Afghanistan’s opium trade: allowing the inevitable?

A topic we’ve kicked around before. Afghanistan has a long history with opium, and a few years of eradication policy won’t erase that. In general, I’m against crop eradication of foreign countries, but I’d welcome a discussion on this:

“Eradication has been a failure,” says Romesh Bhattacharji, former narcotics commissioner for India. “Licensing is the only alternative.” Bhattacharji was involved in a similar government-run project in India, which he says has been a success and from which Afghanistan can learn important lessons.

Crop eradication sees the poorest of the population become either even more impoverished or sent into the arms of the Taliban, says Bhattacharji. The Taliban often attack the eradication operations, and end up looking like “white knights” to the farmers, Reinert says.

The painkillers morphine and codeine are fairly easy to make from opium, and have been produced since the nineteenth century. There is a global shortage of morphine as a painkiller, especially in the developing world.


Poppy Cock

This is complete nonsense.

The Taliban ordered the poppy plants destroyed for religious reasons.

The Northern Alliance, which controlled a piece of Afghanistan under Taliban rule, and the bulk of the country post October 2001, is responsible for the opium trade in Afghanistan.

How could this writer get it so wrong, or the State Department itself ?

VIENNA: The Northern Alliance has become major opium producer after a Taliban clampdown on poppy-growing slashed world production by around 60 percent, a UN official told AFP Friday.

The Alliance, which has won US support, in its battle against the Taliban produced 150 tonnes of opium this year.

This was stated by Mohammad Amirkhizi, senior policy adviser at the UN Office of Drug Control and Crime Prevention.

“They always produce between 120 to 150 tonnes,” he explained.

On 9/30/01 the London Observer reported that British and Americans would soon enter Afghanistan to fight another drug war: to target and destroy the drugs stockpiles of the Taliban, out of fear that the Taliban plans to flood the West with 20 billion pounds worth of heroin. But three weeks later Jane’s Intelligence Review discounted this “heroin onslaught theory” as “premature:” the Taliban’s role consisted merely of taxing the illicit drug traffic, not controlling it.

In another article, Jane’s Intelligence Review reported that while “poppy cultivation has almost totally disappeared” from the areas of Afghanistan under Taliban control, “a rising tide of narcotics – both opium and the heroin refined from it” was flooding out of the northeast corner of Afghanistan under the control of America’s new anti-Taliban allies, the United Front or Northern Alliance.

The article noted that “Compared to the key [Taliban] southern and southeastern provinces – Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan and Nangahar – where most Afghan opium production has been concentrated, output from the UF-controlled zone has been small – less than 5% – of a national production estimated in 2000 at some 3,300 tonnes. However, the arrival in Badakhshan of Mashriqi opium traders, who generally provide credit to farmers, has both stimulated northeastern production and, perhaps more importantly, has turned the region into a vital conduit for southern opium and heroin moving north into Central Asia. Increased security measures and interdiction along the Afghan-Iranian and Pakistani-Iranian borders have also encouraged this shift towards northern trafficking routes.”

The claim that drug-trafficking had shifted from Taliban to Northern Alliance territory was developed further on 11/25/01 by the London Observer, which attributed the shift to the Taliban’s ban of 2000 on opium-growing: “During the ban the only source of poppy production was territory held by the Northern Alliance. It tripled its production. In the high valleys of Badakhshan – an area controlled by troops loyal to the former President Burhannudin Rabbani – the number of hectares planted last year jumped from 2,458 to 6,342. Alliance fields accounted for 83 per cent of total Afghan production of 185 tonnes of opium during the ban.