training. Support for these capacity-building efforts is also strategically important to the United States, both within the context of the improving bilateral relationship as well as regional security.
The continuing implementation of the DEA Central Asia Regional Training Team (CARTT) based in Kazakhstan helps to address this priority by providing direct law enforcement and counternarcotics training to law enforcement agencies in Uzbekistan and elsewhere in Central Asia. DEA also engages both the OPG and its functional component, the FIU. Uzbek officers also participate in the NATO-Russia Council Counter-narcotics Training Project.
The United States proactively supports activities that enhance border security and further the development and improvement of the counternarcotics infrastructure in Uzbekistan. This is done mainly through equipment grants to various Uzbek security agencies and funding for the CARTT.
Counternarcotics cooperation between the United States and Uzbekistan continues to improve. The Government of Uzbekistan has demonstrated political will to address the challenges of drug trafficking through the country. Training that meets international standards, modern crime fighting equipment, and greater exposure to best practices through cooperation between Uzbek and international partners is necessary to promote sustainable and continued improvements in the country’s counternarcotics capacity.