By Roman Kozhevnikov
DUSHANBE - Heroin smuggling through Central Asia is likely to jump this year after a record opium harvest in Afghanistan, the head of Tajikistan's drug control agency and United Nations officials said on Friday.
Afghanistan is the source of 90 percent of the world's opiates and about one fifth of the illegal drugs are smuggled to Europe, Russia and the United States via the so-called "northern route" through Central Asia.
The illegal drugs trade in Afghanistan has flourished in the chaos caused by a more than a quarter of a century of war and instability.
Opium production soared to a record last year, five years after U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban's strict Islamist government. The Taliban stamped out poppy cultivation during the last year of their rule, but now share drug profits.
"After the record opium harvest, which reached 200,000 tonnes last year, we are expecting an increase in narcotics flows from Afghanistan," Rustam Nasarov, the head of Tajikistan's agency for narcotics control, told reporters.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Tajikistan, which borders Afghanistan, said underground heroin factories could produce 800 tonnes of the drug in 2007, increasing the flow of illegal drugs.
Nyamat [a former intelligence agent] and an Afghan trafficker singled out Gen. Mohammed Daoud, a former warlord who is Afghanistan's deputy interior minister in charge of the anti-drug effort.
The Kunduz trafficker said he wasn't worried. He counts Daoud as one of his connections. Late in the summer of 2003, he said, Daoud helped him retrieve heroin worth $200,000 that had been seized at the Salang Tunnel
The drugs are spirited across the Tajik-Afghan border, often by poorly paid couriers, and then taken across the former silk routes of Central Asia to Russia, Turkey and the West.
The Tajik narcotics control agency says a kilogram of heroin sells for about $800 on the black market in Afghanistan while the price is $50,000 in Russia and as much as $300,000 in western Europe.
The narcotics trade, which accounts for about a third of Afghanistan's economy, is funding increasingly powerful drug lords and a resurgent Taliban militia.
"Underground laboratories for heroin manufacture will be able to produce no less than 800 tonnes of heroin in 2007," said Christer Brannerud, project coordinator the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Tajikistan.
"That is 30 percent more than the needs of the European market," he said. "It will lead to an increase in the drug-traffic from Afghanistan through northern and eastern routes."
Russian anti-drugs officials say heroin flows have increased since Russian troops in 2005 stopped patrolling the 1,340 km (835 mile) border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan. The Tajik government asked Russia in 2004 to pull out its troops.