What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Should we securitise Tajik de-securitisation?

MStFB Spillover Monitor Report Update No. 3:1 The original report

Having written about the demining taking place for the second year now on the Tajik-Afghan border, I was planning on raising the issue of potential security concerns we might have related to that. If the spill-over effects that the mines were supposed to stop have not actually dissolved then Tajik forces would have to find some workable solution to the problem of securing their 1344 km long border with Afghanistan.

Here are some points we can make. One of the major Afghan heroin trade routes passes through Tajikistan. Estimates say more than 100 tons of heroin are smuggled through there. In 2002, some 2.3 tons of opium and 5.6 tons of heroin were intercepted in the country, obviously only a fraction of the potential total which was already at the time equivalent 'to the estimated annual North American and West European demand' according to this source (it's not entirely clear to me if that's to be understood as the total matching both markets' demand or only one's or the other's).

So a lot of unwanted stuff has made it across the border, with the mines making no difference. Enough of it to supply the West European market. Still we wouldn't want to see even more coming, would we? I looked around for what others had to say about the issue. Elisabeth Wishnick for the ISN Security Watch writes here that mines have 'not proven effective in preventing border crime or drug trafficking. (...) criminals use their connections to corrupt law enforcement and military personnel to discover safe routes across minefields'. Well, one could immediately throw in the counter-argument that it probably can't be the same if A) you have to build contacts to authorities and when you've made friends hope they get it right as to the exact position of those mines, or if B) you can just make it across on your own, while even then you can bribe a person or two to ease your way. However, there is actually a telling detail to be noted: if so much heroin passed through Tajikistan in heavily mined areas, then option A couldn't have posed siginificant difficulty. In fact that is something most analysts seem to agree on, and they trace their explanation back very logically to the Tajik civil war in the 1990s, when most warring parties took advantage of drugs for financing. Russian troops were present on the border, on the basis of a bilateral agreement, between 1993 and 2005, and already at the time when they departed, many sources expected the change to give a boost to illicit trade, even with the mines still in place then, and with the 2002 data on the volume of that illicit trade in mind...

So, I'm actually siding with Elisabeth Wishnick. Even with 'spill-over effects' continuing and spilling over and over all the way to Western Europe, the mines should go. ' (...) land mines (...) typically cause more harm to civilians and wildlife', she writes and she is right. Tajikistan needs better institutions, but the problem should mostly be handled in Afghanistan, at the source. If there is a big solution it is to be found there, by way of medicalising Afghan opium production or anything else, you name it. The big solution is definitely not to be found in the minefields on the Tajik-Afghan border.


Mansi Mehrotra said...

The report has strong empirical data with lot of conern but lacks the ground realities.
Only thing I can say is that you need to visit the place to actually experience how far mining in the region can prevent the booming drug trade.
Mining is definately a security concern but irrelevant when it comes to drug trade.

Péter said...

Hi there,
I'm not sure, actually it seems like there might be a bit of a misunderstanding in that I have also concluded that mining is irrelevant when it comes to the drug trade, see especially my last paragraph. It's all in there explicitly.
However, if I'm the one misinterpreting your arguments, please clarify what you think of the issue.