The War On Drugs: The Afghan Front

As part of the war in Afghanistan, the United States and its allies have engaged in an effort to wipe out the opium trade that has existed in that part of the world. Not surprisingly, their efforts have been less than successful:

U.S. and European efforts to end heroin production in Afghanistan have done little to hamper the drug industry and have hurt the country’s poorest people, according to a new report by the United Nations and the World Bank.

The report, released today, is the latest indication of the difficulties faced by the British-led effort to eradicate Afghanistan’s opium crop, which drives the economy in parts of the embattled nation and has helped to fund a resurgence of the Taliban. The report says the production of opium, whose poppies are used to make heroin, permeates daily life in Afghanistan and eliminating the illegal drug trade there could take decades.

If anything, the eradication effort seems to have increased the importance of opium to Afghanistan’s economy as it creates shortages and drives up prices:

The opium trade accounts for about $2.7 billion in Afghanistan’s economy — equal to more than one-third of the nation’s gross domestic product — and is responsible for thousands of jobs, the report says. The Taliban government, which had harbored al-Qaeda, virtually eliminated opium production in 2001, before U.S.-led forces toppled it. Production has soared since, even as the United States and its allies have stepped up efforts to kill fields of opium and persuade farmers to grow other crops.

Opium has remained the nation’s most lucrative crop by far, and drug traffickers — through incentives and intimidation — have kept farmers in the opium business across Afghanistan, which the United Nations says produces about 87% of the world’s opium. Last year, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, Afghanistan produced 4,100 metric tons of opium, nearly as much as the biggest harvest in 1999. The United Nations predicts a record harvest in 2007.

And, not surprisingly, the War on Afghan Drugs has led to other criminal activities:

Counter-narcotics efforts also have fueled corruption, the report says. Farmers who can afford it have bribed local officials to preserve opium crops, while the poorest farmers have been driven deeper into debt when their crops are destroyed, the report says. Investigators found several instances in which farmers planned to replant opium to pay their debts.

The report also says local government officials sometimes help drug lords drive competitors out of the market in exchange for a cut of the profits or protection payments.

Anyone who’s followed the War on Drugs in the United States and South America would not be surprised by this at all.

  • VRB

    I wish I could remember the source, but I had read of an effort to get pharmaceuticals involved with purchasing opium, in order to wean the drug trade from its illegal activities.

  • Adam Selene

    I bet that the US government could buy 90% of the Afghan opium product at a 10% premium for a lot less than the approximately $40 billion we spend no having a paramilitary police capability and prisons filled with people charged with possession crimes. Did anyone know that today there are 30 million convicted felons in the United States? That’s ridiculous. There are more convicted felons in this country than all of Europe. How many of them are non-violent criminals who never violated anyone else’s rights?

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