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Uzbekistan Table of Contents


Internal Security

Uzbekistan defines its most important security concerns not only in terms of the potential for military conflict, but also in terms of domestic threats. Primary among those threats are the destabilizing effects of trafficking in narcotics and weapons into and across Uzbekistani territory. Although the government has recognized the dangers of such activities to society, enforcement often is stymied by corruption in law enforcement agencies.


With an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 hectares of domestic opium poppy grown annually, Uzbekistan's society long has been exposed to the availability of domestic narcotics as well as to the influx of drugs across the border from Afghanistan (often by way of Tajikistan). Since independence, border security with Afghanistan and among the former Soviet Central Asian republics has become more lax, intensifying the external source problem. Uzbekistan is centrally located in its region, and the transportation systems through Tashkent make that city an attractive hub for narcotics movement from the Central Asian fields to destinations in Western Europe and elsewhere in the CIS.

In 1992 and 1993, shipments of thirteen and fourteen tons of hashish were intercepted in Uzbekistan on their way to the Netherlands. Increasingly in the 1990s, drug sales have been linked to arms sales and the funding of armed groups in neighboring Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Drug-related crime has risen significantly in Uzbekistan during this period. Uzbekistani authorities have identified syndicates from Georgia, Azerbaijan, and other countries active in the Tashkent drug trade.

Domestic drug use has risen sharply in the 1990s as well. In 1994 the Ministry of Health listed 12,000 registered addicts, estimating that the actual number of addicts was likely about 44,000. Opium poppy cultivation is concentrated in Samarqand and along the border with Tajikistan, mainly confined to small plots and raised for domestic consumption. Cannabis, which grows wild, is also increasingly in use. In 1995 government authorities recognized domestic narcotics processing as a problem for the first time when they seized several kilograms of locally made heroin.

To deal with this threat, three agencies--the National Security Service, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the State Customs Committee--share jurisdiction, although in practice their respective roles often are ill-defined. The international community has sought to provide technical and other assistance to Uzbekistan in this matter. In 1995 Uzbekistan established a National Commission on Drug Control to improve coordination and public awareness. A new criminal code includes tougher penalties for drug-related crimes, including a possible death penalty for drug dealers. The government's eradication program, which targeted only small areas of cultivation in the early 1990s, expanded significantly in 1995, and drug-related arrests more than doubled over 1994. In 1992 the United States government, recognizing Central Asia as a potential route for large-scale narcotics transport, began urging all five Central Asian nations to make drug control a priority of national policy. The United States has channeled most of its narcotics aid to Central Asia through the UN Drug Control Program, whose programs for drug-control intelligence centers and canine narcotics detection squads were being adopted in Uzbekistan in 1996. In 1995 Uzbekistan signed a bilateral counternarcotics cooperation agreement with Turkey and acceded to the 1988 UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.

Law Enforcement and Crime

The Uzbekistani police force is estimated to number about 25,000 individuals trained according to Soviet standards. The United States Department of Justice has begun a program to train the force in Western techniques. Interaction also has been expanded with the National Security Service, the chief intelligence agency, which still is mainly staffed by former KGB personnel. About 8,000 paramilitary troops are believed available to the National Security Service.

But these efforts are expected to have little impact on the widespread and deeply entrenched organized crime and corruption throughout Uzbekistan, especially in the law enforcement community itself. According to experts, the government corruption scandals that attracted international attention in the 1980s were symptomatic of a high degree of corruption endemic in the system. In a society of tremendous economic shortage and tight political control from the top down, the government and criminal world become intertwined. Citizens routinely have been required to pay bribes for all common services. More than two-thirds of respondents in a recent survey of Uzbekistan's citizens stated that bribes are absolutely necessary to receive services that nominally are available to all. These bribes often involve enormous sums of money: in 1993 admission to a prestigious institution of higher learning, while technically free, commonly cost nearly 1 million Russian rubles, or more than twice the average annual salary in Uzbekistan in 1993.

Narcotics and weapons trafficking are only an extension of this system, widely viewed as sustained and supported by law enforcement and government officials themselves. In the same survey, a majority of Uzbekistanis stated that bribery occurs routinely in the police department, in the courts, and in the office of the state procurator, the chief prosecutor in the national judicial system. About 25 percent of police surveyed agreed that other officers were involved in the sale of drugs or taking bribes.

The condition of the internal security system is an indicator that progress remains to be made in Uzbekistan's journey out of Soviet-style governance. In the first five years of independence, efforts to establish profitable relations with the rest of the world (and especially the West) have been hindered by a preoccupation with maintaining the political status quo. However, by the mid-1990s Uzbekistan began to take advantage of its considerable assets. Uzbekistan does not suffer from poor natural resources or hostile neighboring countries; its mineral resources are bountiful, and Russia continues to watch over its former provinces in Central Asia. According to government rhetoric, market reforms and expanding international trade will make the nation prosperous--beginning in 1995, an improved human rights record and more favorable investment conditions supplemented the country's political stability in attracting foreign trade and fostering at least the beginning of democratic institutions.

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For historical background on Uzbekistan, three books are especially useful: Elizabeth E. Bacon's Central Asians under Russian Rule , Edward Allworth's Central Asia: 120 Years of Russian Rule , and Vasilii V. Bartol'd's Turkestan Down to the Mongol Invasion . James Critchlow's Nationalism in Uzbekistan provides useful background on the development of nationalism among the elites of Uzbekistan during the Soviet period, and William Fierman's Soviet Central Asia: The Failed Transformation covers social issues and the development of Islam. For information on environmental issues in Uzbekistan, Murray Feshbach and Alfred Friendly, Jr.'s Ecocide in the USSR and Philip R. Pryde's Environmental Resources and Constraints in the Former Soviet Republics are useful sources.

For a discussion of economic issues, the World Bank country studies and the weekly Business Eastern Europe , published by the Economist Intelligence Unit, provide the most current information. Nancy Lubin's Labour and Nationality in Soviet Central Asia provides a detailed description of the background to the development of corruption and organized crime. The quarterly journal Central Asian Monitor and the daily reports of the Open Media Research Institute (OMRI) provide the most current information regarding events in Central Asia. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of March 1996

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Uzbekistan Table of Contents