by Nadia Prupis
06 January 2011
Afghan National Security
Forces patrol an opium field in Bala Baluk, Afghanistan.
(Photo: U.S. Navy Petty
Officer 1st Class Monica R. Nelson / isafmedia)
the United Nations (UN), the US
military and the Indian government to curb opium production in Afghanistan
since 2007 have been largely ineffective, due in large part to the ties
between the drug trade and the Taliban.
Afghanistan is the world's largest producer of opium, the raw material
harvested from poppies to make heroin, as well as alkaloids like codeine and
morphine. According to two cables released this month by
Afghanistan's supply of opium exceeds the world's demand for heroin, with
its unsold stock
currently totaling 12,400 tons.
Taliban-linked drug cartels emerging along the
southern border of the country, where 99 percent of production takes place,
influence the majority of poppy cultivation by coercing farmers into growing
the crops for a strong and well-supplied insurgency.
According to Antonio Maria Costa, former executive director of the UN Office
of Drug and Crime (UNODC), the cartels treat the excess stock like a
"savings account," a practice that could pose a serious threat to peace
efforts if it is used to fund the Taliban insurgency.
UN released a report in October stating that Afghanistan's opium
production dropped by nearly half from 2009 levels - however, the decrease
was not due to military efforts, but rather the spread of a disease that
affected opium fields in Kandahar and Helmand province after crops started
According to the report, poppy cultivation levels remained the same and were
particularly high in the insecure southern and western areas.
"These regions are dominated by insurgency
and organized crime networks," UNODC executive director Yury Fedotov
stated in a press release.
"This underscored the link between poppy
cultivation and insecurity in Afghanistan, a trend we have observed
Costa told the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization (NATO) during a September 2009 briefing that,
"High cultivation trends were linked to the
insurgency presence, particularly in areas with an absence of Afghan
governance structures and security stability."
The drug trade in the south of the country is
compounded by Afghan President Hamid Karzai's
granting early releases to well-connected suspects.
Karzai also pardoned five border police officers, who were caught with 124
kilograms of heroin and sentenced to serve 16 to 18 years in prison each,
"on the grounds that they were distantly related to two individuals who had
been martyred during the civil war."
In February 2007, then-President Bush
told reporters in a speech that the
United States was supporting Karzai in his efforts to end both the
cultivation of opium and the corruption that compounds the country's drug
"[We're] helping the president in a variety
of ways to deal with the problem," Bush said at the time.
"One way to
deal with the drug problem is for there to be a push back to the drug
dealers, and a good way to push back on the drug dealers is to convict
them and send them to jail."
Further complicating the drug trade in
Afghanistan are the actions of the country's neighbors, particularly
Pakistan, according to Afghan Minister of Defense Abdul Rahim Wardak.
Wardak told Afghanistan Ambassador Karl Eikenberry during a December 2009 briefing that the Pakistani army was
helping the Afghan Taliban find sanctuary in areas "deeper into Pakistan."
National Intelligence Estimates (NIE) reports released earlier in December
concluded that the war in Afghanistan cannot be won without Pakistani forces
helping to root out Taliban militants on their borders.
Foreign policy expert and Boston University professor Stephen Kinzer agrees
that the drug trade in Afghanistan cannot be tackled solely as a US military
"Trying to curb the poppy production could
be… a real serious interest of [the US]," Kinzer said. "However, like
most of our problems in Afghanistan, this one cannot be solved by us
alone. It can only be solved on a regional basis."
Ending heroin production is,
"a great example of a social and political
interest that the US shared with Iran, but we're telling them if they
don't cooperate on a nuclear issue, there will be no other cooperation.
Our policy towards Iran is self-defeating," Kinzer said.
military action alone, no matter how focused and how intense, is not
going to change the situation in a substantial way."
Rather than fighting the cultivation through
military efforts, Kinzer said, the US government should purchase the annual
poppy crop from Afghan farmers for an estimated $3-4 billion a year -
same amount spent on the war in Afghanistan every month.
The AP recently reported that 700 soldiers died in Afghanistan in 2010,
making it the deadliest year so far in the nine-year war.
Much of the violence is centered in the southern
part of the country, where the Afghan army being trained by US forces is
often the main target of Taliban attacks.