Regional Programme for Afghanistan and Neighbouring Countries

Overview

Background

Strengthening international and regional cooperation has become a man­datory element to counter illicit drugs and transnational organised crime. With drug traffickers constantly changing routes and methods, and the mo­dus operandi and activities of criminal groups constantly evolving, including into cyberspace, building joint responses at the regional, inter-regional and global level continues to be critical to counter the threat.

The UNODC Regional Programme for Afghanistan and Neighbouring Coun­tries is UNODC's key mechanism to support the countries of West and Cen­tral Asia to develop regional and international joint responses to counter the harmful impact of illicit narcotics trafficking and transnational orga­nized crime on security, governance and social and economic development. When launched in December 2011, it represented the first major initiative to focus on building cooperation between the countries in the immediate region neighbouring Afghanistan. In launching the programme, UNODC, in partnership the eight member countries recognised that the greatest impact on the illicit drugs, crime and security challenges in the region could be achieved through an integrated region­al response alongside dedicated contributions of the international community based on principles of shared responsibility. Since its launch both member and donor countries have shown strong commitment, support and political will to work together to address the region's drug and crime challenges.

These drug and crime challenges remain one of the central obstacles in the efforts to bring peace, stability, security and economic development to Afghanistan and the wider region. For well over a decade, Afghanistan has been at the epicentre of the global illicit opiate trade accounting for over 80% of production. The crime and illicit finances associated with illicit drug production are supporting insurgency and terrorism, fueling corruption and under­mining governance, increasing insecurity and vulnerability of societies. The increasing availability of illicit drugs, not only opiates but now synthetic drugs have led to a serious problem of drug addiction in some countries in the region.

In 2017, due largely to declining security in Afghanistan, the production levels of illicit opiates increased to record levels, posing an ever-increasing challenge to governments and the agencies working to counter the problem. Underneath the veneer of drug production however, the work on building regional cooperation has been bucking this negative trend.

The past two years have seen: the highest ever levels of drug and precursor seizures in the region, much of it due to increasing trust, cooperation and information sharing between countries in the region; progress on cooperation and increased technical capacity in the ability of countries to work together to counter illicit financial flows; improvements in legislation on tackling corruption in many of the countries; and, more co­operation on sharing best practices in treatment and prevention of drug abuse to name just a few areas in which progress has been made.

The Regional Programme for Afghanistan and Neighbouring Countries (RP) thus has been a timely and important platform to build and strengthen regional cooperation and is now more relevant than ever as momentum for building cooperation in the region is growing. The RP provides a neutral platform that allows member states to work together to analyse problems and threats, to share information and best practices and to develop integrated multi-national responses to tackle illicit drug cultivation, trafficking, and abuse as well as the related security, crime, development and health issues in the region.

Recent Developments

The RP provides assistance through four sub-programmes that cover four different, but integrated areas: law enforcement, legal cooperation, prevention and treatment of addiction and research, policy and advocacy.

2017 was the second year of the second four-year phase of the RP (2016 to 2019), with phase II officially launched at the annual Programme Steering Committee, which was hosted by the Kyrgyz Government at Issyk Kul in May 2016. The second phase of the RP has been building on the successes and priorities established over the first four years. It is informed by priorities as determined by the RP Member states and incorporates lessons from a formal evaluation of the first phase activities.

Operationally, 2017 was a very active year in which significant progress took place on many fronts seeing strengthened cooperation on countering illicit drugs and organised crime. The working groups were very active, with information on illicit drugs and precursors shared between the states, and operations both planned and conducted. Many regional workshops took place bringing countries together to discuss emerging threats, global best practices and responses in critical areas relating to drug trafficking, illicit financial flows, the increasing use of the internet for criminal purposes and human trafficking to name a few. An important development that came through RP supported corruption and asset recovery regional workshops, was a decision by member countries to work towards the establishment of an Asset Recovery Inter-Agency Network (ARIN) for West and Central Asia.

The countries continued to share their experiences on drug prevention, treatment and HIV prevention among vul­nerable groups under the framework of the Regional Programme and to strengthen networks and mutual support in this crucial area. There was further development and expansion of the FAST and SFP prevention programmes, which are helping protect children across the region and strengthen the capacity of families and schools to ad­dress potential risks.

A particularly significant event in 2017, was a high level international conference on "Promoting Afghanistan's Alternative Development Initiatives Amongst Regional and International Partners," which was organized by the RP and the Ministry of Counter Narcotics of Afghanistan in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, with support of the Ministry    of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan. The meeting was run back to back with the high level Regional Economic Co­operation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA VII) with support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan. Some speakers from the RECCA VII attended the AD conference and vice versa to allow sharing of ideas between the two important events. The conference was an important step in raising awareness and increasing collabo­ration within the West and Central Asia region on supporting long term sustainable AD strategies as a means of countering narcotics and promoting peace and stability in Afghanistan. In the context of the higher production levels in 2017, it allowed member countries and the wider international community to explore possibilities for new strategies and partnerships between agencies working on both drug control and development in support of Afghanistan.

 Partnership

A very important element in the RP effort is to continue to build partnerships, and the regional programme works with the various agencies and frameworks tackling drugs and crime in the region including the  Central Asian Regional Information and Coordination Centre for combating the illicit trafficking of narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances and their precursors (CARICC), the Eurasian Group on Combating Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism (EAG), the Shanghai Cooperation Organizations (SCO), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Europol, Interpol, other UN agencies and other major bilateral projects. The Regional Programme coordinates closely with both the Paris Pact Initiative and also the Heart of Asia -Istanbul Process (HoA-IP), to which UNODC is now an official observer. Both these initiatives, one more global in nature, while the other brings the states of the region together, are playing an important and active role in addressing the drug problem and the RP supports these in an operational capacity, building synergy between the two initiatives. UNODC was able to address Mem­bers States of the Heart of Asia at the annual Senior Officials' and Ministerial meetings for the first time in 2017, highlighting the practical work carried out through the RP in support of the process.

The RP will continue to serve as an import­ant platform to bring the states of the region together to share information and discuss mutual responses to the drug and crime challenges, and will continue to be responsive to address the emerging and shifting challenges in the drug and crime field.

The RP in grateful to the many individuals from the programme states, donors and the RP team for their dedication, support and hard work, without which the RP would not be the success it is.