(Washington, DC--April 17, 2003) Limited oversight and understanding of the role of corruption in Central Asia may be affecting the impact of Western drug enforcement programs, says Nancy Lubin, an authority on the region. Addressing a briefing audience at RFE/RL's Washington office, Lubin, who is the president of the consultancy JNA Associates, Inc. and has lived, worked and traveled throughout Central Asia for over 25 years, said that "corruption is such an integral part of these societies [that] we need to think of it in more nuanced terms."
The scale of narcotics trafficking and corruption is up in the region, Lubin said, in spite of U.S. and U.N. counter-narcotics programs focused on limiting drug cultivation in Afghanistan and building law enforcement and judicial institutions in the five formerly Soviet Central Asian states. The quantity of drugs seized by Central Asian governments has increased dramatically in the late 1990's, and there have been other successes in these programs. But Lubin cautioned that the success of anti-trafficking programs cannot be evaluated on the basis of such seizure rates alone. Experts estimate that 85% - 90% of trafficked drugs still get through. The societal impacts of counter-narcotics trafficking efforts -- such as their impact on human rights, gender discrimination, youth problems, and increases in HIV/AIDS and other diseases -- are also critically important.
Lubin suggested that the beneficiaries of this corruption not only profit financially from the drug trade, but may also be embedded in the very institutions intended to counteract the trade. She pointed to the high demand for positions as customs agents, despite the relatively low salary, as an indicator that corruption among the primary targets of anti-trafficking programs may still be widespread. Lubin questioned whether programs have enough monitoring and oversight worked in so that "we know who we are training," and to what extent counter-narcotics efforts may be used to aggravate other problems.
The drug trade is one of the few issues that is of critical importance to both Central Asia and the rest of the world, Lubin said. Political commitment and close cooperation between the people and governments of the region and the international community remains needed, according to Lubin, to achieve the goals of counter-narcotics programs.