Last summer's poppy harvest is estimated to have earned
US$3-billion for its growers, equivalent to 52% of Afghanistan's GDP.
Drug dealers further downstream stand to make 20 times that amount
as they pump heroin, refined from poppies grown on Afghan farms,
into the very countries whose NATO soldiers are risking their lives
to restore law and order in Afghanistan.
AFGHAN NARCO-STATE NOW
Armed convoys transport raw opium around the country unhindered.
Sometimes even army and police vehicles are involved.
Guns and bribes ensure that the trucks are waved through checkpoints.
Opiates flow freely across borders
into Iran, Pakistan and other Central Asian countries.
One land's 'Achilles heel'
Drug trade permeates every aspect of life in this war-ravaged country
by Peter Goodspeed, National Post, Jan 16, 2007
Five years after the fall of the Taliban, Afghanistan remains hooked on opium. The drug trade has become the country's largest employer, its biggest export and the largest source of income and credit in a land devastated by decades of war.
Opium permeates the countryside: it is grown on 3% of the farmland and employs up to 13% of all Afghans as growers, migrant labourers, guards and transport workers. So pervasive is the trade that Afghanistan is at risk of becoming a lawless narco-state where drug dealers will determine who holds power. Even now it is a major source of corruption that undermines the fledgling government of President Hamid Karzai and is the chief source of funds for regional warlords and Taliban terrorists.
Without cash from opium, says U.S. Marine General James Jones, the former supreme commander of NATO, the Taliban could not afford to continue their insurgency. "I think the Achilles heel of Afghanistan is the narcotics problems," he testified recently in Washington. "I think the uncontrolled rise of the spread of narcotics, the business that it brings in, the money that it generates, is being used to fund the insurgency, criminal elements and anything to bring chaos and disorder."
Last summer's poppy harvest is estimated to have earned US$3-billion for its growers, equivalent to 52% of Afghanistan's GDP. Drug dealers further downstream stand to make 20 times that amount as they pump heroin, refined from poppies grown on Afghan farms, into the very countries whose NATO soldiers are risking their lives to restore law and order in Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan itself, decades of war and poverty and the ready availability of heroin are creating thousands of new drug addicts, further fuelling the country's lawlessness and contributing to the growing spread of HIV/AIDS there, in the neighbouring states of Pakistan and Iran, and elsewhere in Central Asia. By some estimates, Afghanistan, with a population of 24 million, may already have as many as 500,000 heroin addicts.
According to the World Bank, "Afghanistan's drug economy" is widely considered to be one of the greatest threats to state building, reconstruction and development in Afghanistan. "It constitutes an enormous injection of income into Afghanistan's battered rural economy and any abrupt shrinkage or falling opium prices without new means of livelihood would significantly worsen rural poverty."
For many Afghan farmers, opium is their only real cash crop. They grow other crops for subsistence. Poppies are generally drought-resistant and easier to cultivate than wheat in war ravaged areas where irrigation is limited. They are also labour intensive, providing work to desperate migrant workers.
Last year, foreign aid pumped millions of dollars into Afghanistan's economy in an effort to create jobs and a future for its people, but the drug trade pumped in more than twice as much cash. "Drug money is a source of land and credit, seasonal employment, a virtually guaranteed market, high financial returns and secondary multiplier effects (such as demand for goods on local bazaars, construction, etc.)," says a World Bank report on the finances of Afghanistan's opium trade. Drug money dominates the country's informal banking system, the financial transfer system known as hawala, says the bank. Impoverished farmers get loans and cash advances from shopkeepers, traders and relatives based on the expected return from their poppies. They repay their debts with opium after the harvest. While Kabul has undergone a minor economic boom thanks to an influx of international aid and foreign workers, outlying provinces such as Canadian-patrolled Kandahar are also undergoing dramatic transformation, much of it based on the drug trade.
"There are changes there," says Sean Maloney, an historian at the Kingston, Ont., Royal Military College who has travelled extensively in Afghanistan. "There is work in Kandahar for people who want it. There is construction all over. There is significant construction. Some cynical people say it's all on drug dealers' houses -- fair enough. "But it is still construction and it still provides work for people. There are even car dealerships in Kandahar now."
Generally, the drug trade thrives in a climate of lawlessness and violence, both of which have never been in short supply in Afghanistan. There seems to be a direct relationship between weak government, insecurity and illegal drugs. The southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, home of the Taliban and centre of the recent insurgency, account for most of the opium cultivation. Helmand alone produces about 40%. As violence has surged in Afghanistan in the past year, so has the opium trade.
UN and World Bank officials estimate the poppy crop grew by a staggering 59% last year and say it now accounts for 92% of the world's heroin.
Now there are fears this burgeoning trade could derail the new government's state-building and reform plans. The credibility of Afghanistan's anti-drug policy may be closely tied to the credibility and legitimacy of the new government, says Antonio Maria Costa, head of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime. "Counter-insurgency and counter-narcotics are two sides of the same coin," he says. "Improving security and the rule of law must include destroying the opium trade."
But the drug trade is so pervasive in rural Afghanistan some experts insist it will be impossible to stamp it out simply through crop eradication programs. Destroying the only cash crop impoverished farmers can rely on to feed their families will drive them into the Taliban camp, says Anatol Lieven, a researcher with the New America Foundation in Washington. "You can't simply cut that off without reimpoverishing much of the population and, of course, risking political disaster," he says. "It's a complex problem." Short-term, quick-fix strategies, including outright bans, forced eradication and aerial spraying, won't work, he warns. They could also provide the Taliban with a recruiting strategy. Before the opium trade can be rooted out, there must be alternatives to poppy cultivation -- new markets for new crops and new money in the pockets of poor farmers. That means strengthening the Afghan state and establishing sustainable rural development projects for millions of families.
One group, the Senlis Council, a London-based security and development think-tank, suggests Afghan farmers should be licensed to grow opium for production of medicines such as morphine and codeine, for which there is a worldwide shortage, particularly in developing countries. "A licensing system could offer a legal income to many of the Afghans currently involved in the illegal drug trade, whilst also providing much-needed pain-relieving medicines to the world," says Julian Mattocks, a Senlis spokesman. "Rather than destroying rural livelihoods, as do the proposed crop eradication programs, opium licensing would maintain them. Opium licensing would also contribute to the creation of the rule of law in Afghanistan because it is in itself a system of control."
Others argue crop eradication programs have only fuelled official corruption in Afghanistan, encouraging farmers to bribe police not to destroy their crops. Some district and provincial police posts are rumoured to be sold to the highest bidder for as much as $100,000 for a six-month appointment, even though the jobs pay a monthly salary of only $60. Some provincial governors and senior government officials have also been accused of being major players in the drug trade.
"The Afghan state is at risk of takeover by a malign coalition of extremists, criminals and opportunists," says Mr. Costa. "Opium money is corrupting Afghan society from top to bottom. High-level collusion enables thousands of tons of chemical precursors needed to produce heroin to be trucked into the country. Armed convoys transport raw opium around the country unhindered. Sometimes even army and police vehicles are involved. Guns and bribes ensure that the trucks are waved through checkpoints. Opiates flow freely across borders into Iran, Pakistan and other Central Asian countries. "History teaches us that it will take a generation to render Afghanistan opium-free."
England growing heroin poppies (says it's opium for morphine) & A world awash in heroin (92% - 6,100 tons - from Afghanistan facilitated by 14 foreign armies). EveStand/Economist Jul 18, 2007
Foreign Armies in Afghanistan
NATO DYING FOR DRUG TRADE
OPIUM WARS WITHIN
IN AFGHAN FIELDS and AFGHANISTAN REMEMBERED
DRUG WAR IS PEACE
35.The Brotherhood and 2. Big Brother and 5.Pyramidal New World Order
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