United Nations, 24 February 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The annual report of the International Narcotics Control Board says Afghanistan produces 75 percent of the world's opium. And Central Asia, the report says, is a growing zone for drug traffickers. Uzbekistan, which borders both Afghanistan and Tajikistan, stands on the front lines of the drug-control battle. RFE/RL's Beatrice Hogan talked with Uzbekistan's ambassador to the United Nations, Alisher Vohidov, about his government's efforts to stop the flow of illegal drugs in Central Asia.
Q. What do you think of the new United Nations report?
A: "For us it's very important when this kind of international body pays (such close) attention to this matter. Perhaps you know that we first raised the question of the drug problem coming from Afghanistan unfortunately many years ago. And it is a special concern for our government [and] for our president."
Vohidov said he was pleased that the United Nations report acknowledged the economic problems faced by drug transit nations, which do not have adequate resources to tackle the problem. He said that the final destination of the drugs is not Uzbekistan or Tajikistan, but Russia onward to Europe. For this reason, he believes the user nations should help Uzbekistan with its efforts to control drug trafficking.
Q: How have developments in other parts of the region [West Asia] affected Uzbekistan?
A: "The big success of our Iranian colleagues regarding the struggle against drug traffickers [leads the] drug producers to find the other ways. And Central Asian countries? (Traffickers) They consider it is a very important [route]. But why? Because in our region, in Central Asia, we have a very developed infrastructure of transportation. They try to use the internal problems in Tajikistan to their benefit. And of course very attractive for them is that the borders between Central Asian countries are transparent. And they try to do this. For us, [keeping open borders] it's part of our economic way of development. But they try to turn it to their own benefit."
Q: Can you give some specific examples of how Uzbekistan is addressing the drug problem?
A: "Regarding Uzbekistan, I can say that we establish state commission on drug control. And the chairman of this commission is the prime minister himself [Otkir Sultanov]. And it shows the importance we pay to this question. The executive board of this commission is a national center on drug control. This center acts within the Cabinet of Ministers. Which again shows the importance that we pay to this question."
Vohidov said Uzbekistan passed a comprehensive law on narcotic control in August 1999, and in the past year, Uzbek police have confiscated 4,210 kilograms of illegal narcotics. Uzbekistan spends $10 million annually on drug eradication programs, which has resulted in significant reductions in the land under illegal cultivation. It is also setting up a special governmental agency modeled on the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in the United States.
Q: What is Uzbekistan doing to protect its borders?
A: "We have to control not only the border with Afghanistan -- it's only 137 kilometers. But most of the drug trafficking goes through Tajikistan and then comes to Uzbekistan. The border between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan is much longer and very transparent. So it means that we have to create an absolutely new approach to control this kind of borders, and the border with Turkmenistan."
Vohidov says that Uzbekistan is installing new border controls and that all cars and trains crossing borders would be inspected for illegal drugs.
Q: What are the long-term prospects of this cooperation?
A: "Our cooperation doesn't mean just mean the struggle against illicit drug trafficking. No. The question is much broader than that. It's at the same time, we are trying to find a way to help the Afghan side to develop their internal economic infrastructure -- to substitute drug cultivation by other means, through cooperation with the neighbors of Afghanistan [and] with the United Nations Drug Control Program (UNDCP)."
The ambassador said he looks forward to the upcoming "Six-Plus-Two meeting" in March in which the drug problem in Afghanistan is to be the focus. The meeting brings together all the countries bordering Afghanistan plus the warring sides in an effort to bring an end to the conflict.