By Alex Rodriguez, Chicago Tribune
Panj, Tajikistan - The smugglers almost always come in the dead of night, in small bands clutching packages of Afghan heroin and Kalashnikov rifles. On tires lashed together or on makeshift wooden rafts, they cross the meandering Panj River that separates Afghanistan and Tajikistan, slip through minefields and navigate the tall reeds and footpaths on the Tajik side of the Panj.
Most of the time, they make it through unscathed.
From atop a guard tower overlooking the Panj, Tajik border guard Capt. Abdulkhamid Murodov explains why. An electrified fence rigged with alarms and installed as a line of defense is largely useless because Murodov's outpost doesn't have enough electricity to power it. His outpost also doesn't have enough two-way radios, lacks searchlights and too often doesn't have enough gas to get extra soldiers to the river's edge when firefights with smugglers break out.
Murodov points to a set of binoculars hanging on the tower's inside wall--it's the outpost's only set.
"Too many drug smugglers get across and just dissolve into our country. This happened even when the Russians were here," Murodov said, referring to a time when Russian troops helped patrol the Tajik-Afghan border.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime, or UNODC, says this year's harvest of opium in Afghanistan will reach a record 6,100 metric tons. As one of six nations bordering Afghanistan, tiny, mountainous Tajikistan is at the front line in the battle to keep that heroin from reaching the rest of the world.
It's a task that Tajikistan, the poorest of former Soviet republics and one of the world's poorest nations, shoulders despite being underequipped and outmanned for the job...Read more...
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