Tajikistan basked in the international spotlight this week as host of the Central Asian Economic Association. But it had had to work to polish its image, which had been tarnished recently by the arrest of its ambassador to Kazakhstan on drug-related charges and by allegations of widespread Tajikistan government involvement in drug smuggling. The facts and timing of the case suggest, however, that Kazakhstan -- one of the four governments attending the meeting may have moved deliberately to discredit the Tajikistan government.
On May 21, officials of the Kazakhstan National Security Committee seized some 62 kilograms of heroin, $54,000 in cash, and a money order for 1,261,000 pounds sterling from two cars, one of which belonged to the Tajik ambassador, Sadullojon Nematov, not far from Almaty. Five Tajiks were arrested, including the ambassador. Two days later, Kazakh security officials arrested Tajikistan's trade representative after 10 kilograms of heroin were found in his garage and 14 kilograms in an apartment where he had previously lived. Kazakhstan security officials alleged that the heroin was going to be delivered to the head of the Tajikistan trade mission in Almaty and that it was part of a broader Tajik-run drug ring.
The Tajikistan Foreign Ministry denied any knowledge of the incidents. But the Procurator General of Tajikistan stated recently what was already an open secret: that there is evidence that almost all levels of the Tajik government are involved in illegal drug trafficking.
Previous foreign arrests of Tajik officials have been solved without the sensationalism that has surrounded this case. In other incidents, arresting authorities have simply extradited the suspects to Tajikistan and initiated criminal investigations.
Indeed, some Tajiks question the Kazakh prosecutor's interpretation of events. For example, in an interview with the TV and Radio Company "Mir," Ambassador Nematov protested being questioned only a full day after his car was searched. Tajik diplomats have also balked at the allegations of diplomatic complicity, noting that under international law a trade representative is not considered part of a diplomatic mission and that the driver had been dismissed some two months before the drug bust.
Even so, the Tajik side seems disgruntled less by the fact of the arrest than by the undiplomatically aggressive position of Astana and the anti-Tajik campaign that was unleashed in the Kazakh media.
Tajik Ministry of Foregn Affairs sources believe that the aggressive prosecution of this case, which they feel reveals barely concealed enmity toward the citizens of Tajikistan Kazakhstan's closest ally in the CIS might be sanctioned by the highest levels of the Kazakhstan government. As if confirming that version, on May 29, President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan personally commented on the case. "I consider that our special services have done godly work, and we will encourage it," he stated.
Moreover, the call to prosecute this ring vigorously came from the chief of the Almaty City and Oblast National Security Committee, who is, perhaps not coincidentally, President Nazarbayev's son-in-law. Chief Aliev declared, "To make our city free and safe, we will break all these "roofs"
Marat Mamadshoyev is a correspondent for the newspaper Asia-Plus. He is an attorney and has an advanced degree in higher education. He is based in Dushanbe.