Drug Trade, Crime and the Taliban in Afghanistan Essay

Drug Trade, Crime and the Taliban in AfghanistanThe drug trade is a central feature of Afghanistan’s economy. (Sullum, 2007) That was not always the case, however. (Sullum, 2007)  Before the Soviet invasion in 1979, Afghanistan was not a major factor in the drug trade. But the Soviet occupation and resulting insurgency by Islamic forces devastated the country’s infrastructure, making it nearly impossible to continue the traditional forms of agriculture and other economic activities.

(Sullum, 2007) In addition, various factions in the anti- Soviet Afghan resistance discovered that trafficking in drugs was a reliable and extensive source of revenue. (Sullum, 2007)  Afghanistan gradually became one of the leading sources of opium poppies and, therefore, the heroin supply. (Sullum, 2007) There has been a steady upward trend in opium production for more than two decades. (Sullum, 2007) Very little has changed on the drug front following the end of the Soviet occupation. (Sullum, 2007)  Violent political factionalism convulsed Afghanistan in the 1990s, gradually coalescing into a civil war between the radical Islamic Taliban regime in Kabul (dominated by the Pashtuns, the largest ethnic group in the country) and the predominantly Uzbek and Tajik Northern Alliance. Both sides were extensively involved in the drug trade to finance their war efforts. (Sullum, 2007) When Taliban forces overran Kabul on Sept 27, 1996, they imposed their highly restrictive version of Sharia, including numerous rules not sanctioned by the Koran. (Sullum, 2007)Despite their claim to a strict Islamic state, the Taliban chose to ignore the prohibition against drugs because they were directly profiting from it.

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(Taylor, 2004) US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) reports show that Afghan opium production dropped to 415 tons in 1990, but in 1997, under Taliban rule, more than 2,800 tons were cultivated. (Taylor, 2004) By 2000, Afghanistan produced a staggering 3,656 tons, 70% of the world’s opium crop. (Taylor, 2004)According to the US Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, the Taliban impose a tax of 10% to 20% upon people who grow, process, transport or sell opiates opium, morphine base and heroin. The Taliban make money on each step, reaping $40 to $50 million (1.79 million to 2.

23 billion baht) a year in revenues. (Leary, 2007)Seeking international recognition from the United Nations, as well as several hundred million dollars in additional aid, the Taliban placed a ban on the growing of opium in July 2000. (Leary, 2007) As a result, the official calculation of the Afghan opium crop for 2001 fell to just 74 tons.

(Leary, 2007)In spite of the reduction in opium cultivation, the flow of drugs out of Afghanistan remained the same, and even increased in the Central Asian republics. (Carpenter, 2004)The United Nations Drug Control Program estimates that Afghanistan might have stockpiled as much as 60% of its opium production each year since 1996. As a result, the ban on opium was little more than a public relations and marketing ploy. (Carpenter, 2004)Since the U.

S. forces  Northern Alliance allies overthrew the Taliban in late 2001, the drug commerce has been even more prominent. (Carpenter, 2004) According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the trade now amounts to approximately $2.3 billion—more than half as much as impoverished Afghanistan’s legitimate annual gross domestic product. (Carpenter, 2004)The International Monetary Fund calculates that the drug trade makes up at least 40 percent and perhaps as much as 60 percent of the country’s entire GDP.

Today, Afghanistan accounts for approximately 75 percent of the world’s opium supply. (Afghanistan Drug Production, n.d.) Production is soaring CIA figures reportedly show cultivation approaching250,000 acres, up more than 60 percent from the 2003 levels.

(Afghanistan Drug Production, n.d.)  The previous record was160,000 acres in 2000.26 Such record acreage could produce perhaps as much as 7,200 metric tons of opium gum (the raw ingredient for heroin). A survey of farmers’ intentions published by the UNODC in February 2004 pointed to the likelihood of a record crop. (Afghanistan Drug Production, n.d.) Sixty-nine percent of all poppy farmers surveyed indicated that they intended to increase the acreage under cultivation, whereas only four percent intended to reduce it.

Some 264,000 families are estimated to be involved in growing opium poppies. (Afghanistan Drug Production, n.d.)It is likely that 20 to 30 percent of the population is involved directly or indirectly in the drug trade. (Carpenter, 2004) For many of those people, opium poppy crops and other aspects of drug commerce are the difference between modest prosperity and destitution. They will not look kindly on efforts to destroy their livelihood. (Carpenter, 2004) That is especially true of the Pashtun farmers in southern and eastern Afghanistan, the core of Karzai’s political constituency.

A Western official associated with the anti-narcotics effort conceded that U.S. drug war hawks who want to see U.S. troops become involved in interdiction and eradication efforts do not fully understand the possible ramifications. (Carpenter, 2004) The local farmers are not willing to forgo their only source of income to save American addicts. (Carpenter, 2004)The response of the United States and its coalition partners to this dilemma is to emphasize crop substitution programs as well as eradication of the opium crop. (Carpenter, 2004)The idea is to bribe farmers into growing legal crops instead of poppies.

Crop substitution is a strategy with a long and undistinguished pedigree. (Carpenter, 2004) Since the mid-1980s, Washington has pursued a similar policy in the drug source countries of South America. (Carpenter, 2004) Virtually all of those programs have failed, most of them dismally.

(Carpenter, 2004)Economic realities doom crop substitution schemes. (Carpenter, 2004) Afghan farmers can typically make between 10 and 30 times as much growing opium poppies as they can any legal crop. (Carpenter, 2004) The prohibitionist policy that the United States and other drug-consuming countries continue to pursue guarantees a huge black-market premium for all illegal drugs. (Carpenter, 2004) Drug traffickers can pay whatever price is necessary to get farmers to cultivate drug crops and still enjoy an enormous profit for their portion of the supply pipeline. Legal crops simply cannot compete financially. (Carpenter, 2004)The same problem undermines more ambitious economic development schemesto give drug crop farmers nonagricultural alternatives. Indeed, the South Americanexperience indicates that such programs often simply provide additional capital andother benefits to those who have no intention of abandoning the drug trade. (Zia, 2006)  For example, aid monies to improve the transportation infrastructure in recipient countries by building modern roads into remote areas (an effort now underway in Afghanistan as well)make it easier for drug farmers to get their crops to market and may open new areas to drug cultivation by warehousing opium, the Taliban have driven up the price.

According to the DEA, before the July 2000 prohibition, a kilo of Afghan opium was $44 (1,960 baht). (Zia, 2006) A few months later, the price jumped to $350 to $400 a kilo (15,620 to 17,860 baht).The cost of heroin also increased at similar levels from $579 (25,850 baht) a kilo in July 2000 to $4,564 (203,740 baht) this year. Much of the profits go straight into Taliban coffers. (Zia, 2006) Following the terrorist attacks on the United States on Sept 11, Afghan drug dealers, anticipating reprisals that would disrupt processing and distribution channels, reduced the price of opium, creating a surplus of cheap drugs. (Zia, 2006)  Heroin labs scattered along the borders of Pakistan and the Central Asian republics are doing a booming business in spite of the Taliban claims that they have been destroyed. In 1998, virtually all of the heroin labs in Pakistan moved into Afghanistan where the Taliban protected them.

Large processing labs are also located in southern Afghanistan, near the Taliban headquarters at Kandahar. (Zia, 2006) The provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, both Taliban strongholds, are two primary areas for the cultivation of opium poppy. Afghanistan does not produce anhydride and other chemicals used in the processing of heroin. (Zia, 2006)  These chemicals, often labeled as cleaning agents or hidden inside consumer products, are shipped in from China, India, Pakistan and the Central Asian republics.

(Zia, 2006) The steady seizure of drug-related chemicals destined for Afghanistan since the ban on opium cultivation indicates Afghan labs are still producing heroin. Several clues confirm that heroin production has not been adversely affected. Seizures of heroin, morphine base and opium along the transit routes of Pakistan, Iran and the Central Asian republics have not decreased. (Zia, 2006)According to a recent report from the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, 19,047 hectares of poppies were eradicated in Afghanistan this year, 24 percent more than in 2006.

(Leary, 2007)Meanwhile, the number of opium-free provinces more than doubled, from six to 13. (Gehr, 2004)Those victories were somewhat overshadowed by the news that the total amount of land devoted to opium poppies in Afghanistan rose from 165,000 to 193,000 hectares, an increase of 17 percent. Due to “favorable weather conditions,” estimated opium production rose even more, hitting an all-time high of 8,200 metric tons, 34 percent more than the previous record, set last year. (Gehr, 2004) Since their efforts have had precisely the opposite of the result they intended, U.S. drug warriors plan to try harder, calling for more eradication, possibly including aerial spraying of herbicide, and more interdiction.

(Gehr, 2004) Over the long term, if history is any guide, these supply reduction measures will have little or no impact on heroin consumption. (Gehr, 2004)Over the short term, they will continue to strengthen the Taliban insurgency. (Gehr, 2004)The U.N. report emphasizes that poppy growing is becoming increasingly concentrated in the southern provinces where the Taliban are strongest.

(Gehr, 2004) Having forgotten whatever religious scruples they may once have had about the opium trade, the Taliban make money by charging poppy farmers for protection and taxing traffickers at checkpoints, a fund-raising opportunity created by U.S. demands that the Afghan government wipe out a crop the U.N. says accounts for one-third of the Afghan economy. (Gehr, 2004) “Afghanistan’s drug money corrupts the government, weakens institutions, and strengthens the Taliban,” says a new report from the U.S.

State Department. (Gehr, 2004)The State Department draws exactly the wrong conclusion from this situation, saying “the increasing linkage between the region’s major drug trafficking organizations and insurgencies prompts the need to elevate the drug enforcement mission and integrate it appropriately into the comprehensive security strategy.” (Gehr, 2004)In fact, the “drug enforcement mission,” which alienates Afghans from their government, helps fund the insurgency, and distracts NATO and Afghan forces from the central goal of reducing violence and establishing order, is fundamentally at odds with the “security strategy.” (Gehr, 2004)The U.N. says this year’s opium output, which represents 93 percent of the illicit world supply, “exceeds global demand by a large margin,” indicating a stockpile of thousands of tons. (Carpenter, 2004)Despite their concerns that opium profits are helping to fund terrorism, U.

S. and U.N. drug warriors seem intent on raising the value of that stockpile by curtailing production. (Carpenter, 2004)Even if they’re successful, they cannot reasonably hope to have a lasting impact on heroin availability. (Carpenter, 2004) If cracking down on opium production in some Afghan provinces simply shifts it to others, cracking down on opium production throughout Afghanistan will simply shift it to other countries. (Carpenter, 2004)That has been the general pattern during the last century of opium “eradication,” which might more accurately be called opium relocation.

(Carpenter, 2004)A decade ago, Pino Arlacchi, then the head of the U.N.’s anti-drug program, declared that “global coca leaf and opium poppy acreage totals an area less than half the size of Puerto Rico,” so “there is no reason it cannot be eliminated.” (Carpenter, 2004)For a less optimistic man, the fact that such a tiny percentage of the earth’s surface is needed to supply the world with heroin and cocaine would be cause to doubt the effectiveness of eradication. (Carpenter, 2004)The war on drugs is interfering with the U.S.

effort to destroy Al Qaeda and theTaliban in Afghanistan. (Carpenter, 2004)U.S. officials increasingly want to eradicate drugs as well as nurture Afghanistan’s embryonic democracy, symbolized by the pro-Western regime of President Hamid Karzai. They need to face the reality that it is not possible to accomplish both objectives. (Carpenter, 2004)Despite those daunting economic realities, the U.

S. government is putting increased pressure on the fragile Karzai government to crack down on drug crop cultivation. (Carpenter, 2004) The Afghan regime is responding. In late September 2004, Afghan police and security forces destroyed 47 laboratories used to refine heroin from opium and seized 61 tons of narcotics in a series of raids near the border with Pakistan. (Carpenter, 2004)It has been argued that organized crime groups differ from other crime groups inthat they specialize in enterprise as opposed to predatory crimes, have a durable hierarchical structure, employ systemic violence (or the threat of it) and corruption, obtain abnormally high rates of return relative to other criminal activities or organizations, and extend their activities into the legal economy. (Zia, 2006) Others have opted for a broader definition consisting of organizations that have durability, hierarchy and involvement in a multiplicity of criminal activities. (Zia, 2006)            Eradication efforts are a vehicle for corruption, with farmers being forced to payin order not to have their opium poppy crop eradicated, police confiscating drugs andthen selling them on and/or returning part of the seizure in return for a payment,favoritism on the part of government officials toward associates in the drug industrywhile cracking down on “competitors” to drive them out of the market, and moregenerally larger “protection payments” being exacted.

(Zia, 2006) As a result largely of corruption and other irregularities in enforcement, the impact tends to be felt most by the weakest and poorest actors involved in the opium economy (poor rural households), who lack political support, are unable to pay bribes, and cannot otherwise protect themselves. (Zia, 2006) The credibility of enforcement efforts is gravely weakened by the corruption in implementation, detracting from the moral legitimacy of the fight against drugs.There are also clear signs that the changing (and generally tightening) environmentagainst narcotics is contributing to a consolidation of the drug industry around fewer, more powerful, and politically connected actors, with compromise of key institutionslike the Ministry of Interior (MoI) and police and involvement by other security forces.

(Zia, 2006) Findings both at the field level (small-scale opium traders) and from interviews with knowledgeable sources point toward increasing organization of “protection” for the drug industry in a criminalized environment, with some government agencies and leaders playing an important role in this, and with smaller and more marginal actors increasingly being left out and often becoming targets of enforcement efforts. These trends could have potentially serious adverse implications for the future — making the fight against drugs all the more difficult. (Zia, 2006)U.S. pressure on the Karzai government is a big mistake. (Carpenter, 2004)The Taliban and their Al Qaeda allies are resurgent in Afghanistan, especially in the southern part of the country. (Carpenter, 2004) If zealous American drug warriors alienate hundreds of thousands of Afghan farmers, the Karzai government’s hold on power, which is none too secure now, could become even more precarious. (Carpenter, 2004)Washington would then face the unpalatable choice of letting radical Islamists regain power or sending more U.

S. troops to suppress the insurgency. (Carpenter, 2004)U.S. officials need to keep their priorities straight.

Our mortal enemy is Al Qaeda and the Taliban regime that made Afghanistan into a sanctuary for that terrorist organization. (Carpenter, 2004) The drug war is a dangerous distraction in the campaign to destroy those forces. (Carpenter, 2004) Recognizing that security considerations sometimes trump other objectives would hardly be an unprecedented move by Washington.

U.S. agencies quietly ignored the drug trafficking activities of anti-communist factions in Central America during the 1980swhen the primary goal was to keep those countries out of the Soviet orbit(Carpenter, 2004) In the early1990s, the United States also eased its pressure on Peru’s government regarding the drug eradication issue when President Alberto Fujimori concluded that a higher priority had to be given to winning coca farmers away from the Maoist Shining Path guerrilla movement. (Carpenter, 2004) U.S. officials should adopt a similar pragmatic policy in Afghanistan and look the other way regarding the drug-trafficking activities of friendly warlords.

(Carpenter, 2004) And above all, the U.S. military must not become the enemy of Afghan farmers whose livelihood depends on opium poppy cultivation. (Carpenter, 2004)Some of the funds from the drug trade will find their way into the coffers of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. (Carpenter, 2004)That is an inevitable side effect of a global prohibitionist policy that creates such an enormous profit from illegal drugs.

(Carpenter, 2004) But alienating pro-Western Afghan factions in an effort to disrupt the flow of revenue to the Islamic radicals is too high a price to pay. (Carpenter, 2004) Washington should stop putting pressure on the Afghan government to pursue crop eradication programs and undermine the economic well-being of its own population. (Carpenter, 2004)U.S. leaders also should refrain from trying to make U.S. soldiers into anti-drug crusaders; they have a difficult enough job fighting their terrorist adversaries in Afghanistan. (Carpenter, 2004)Even those policymakers who oppose ending the war on drugs as a general matter ought to recognize that, in this case, the war against radical Islamic terrorism must take priority.

(Carpenter, 2004)“Afghanistan Drug Production” (n.d.) Retrieved October 4th, 2008 from Asian Harm Reduction network website: http://www.ahrn.net/index.php?option=content;task=view;id=1441;Itemid=2Carpenter, T. (2004). “How the Drug War in Afghanistan UnderminesAmerica’s War on Terror” CATO Institute Foreign Policy Briefing No.

84, November 4th, 2004.Sullum, J. (2007) “America’s Taliban Support Program” Retrieved October 4th, 2008 from Reason Online website:  http://www.reason.com/news/show/122295.htmlZia, A. (2006) “Afghanistan: Drug Industry and Counter-Narcotics Policy”.

Retrieved October 4th, 2008 from World Bank website:http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/COUNTRIES/SOUTHASIAEXT/0,,contentMDK:21133060~pagePK:146736~piPK:146830~theSitePK:223547,00.htmlTaylor, F.

(2004) “A Global perspective on Terrorism and Organized Crime” Retrieved October 4th, 2008 from U.S. Department of State website http://www.state.

gov/m/ds/rls/rm/31861.htmGehr, W. (2004) “United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Assists Afghanistan in Drafting Laws against Crime and Terrorism” Retrieved October 4th, 2008 from United Nations Information Services website:http://www.unis.unvienna.org/unis/pressrels/2004/unisnar870.htmlLeary, M (2007) “Crime Fighters Arrive in Afghanistan” Retrieved October 4th, 2008 from US Department of Defense website:http://www.defendamerica.mil/articles/jul2007/a071607ej1.html;


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