The Narco Econ­omy

Afghanistan is con­sid­ered the world's largest opium pro­duc­ing coun­try. At what cost is it pur­su­ing this ac­tiv­ity?

Southasia - - DRUGS AFGHANISTAN - By Asra Khur­shid The writer is a stu­dent at the La­hore School of Eco­nomics. She reg­u­larly writes on so­cial is­sues.

Opium, a nar­cotic drug that is ob­tained from the un­ripe seed­pods of the opium poppy is one of the world’s old­est pain re­liev­ers. Statis­tics sug­gest that Afghanistan is the world’s lead­ing opium-pro­duc­ing coun­try with Burma and Laos rank­ing sec­ond and third, re­spec­tively.

Tra­di­tion­ally, il­le­gal opium pro­duc­tion thrives on war economies and poverty. Afghanistan pro­vides ideal cir­cum­stances for poppy pro­duc­tion, es­pe­cially fol­low­ing the in­va­sions of the Soviet Union and the United States. How­ever, since the 2001 U.S. in­va­sion and the lifting of the opium ban placed by the Tal­iban regime, Afghanistan’s share in the crop’s pro­duc­tion has in­creased from 70 per­cent of the over­all global il­le­gal opium pro­duc­tion to 92 per­cent.

There are rea­sons for this rapid in­crease.

To start with, it is im­por­tant to note that opium has a his­tory in this re­gion, dat­ing back to the pro­mo­tion of its cul­ti­va­tion and glob­al­iza­tion of its trade by the Bri­tish in In­dia. In the 1960s and 1970s, opium cul­ti­va­tion shifted to South­east Asia, a decade later to Turkey and Pak­istan and then to Afghanistan.

Se­condly, and per­haps more im­por­tantly, the opium mar­ket is driven by de­mand. The de­mand is largely, and evenly, con­cen­trated in the east and west. While record­ing de­mand it is im­por­tant to take into ac­count the fact that there is also a le­gal mar­ket for opium. This mar­ket largely com­prises phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies as opium is con­sid­ered a source of mor­phine – still the most ef­fec­tive painkiller in the world.

With opium be­ing in le­gal de­mand, Afghanistan takes ad­van­tage of the op­por­tu­nity due to its sta­tus of be­ing the high­est opium pro­duc­ing coun­try in the world.

In the grand scheme of af­fairs, Afghanistan’s opium-driven econ­omy speaks much about the state-build­ing process in the coun­try. Opium ar­guably has done more than any­thing else to re­duce poverty, drive the ru­ral econ­omy up­wards and, per­haps more con­tro­ver­sially and sur­pris­ingly, support con­flict res­o­lu­tion pro­cesses.

How­ever, while Afghanistan pro­duces opium in high vol­umes, there is a need to ac­cu­rately gauge its con­se­quences. First, there is no doubt that opium poppy is con­sid­ered the best form of ‘cash trans­fer’, which means it has done more to re­duce in­come poverty and as­sure food se­cu­rity than any­thing else on of­fer.

The growth of the opium econ­omy has had im­por­tant mul­ti­plier ef­fects on the ru­ral econ­omy, cre­at­ing ac­cess to land and em­ploy­ment both on and off the farms. There is no other crop that could have done this. It can be ar­gued that opium has ar­rested a his­tor­i­cal tra­jec­tory: it has kept peo­ple at­tached to the ru­ral econ­omy.

Fur­ther­more, opium cer­tainly has been a lubri­cant for the ex­ist­ing so­cial struc­tures, since it as­sists con­flict res­o­lu­tion pro­cesses and eases the un­der­ly­ing so­cial ten­sions be­tween dif­fer­ent eth­nic and so­cial groups.

It has also sup­ported the rise of a shadow state, where the dis­tinc­tion be­tween us­ing the of­fi­cial po­si­tion for the pub­lic good and pri­vate gain merges. But one needs to be care­ful while sep­a­rat­ing the pre-ex­ist­ing pat­terns and struc­tures of bu­reau­cratic

be­hav­ior which have al­ways been dis­tinctly pat­ri­mo­nial in Afghanistan (which some would re­fer to as gov­ern­ment by re­la­tion­ships) from the di­rect con­se­quences of the opium econ­omy.

While Afghanistan’s opium econ­omy seems to have ex­pe­ri­enced a sky­rock­et­ing rise in re­cent years, cer­tain pol­icy re­sponses and in­ter­fer­ences also need to be an­a­lyzed. It is said that U.S. for­eign pol­icy sup­ports the work­ings of “a thriv­ing crim­i­nal econ­omy in which the de­mar­ca­tion be­tween or­ga­nized cap­i­tal and or­ga­nized crime has be­come in­creas­ingly blurred.”

The heroin business is not “filling the cof­fers of the Tal­iban” as claimed by the U.S. gov­ern­ment and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. Quite the op­po­site, a large part of the pro­ceeds from this il­le­gal trade are a source of wealth for pow­er­ful business and crim­i­nal in­ter­ests in western coun­tries. Th­ese in­ter­ests are sus­tained by U.S. for­eign pol­icy.

Afghanistan's econ­omy has evolved to the point where it is now highly de­pen­dent on opium. To­day 2.9 mil­lion Afgha­nis from 28 prov­inces of the coun­try are in­volved in opium cul­ti­va­tion in one way or another. This fig­ure rep­re­sents about 10 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion.

Although Afghanistan's over­all econ­omy is be­ing boosted by opium prof­its, less than 20 per­cent of the prof­its ac­tu­ally go to the farm­ers, while more than 80 per­cent are pock­eted by opium traf­fick­ers and the big names in­volved in the business. Even heftier prof­its are gen­er­ated out­side Afghanistan by in­ter­na­tional drug traf­fick­ers and deal­ers. Hence Afghanistan seems to be hand­i­capped as it can­not fully ex­ploit the sub­stan­tial prof­its gained by the mass pro­duc­tion of opium.

One of the most im­por­tant ar­gu­ments is that the Afghan drug econ­omy is seen as “pro­tected.” The heroin trade was a part of the war agenda. What this war has achieved is to re­store a com­pli­ant narco-state. Now, the pow­er­ful fi­nan­cial in­ter­ests be­hind nar­cotics are sup­ported by the mil­i­ta­riza­tion of the world’s ma­jor drug tri­an­gles (and trans­ship­ment routes).

While Afghanistan is con­sid­ered the world’s largest opium pro­duc­ing coun­try, it needs to be seen at what cost it is pur­su­ing this ac­tiv­ity. That opium is sup­ported and nur­tured as a trad­able com­mod­ity in Afghanistan is a fact. But is it the only worth­while com­mod­ity that this coun­try pro­duces? This is a ques­tion that the Afgha­nis them­selves need to ex­plore.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.