Reader comments are listed below. Comments are currently closed and new comments are no longer being accepted.
While drug-trafficking is most probably the largest source of illegal income in Tajikistan (as it is in most other countries), the figure of 40% of GDP is a huge exaggeration. Give us the source The Economist.
The flagpole cost about $20m. Not a big deal even for Tajikistan. A couple of ugly new buildings in Dushanbe also cost not much.
Much more important source of income is the Tajik Aluminium Company (TALCO). Together with its BVI offshore company earns at least $100m a year. This offshored profits are used by the family of the dictator to build fancy hotels, banks and buy brand new Boeings.
As for fighting drug-trafficking, how a tiny & poor Tajikistan can do it, if mighty US is unable or unwilling to do it inside Afghanistan or on US-Mexican border? If US was willing to, there are at least three ways - restrict import of special chemicals required for heroin production to Afghanistan, destroy labs or poppy fields inside Afghanistan.
The British Empire profited from intoxicating millions of Chinese and fought two opium wars with China. The American Empire seems to be doing the same with regards to Russians and to Iranians (to a lesser degree because Muslims tend to consume much less than others).
This was a free training for the trashy The Economist. Hope this trashy 'analytical' paper gets the context, the bigger picture right and relies on facts not on unnamed 'sources'.
The article is clearly based on anecdotal evidence. No doubt that the country "benefits" from being a transit route for heroin destined to ruin lives further up. But the scale of involvement by state officials and economic dependence a bit distorted I'd say. 10 years ago, may be yes, but today we have more or less diversified our sources of income, inter alia, remittances, post 9/11 US/NATO operations in the region that resulted in more donor support and technical assistance. China's growing economic presence with cheap loans and better trade links with it as well as with other non-CIS states that have poured some foreign currency into the economy. Tajikistan is an easy target for international media outlets to make a case without getting a punch back from experts. Still, thanks for your attention Economist!
One has to wonder whether the recent declaration of president Obama according to which (I'm paraphrasing) drugs legalisation will allow drug traffickers to dominate entire countries is borne out of naivety or dishonesty. See by yourself, and take your pick: http://video.msnbc.msn.com/the-last-word/47068956#47068956
The incontestable fact, instead, is that it is Prohibition and the so-called War on Drugs that have made it possible for a highly corrupted and corrupting bunch of people to take direct or indirect control of key political, economic and social institutions in a large number of countries around the world.
Should we really be that surprised that drug trafficking could "stabilise" an economy? Would we be that surprised if we were talking of tea or coffee, instead of cocaine or opium? Of course not. And the reason is simple: there is no difference between them from an economic point of view. What is different is that some of them have become extremely profitable thanks to the distortions created by Prohibition: cocaine, for instance, is cheaper to produce than coffee; its retail price, however, is more than twice the price of gold.
The fact that a product that should cost peanuts (literally and metaphorically), ends up costing more that its weight in gold is what attracts the interest of a very special kind of people: entrepreneurs with a bloodthirsty determination to defend their business come what may.
Since they don't take kindly when somebody tries to kill the proverbial goose, if you believe in prohibition you are left with two options: fight them or join them! If the experiences of 40 years of Prohibition and the so-called War on Drugs have taught us anything is that neither option works.
Fighting them will only lead you to an escalating and never ending war of attrition, where pyrrhic victories are your only consolation. But "co-existence" is not less costly, either, for the economic and political power drug traffickers are able to concentrate could be so great (compare to its GDP or the strength of its democratic and legal institutions, for instance) that all you are doing is giving hostages to fortune.
So, I am not at all surprised that the drugs market could help “stabilise” an economy. What surprises me is that there still are so many countries playing the “stabilisation” game, when a more stable, cheaper and long term solution is at hand: Legalisation & Regulation of the whole chain of the drugs market; not just consumption, but production and distribution, too.
'hundreds of millions of dollars on border security' given by donors is another lie, unless you count the Soviet infrastructure left by Russians in a good shape in 2005
Russia, China, Iran and Turkey are main trade partners. The first three countries are also major investors in Tajikistan.
Trade w Russia and China was ~$1bn and ~$0.8bn respectively in 2011. There was no trade w China before 2000. The trade is done via Kyrgyzstan.
However main source of income of the people of Tajikistan comes from about one million migrant workers in Russia. Remittances from Russia exceeded $4bn in 2011, equivalent to about 50% of the countries GDP.
Yet The Economist ignores these hard facts and talks about some vaguely supported assumptions. Business as usual for Western media. Stereotypes rule!
Behruzhimo – Some of your criticisms suggest you did not read the article closely. It does not say the drug trafficking is all Tajikistan’s problem, but clearly points out that NATO and the US are not interested in putting a stop to it, fearing it could make Tajikistan more unstable.
You say the article did not point out how important remittances are to the Tajik economy. But it does: “Transfers from the million or so Tajiks living abroad are equivalent to 45% of GDP.”
And you feel a “$20m flagpole” is “not a big deal.” However, others would argue that does seem an extravagance in a country where half the people live on less than $2 per day.
As for the figure of 30-50% of GDP as equivalent to the value of the trafficked drugs, well, drug money is hard to count. The article is citing estimates by scholars researching the issue. (The figure doesn’t sound so outlandish when you consider that Tajikistan's economy is worth less than $7 billion, while, according to the UNODC, “In 2009, Russian criminal networks made an estimated US$18 billion from heroin” and almost all of that product is coming through Tajikistan.)
Migrants in Russia are humiliated not more than Mexicans in the American Empire. Central Asian civilisations existed for thousands of years before the Anerican Empire with its client states of NATO appeared in 1950s.
Arrogance ruins empires. Afghanistan ruined empires. Give me the Post-American world!
You can dice and slice any way you like, but what the article illustrates, and it is evident everywhere else in the world: wherever there is large trafficking of drugs, the US is involved, and there is the same attitude "we cannot afford to interfere". So the drugs trade is in effect national policy and national strategy ... but only, where the drugs are produced for non-US consumption.
The claim that stopping it would kill the economy is especially funny because the trade was minimal before the US and NATO took over. So, at the beginning they said "there not that much", then as it grows they say "there is nothing we can do about it" and as it becomes huge they say "we must not interfere".
The question is: are they part of the solution, or are they part of the problem? The answer is quite obvious and it the US and NATO policy makers that are addicted to the stuff. What a horrible truth !
Tajikistan has Central Asia's only aluminium plant with revenue of almost $1bn a year. Tajikistan also produces cotton for half a billion, hydro electricity for hundreds of millions dollars. The corrupt government controls these three major sources of income plus other relatively big businesses.
Can't they build a flagpole from these money? Can't they build a couple ugly buildings in Dushanbe? Can't the cronies buy fancy SUVs? The regime can afford not care about the people because every Tajik family is lucky to have at least male in Russia.
It's so unprofessional to state that narcotics account for even 30% of GDP when simple (although unscientific) estimates show that annual remmittances from migrants account for up to 50% of Tajikistan $7bn GDP. Aluminium & cotton account for at least $1bn per year or 15% GDP. Electricity, construction materials, food processing sectors shouldn't be less than 10% of GDP. There are service sectors such as transportation, trade, education, healthcare, government services should account for at least 40% of GDP. These are overlapping pieces of the economy, nonetheless it's clear that couple of thousand criminals engaged in narcotics transit can't be responsible for 30% of GDP.
Russia gets drugs via Tajikistan, Uzbekistan & Turkmenistan. The price of that white poison increases hundreds fold from the Afghan border to Russia.
Get some training free The Economist!
Half the country's population living on $2 a day is not an 'economy', and i don't think the people would care if it was "devistated". I went backbacking there in aug of 2010 and the people are fantastic and friendly. It is a shame that gangsters are able to exploit entire populations like this.
Those poor migrant slaves – humiliated tramp-dogs of the "Russian Empire." Once left without NATO in Afghanistan, the Central Asia will blow up like an A-bomb.
Just out of curiosity - how important is the trade w/ China now as a part of Tajikistan's economy? I know that the Kulma Pass is not the most convenient border pass compared to say Torugart, Irkeshtam, or Khorgas, since it is so high in altitude and is open for only half of every month and closed due to heavy snow in the winter (as well as being closed for passage to 3rd country nationals).
Yet another reason why getting governments (the USA was suggested) to purchase the Afghanistan opium crop and dump it in the Indian Ocean as a way to tackle heroin addiction, is not a good idea. Liberal regulation - using our experience with alcohol and tobacco so we don't make the same mistakes, seems the best way forward.
'Researchers believe the industry is equivalent to 30-50% of Tajikistan’s GDP'
Read better or think critically if you can. This dumb magazine claims that drug trafficking industry REPRESENTS up to 50% of Tajikistan's GDP!
This claim is analogical to saying that $$$ value of US & NATO cargo passing via Tajikistan to/from Afghanistan is counted as Tajikistan's GDP, instead of counting the transit fees Tajikistan earns.
Say, US-contracted trucks full of BigMacs pass via Tajikistan to Afghanistan. The Economist claims the $$$ value of BigMacs in the trucks is part of Tajikistan's GDP, instead of counting $300 or so that Tajikistan earns from transit fees.
I guess both you and The Economist don't get this simple things :)
And I heard of Mexicans being shot on the border by US volunteers. I also hear about a young African Americans getting shot by community volunteers.
Racism is a universal problem.
There are more than a million citizens of Tajikistan working in Russia throughout a year. In 2011 about 900 died, about 50 of them died violently - fires, murders. Victims of racism account for no more than 20 death. This mortality rate is not higher than that of inside Tajikistan.
Every death of a Tajik in Russia sparks strong reaction of Tajik media and society. There are also some Tajiks who commit crime in Russia - official Russian statistic says about 0.5% of foreigners in Russia commit violent crimes.
Saying something is equivalent to X GDP (has the value of X GDP) does not mean it is counted as GDP.
Now that you mention Obama's bodyguards, happyfish18, it is interesting to notice that their having intercourse with prostitutes is being explained by the same logic the US applies to the war on drugs: it's foreigners fault. According to
Cartagena's prostitutes corrupted them. Apparently, women over there are too sexy. All that dancing, parting and what have you. I wonder if we will soon be watching US drones aiming their guns to targets such as these:
I have heard about attacks by Russian hoodlums on Central Asian workers, especially by skinheads in Moscow.
Every time when some big powers molest a poor developing country, it seems they are after the Oil resources or turn them into a failed drug-gang state like Somalia, Afghanistan, Colombia, Mexico etc. It is not surprising the Tajiks will have to survive off opium trade.
Comments and tweets on popular topics
Subscribe to The Economist's free e-mail newsletters and alerts.
Subscribe to The Economist's latest article postings on Twitter
See a selection of The Economist's articles, events, topical videos and debates on Facebook.