The Risky Busi­ness of Ad­dic­tion

Afghanistan is in­fa­mous for its un­end­ing chaos and unchecked poppy pro­duc­tion. As in­ter­na­tional forces gear up to leave, con­cerns are mount­ing about es­ca­lat­ing eth­nic ten­sions and an ever-ex­pand­ing drug mar­ket in the af­ter­math.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Ta­hera Sa­jid

With for­eign forces gear­ing up to leave in 2014, Afghanistan’s poppy pro­duc­tion is ex­pected to play a vi­tal role in the coun­try’s fu­ture.

The pro­jec­tion of the 2013 re­port of the United Na­tions Of­fice on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is that Afghanistan’s con­tri­bu­tion to the world drug mar­ket will be about 92% of the to­tal opium pro­duc­tion by 2014. This re­port, Afghanistan Opium Risk As­sess­ment 2013, rightly refers to the trend as a “wor­ry­ing sit­u­a­tion.”

His­tor­i­cally speak­ing, the ear­li­est ac­count of poppy cul­ti­va­tion in Afghanistan was seen around 300 years ago. Over the years, fluc­tu­a­tions of sta­bil­ity in Afghanistan have gen­er­ally shown cor­re­spond­ing in­crease and de­crease of poppy cul­ti­va­tion trends. Af­ter join­ing the UN in 1946, Afghan King Zahir Shah placed a ban on poppy pro­duc­tion tem­po­rar­ily and Afghanistan moved steadily to­wards pros­per­ity and mod­ern­iza­tion with ex­ten­sive eco­nomic and tech­ni­cal sup­port from the U.S. in the 1950s. This lasted till 1979 when the Soviet in­va­sion halted the process. A decade of war claimed heavy loss to life and in­fra­struc­ture – de­stroy­ing roads, ir­ri­ga­tion canals, food pro­cess­ing fac­to­ries, cot­ton gins and fruit mar­kets – and the en­su­ing chaos ru­ined ma­jor eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity cre­at­ing an en­vi­ron­ment of des­per­a­tion and crime, ideal for growth and use of opium. As the Soviet forces with­drew in 1989, war­ring tribal fac­tions fought for con­trol and by 1994 the Tal­iban had emerged as the dom­i­nant force con­trol­ling al­most 80% of the land. Not much eco­nomic or so­cial progress hap­pened dur­ing Tal­iban rule and by 2000, Afghanistan’s opium pro­duc­tion reached 75% of the world’s to­tal. Hel­mand prov­ince in the South took the lead with al­most 52% and Nan­garhar prov­ince with 24% of to­tal opium pro­duc­tion

Find­ing an ef­fec­tive so­lu­tion to is­sues like opium pro­duc­tion in Afghanistan is a com­pli­cated task. As a na­tion, Afghanistan con­sti­tutes a mix of sev­eral eth­nic, lin­guis­tic, and re­gional groups fight­ing for con­trol over ter­ri­tory and re­sources.

in the coun­try.

In July 2000, Mul­lah Omar, Afghanistan’s de facto head of state, sur­pris­ingly placed a ban on opium pro­duc­tion. En­forced with strict mea­sures, even threats to life and prop­erty, this re­sulted in un­prece­dented re­duc­tion in poppy cul­ti­va­tion. The UNDCP Donor Mis­sion recorded com­plete suc­cess of the ban and con­firmed the re­sult in the An­nual Opium Poppy Sur­vey. At the Oc­to­ber 2001 ses­sion of the UN Gen­eral Assem­bly, it was ac­knowl­edged that, “…This year’s pro­duc­tion [2001] is around 185 tons. This is down from the 3300 tons last year [2000], a de­crease of over 94 per cent. Com­pared to the record har­vest of 4700 tons two years ago, the de­crease is well over 97 per cent.”

Later, how­ever, the agen­cies ob­served that the ban’s real ob­jec­tive was to cre­ate an ar­ti­fi­cial short­age to hike prices of heroin, not erad­i­ca­tion. The UNDOC re­port cau­tioned, “If Tal­iban of­fi­cials were sin­cere in stop­ping the pro­duc­tion of opium and heroin, then one would ex­pect them to or­der the de­struc­tion of all stocks ex­ist­ing in ar­eas un­der their con­trol.” Al­though, no hard ev­i­dence was found of stock­pil­ing on a large scale, the fears ex­pressed by UNODC were widely shared in the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. Af­ter the U.S.-led in­va­sion of Afghanistan in 2001 and the fall of the Tal­iban, the war­lords and drug deal­ers once again ex­ploited the chaos and soon enough the opium pro­duc­tion rose up to 85%, and has only in­creased since.

Some rea­sons for this per­sis­tence in­clude the farm­ers’ re­liance on what they con­sider depend­able in­come nec­es­sary for sur­vival. The poppy crop pays for all the food their fam­i­lies need, the stalks serve as fire­wood, its ash is used to make soap and the seeds are uti­lized for cook­ing oil. The farm­ers also lack trust in their govern­ment’s cred­i­bil­ity and abil­ity to build roads, bridges, and canals, and al­ter­nate liveli­hoods. Of­fi­cials are ac­cused of let­ting for­eign aid for agri­cul­tural projects dis­ap­pear into cor­rupt govern­ment cof­fers, and let­ting the peo­ple starve while buy­ing fancy prop­erty in Dubai and the U.S. for them­selves.

This cor­rup­tion al­legedly reaches the top lev­els of govern­ment, in­clud­ing the Pres­i­dent, Hamid Karzai him­self. His late half-brother, Wali Ahmed Karzai, was iron­i­cally also on CIA pay­roll (New York Times, July 2009). The re­port also al­leged that Pres­i­dent Karzai is re­luc­tant to check drug lords in his po­lit­i­cal power base in South­ern Afghanistan where most of the opium pro­duc­tion takes place and Wali Karzai, who was killed in 2011 by a trusted com­man­der pre­sum­ably over a drug re­lated dis­pute, was openly ac­cused of ea­gerly fill­ing in the vac­uum cre­ated by re­moval of other drug lords by the U.S. mil­i­tary and the Karzai govern­ment.

Find­ing an ef­fec­tive so­lu­tion to is­sues like opium pro­duc­tion in Afghanistan is a com­pli­cated task. As a na­tion, Afghanistan con­sti­tutes a mix of sev­eral eth­nic, lin­guis­tic, and re­gional groups fight­ing for con­trol over ter­ri­tory and re­sources. The cur­rent Afghan govern­ment’s ju­ris­dic­tion is largely in­ef­fec­tive out­side Kabul. Deep eth­nic di­vi­sions tear apart the so­ci­etal fab­ric, mil­lions are dis­placed, dis­abled and strug­gling to sur­vive, law­less­ness is a way of life, no worth­while ed­u­ca­tional or health­care sys­tem stands, and there is a huge dearth of pro­fes­sional, skilled per­son­nel. Hence, there are no short cuts or quick-fix so­lu­tions pos­si­ble in the cur­rent sce­nario. The opium prob­lem can­not be seen as an iso­lated is­sue, but rather a part of the larger bro­ken sys­tem.

For any pro­gram to be suc­cess­ful, it would have to be com­mu­nity based and not seen as be­ing im­posed from out­side. The govern­ment needs to work sin­cerely and de­liver on its prom­ises to build its cred­i­bil­ity and help the Afghan peo­ple move for­ward. The Afghan govern­ment will also need all the help it can get from the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. The world com­mu­nity needs to ac­knowl­edge that be­sides the poverty and cor­rup­tion fac­tor, it is the de­mand in the First World that en­cour­ages the heroine busi­ness; a sim­ple ques­tion of sup­ply and de­mand. The opium ben­e­fits the in­ter­na­tional drug mar­kets more than the pro­duc­ing coun­tries, as ac­knowl­edged by U.S. State Depart­ment, and quoted by the Voice of Amer­ica in a 27 Fe­bru­ary 2004 broad­cast, “Afghan heroin sells on the in­ter­na­tional nar­cotics mar­ket for 100 times the price farm­ers get for their opium right out of the field.” Clearly, erad­i­cat­ing opium pro­duc­tion is a col­lec­tive re­spon­si­bil­ity.

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