Production of opium reached record levels in Afghanistan in 2004, the UN reports. According to the United Nations Information Service on Nov. 25, 2004 ( "Record Opium Cultivation In Afghanistan Is A Threat To Central Asia And CIS Countries"), "According to the Afghanistan Opium Survey 2004, just released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), opium cultivation in Afghanistan grew by 64 per cent in 2004, a statistic which promises increased trafficking and a steady supply of high-grade heroin for Central Asia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Announcing the Survey findings to the Permanent Council of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of UNODC, stated, 'With 131,000 hectares dedicated to opium farming, this year Afghanistan has established a double record -- the highest drug cultivation in the country’s history, and the largest in the world.'"
According to the release, "According to the UN report '…opium cultivation has spread to all of Afghanistan’s 32 provinces, making narcotics the main engine of economic growth: valued at US$2.8 billion, the opium economy is now equivalent to over 60 per cent of Afghanistan’s 2003 GDP.' This increase in cultivation also represents a growing and significant health risk: 30 per cent of the heroin produced in Afghanistan leaves the country via Central Asia, a region where heroin addiction, the accompanying risk of HIV/AIDS, and drug-related deaths are on the rise."
The situation has gotten so out of hand that the newly-elected Afghan government is considering an amnesty offer to traffickers. The Financial Times reported on Jan. 10, 2005 ( "Afghanistan Considers Amnesty For Drug Traffickers") that "Afghan officials said the government needed to ponder unorthodox approaches to combat an industry that has ballooned over the past three years, awarding huge means to drug traffickers that overshadow those of the government that is trying to fight them. If you're in the UK and you have the luxury of state institutions, you dont have to do this. But in Afghanistan you have to be pragmatic and consider different solutions given the precarious security situation, said Hanif Atmar, minister of rural rehabilitation and development. One possibility was to offer to protect traffickers from prosecution if they put their ill-gotten gains to work in the countrys rehabilitation, he said."
According to the FT, "Some western officials in Kabul expressed cautious support for the proposition on Monday but said discussions were at an early stage. The proposition was in keeping with the governments offer of amnesty to moderate members of the former Taliban regime they said. They warned that the practicalities of an amnesty - such as how it would be applied and towards whom - would be complicated and could run counter to other initiatives, such as the recent formation of a judicial task force to target high-profile traffickers. Offering an olive branch to some traffickers while putting others in jail would send a mixed message, they said."
The FT notes that "Afghanistan and its international allies have pledged to spend more than $800m this year on a counternarcotics programme that includes opium poppy-eradication, economic alternatives for farmers and arresting traffickers. But they are struggling to find a middle line between aggressive policies and outright war with the powerful druglords. Mr Atmar, minister for rural rehabilitation and development, said drug traffickers made about $2.2bn inside Afghanistans borders last year. Their drug industry was so intertwined with the provincial power structures as to be indistinguishable, he said. They have $2.2bn to destroy our police, our army and our administration. If money determines loyalty, then you have a problem here, he said. The lines between a druglord and a warlord are [completely] blurred. One western security adviser who is familiar with drug policy called the idea insane. What would they offer amnesty in exchange for? That they wouldn't do it again? he asked."
A March 2004 conference in Berlin resulted in billions of dollars of pledges in aid for Afghanistan. As the Australian Broadcasting Corporation/Radio Australia reported April 1, 2004 ( "Donors Pledge $US8 Billion To Afghanistan") that "Afghanistan says donor nations have pledged more than $US8 billion in aid over the next three years. The country's finance minister, Ashraf Ghani, made the announcement at an international conference in Berlin, saying almost $4.5 billion has been promised for this year alone. Mr Ghani has described the pledge as very generous, and essential to help rebuild the war-ravaged nation. The figure of $8.2 billion falls short of the Kabul government's three-year goal of almost $12 billion, but is broadly in line with what officials had been predicting earlier."
The UN is highly concerned about development efforts in Afghanistan. The Financial Times reported on March 29, 2004 ( "Afghan Economy 'At Risk Of Relying On Drug Trade'"), that the UN Development Program (UNDP) warns that "Afghanistan is in danger of reverting to an economy entirely dependent on the illegal drug trade and a "terrorist breeding ground" unless the international community significantly increases development funding to the war-torn country. The warning comes in a UN Development Programme ( UNDP ) report to be presented to the international Afghanistan conference opening in Berlin on Wednesday. The report, obtained by the Financial Times, complains that "aid . . . has been much lower than expected or promised. In comparison to other conflict or post-conflict situations, Afghanistan appears to have been neglected"."
The Afghan economy is in miserable condition, which makes it nearly impossible to contain the illicit drug trade. According to the Financial Times, "The report, which compiles the UN's latest data on Afghanistan, says the country's $4bn estimated gross domestic product is small compared with the $14bn in "military costs" spent annually in Afghanistan by western powers. More than half the population live in extreme poverty, and only Sierre Leone ranks below Afghanistan on the UNDP's human development index. Life expectancy is below 50. In Badakshan, northern Afghanistan, a maternal mortality rate of 6,500 per 100,000 is the "highest ever recorded in any part of the world", the report says. The reliance on poppy production for drugs has become part of ordinary people's "coping strategy", especially as only 37 per cent of poppy-producing households are poor, compared with 54 per cent of those not involved in poppy production."
Stopping Afghani production and trafficking of opium and heroin is someone else's responsibility, according to the commander of US forces in the Persian Gulf region, Gen. Tommy Franks. The New York Times reported on Oct. 30, 2002 ( "US To Add To Forces In Horn Of Africa") that "General Franks said resolving the issue was up to the Afghans and nonmilitary agencies."
According to the Times, "One area American troops will stay clear of is drug interdiction, Gen. Franks said. Opium production in Afghanistan skyrocketed to near-record levels this year, making the war-ravaged nation again the world's leading producer of the drug, according to a United Nations estimate released over the weekend. During the war in Afghanistan, allied forces, particularly British forces, targeted production, storage and transportation facilities for heroin and other drugs that flood European markets. Efforts by the Karzai administration to eradicate opium production by paying farmers to destroy their crops have failed because of a lack of money, violent demonstrations by farmers fearing their livelihoods were in jeopardy and the refusal of some local officials to destroy the crops."
The UN's Office on Drugs and Crime (ODC, formerly the UN Office on Drug Control and Crime Prevention and the UN Drug Control Program) has released its final report on Afghan opium production in 2002. ODC estimates that Afghanistan produced 3,400 metric tons of opium this year. According to ODC's news release of Oct. 24, 2002 ( "United Nations Calls For Greater Assistance To Afghans In The Fight Against Opium Cultivation"), "'The annual Afghanistan Opium Survey for 2002, conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (ODC) has confirmed earlier indications of the considerable level of opium production in the country this year', the Executive Director, Antonio Maria Costa, announced at a press conference here today. Presenting the findings of the Survey, he said that 90 per cent of cultivation was concentrated in just five provinces in Afghanistan: Helmand in the south, followed by Nangarhar in the east, Badakhshan in the north, Uruzgan in the south/centre and Kandahar in the south."
ODC places none of the blame on the current Afghan government, and plans a host of measures to reduce opium production. According to ODC, "The total opium production in Afghanistan this year is estimated to amount to 3,400 metric tons, which is still 25 per cent lower than the record production of 1999 (4,600 metric tons). 'The high level of opium cultivation in Afghanistan this year is not a manifestation of a failure of the Afghan authorities or of the international efforts to assist them in drug control. The planting (of the 2002 crop) took place during the total collapse of law and order in the autumn of 2001, long before the new government of Dr. Hamid Karzai was in place', Mr. Costa said. He called for greater assistance to the Afghan authorities in carrying out their strong commitment to prevent opium cultivation. Immediately after assuming office, President Karzai issued a decree on 17 January, banning not only cultivation but also the processing, trafficking and abuse of opiates. Last month, his government reiterated that position, reasserting the ban on opium poppy planting in the autumn. 'What is needed in the period ahead is much stronger international support in establishing and developing law enforcement institutions, and providing Afghan farmers with alternative, licit means of livelihood', Mr. Costa said. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reopened its country office in Kabul in February and has appointed Mohammad-Reza Amirkhizi as the country representative. The office has been engaged in a wide range of projects, which include strengthening the Afghan drug control commission, assistance in law enforcement and the criminal justice sectors, and cross-border counter-narcotics cooperation with neighbouring States. The Office is also working on a pilot social compact with farmers in Kandahar and Badakhshan provinces, providing them with small amounts of financial assistance with the understanding that they would grow commercial crops other than opium poppy. Another area of activity covers drug demand reduction. Following a quarter century-long military strife, a large segment of the Afghan population has become addicted to opium and heroin. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime is analysing the extent of drug abuse within the country and developing drug abuse prevention, treatment and rehabilitation services."
The full report is available for downloading as a PDF by clicking here. An executive summary of the survey can be downloaded by clicking here. Also, remarks by ODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa can be viewed by clicking here.
The nation of Afghanistan is once again a major producer of opium poppies, according to a new report by the UN's World Health Organization and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. The Boston Globe reported on August 19, 2002 ( "UN Cites Failure To Uproot Opium") that "The new Afghan government has 'largely failed' in its four-month effort to eradicate the opium poppy crop in Afghanistan, which in recent years became the world's biggest producer of the raw material for heroin, UN specialists reported yesterday. Their figures show this year's crop could be worth more than $1 billion at the farm level in Afghanistan. 'That's a big chunk of GDP,' said Hector Maletta, a spokesman for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Afghanistan's gross domestic product for 1999, the latest estimate available, was put at $21 billion."
The resurgence of opium production in Afghanistan is in some ways a classic example of blowback. As the AP story in the Globe notes, "By the late 1990s, Afghanistan was supplying 70 percent of the world's opium. In 2000, the Taliban government banned poppy cultivation, which led to a 96 percent reduction in acreage devoted to the crop in last year's growing season, according to UN and US drug agencies. But the US-led war that ousted the Taliban late last year prompted Afghan farmers to plant poppy over tens of thousands of acres."
An eradication campaign, announced by the new Afghan government earlier in 2002, seems to have been doomed to failure. "In April, the interim government of President Hamid Karzai announced an eradication program. Farmers would be compensated with $500 per acre for destroyed poppy, the government said. That's only a fraction of the estimated $6,400 per acre of gross income a farmer can earn on poppy, according to the UN report." According to the AP story in the Globe, the UN report "estimated that 225,000 acres of poppy were planted, and 150,000 to 175,000 acres have been or will be harvested. 'The government program had a very limited impact,' Maletta said at a news briefing, and eradication is 'only a transient thing. It can be replanted.' The Taliban prohibition had driven up prices for Afghan opium to about $500 a pound, and the 'farm gate' price remains relatively high, Maletta said, at $160 to $180 a pound. Farmers can produce some 35 pounds per acre of opium, a gum squeezed and scraped from the flower pods."
The new government of Afghanistan began its 2002 poppy eradication campaign early, with unfortunate results. The BBC News reported on April 8, 2002 ( "Afghan Farmers Die In Poppy Protest") that "At least eight Afghan farmers have been killed and another 35 wounded during protests against the government campaign to eradicate their opium poppy crops. The protest began in the Kajaki district of the south-western province of Helmand, Afghanistan's biggest poppy growing area."
According to the BBC, "The farmers are angered at what they see as derisory compensation. Afghan security men were ordered to fire on the protesters, most of them poor Afghan farmers, deeply unhappy with the government's plans to destroy their crops. Twelve of the injured are reported to be in critical condition in hospital." The BBC noted that "The Afghan interim government has said it will pay compensation of $250 per acre to each farmer who destroys their crop, with much of that money being donated by the European Union. But Afghan farmers say they can make up to $3,500 an acre from the poppies themselves. They often borrow money from drug smugglers in advance to buy the seeds before being paid for the harvest."
The poppy harvest began early this season, in an effort to beat the government eradication forces to the punch. As the Peshawar, Pakistan Frontier Post reported on April 11, 2002 ( "Poppy Harvesting Begins In Afghanistan"), "Some poppy farmers in Afghanistan's biggest opium-producing region have started harvesting this year's crop early in hopes of finishing before the government moves to destroy their narcotic-bearing plants. 'We're in a hurry. We're afraid the government will come and eradicate our fields,' village chief Mohammed Agha said Tuesday. His workers were slitting the green poppy bulbs and collecting the milky opium resin 10 days ahead of harvest time."
According to the Frontier News:
The United Nations Drug Control Programme on Feb. 28, 2002, issued its preliminary Afghanistan Opium Poppy Survey 2002. According to the UN Information Service release on the survey, the report "confirms earlier indications that cultivation has resumed at a 'relatively high level' throughout the country after the considerable decline recorded in 2001. The UNDCP Country Office for Afghanistan and the Illicit Crop Monitoring Programme (ICMP) conducted a pre-assessment survey in 208 villages and 42 districts in the traditional opium poppy growing areas of Southern and Eastern Afghanistan in the provinces of Helmand, Qandahar, Oruzgan, Nangarhar and Kunar. Those five provinces accounted for 84 percent of the total opium poppy cultivation area in Afghanistan in 2000. The Northern region of Afghanistan was not included in the pre-assessment survey because the colder climate in that area usually delays the opium poppy planting season and cultivation is not observed clearly in February."
The survey estimates that opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan could cover an area between 45,000 hectares and 65,000 hectares in 2002. This compares to the level of cultivation reached during the mid-1990s, but remains lower than those recorded in 1999 (about 95,000 hectares) and 2000 (about 82,000 hectares). As noted in the release, "Based on an average national yield of 41 kg per hectare over the past 8 years, the resulting production of opium harvested between March and August 2002 in Afghanistan could reach between 1,900 and 2,700 metric tons of opium. Production in 1999 reached a record of 4,600 mt, while in 2000 it was 3,300 mt."
More comprehensive data-gathering by the UN will go on in April and May, with the results of this more in-depth survey reported in September 2002.
News reports from Boston allege that the FBI had been given a tip about an Al-Qaeda terrorist cell operating in the Boston area in the late 90s, but it was ignored because the feds were focused on drugs. According to the Boston Herald on Oct. 17, 2001 ( "Report: FBI Probe Targeted Drugs, Not Terrorism" ), "Raed Hijazi, 32, an American citizen now awaiting trial in Jordan in a foiled millennium terrorist plot, told FBI agents about 'Arab terrorists and sympathizers,' but they were more interested in whatever knowledge he had about heroin being brought into Boston via Afghanistan, WCVB-TV reported last night. Hijazi is an admitted member of al-Qaeda, the Islamic terrorist ring founded by Osama bin Laden. Hijazi became a 'willing informant' for the Boston office of the FBI to avoid jail time on charges being investigated by the agency's drug squad, the station reported, citing a 'high-level source.'"
The Herald reports that Hijazi "left Boston in 1998 after working in Everett for several years as a cabdriver. He was arrested in Syria in October 2000 on charges he led a ring of terrorists in a botched plan to blow up a hotel and other sites expected to be filled with revelers celebrating the millennium in Jordan." The Herald also notes a direct link between Hijazi and the events of 9/11: "Hijazi reportedly told investigators his friend, another Boston cab driver, Nabil al-Marabh, 34, was an al-Qaeda agent. Hijazi has denied he made this claim. Al-Marabh was arrested in Chicago last month by FBI agents probing the Sept. 11 attack on America. Authorities believe al-Marabh had close ties to at least two of the Sept. 11 hijackers. Authorities have also frozen al-Marabh's financial assets."
effort against the Osama bin Laden and Afghanistan's Taliban
regime has resulted in some intriguing alliances.
As the UK's
Daily Telegraph reported on Sept. 26, 2001 (
"The Assassins And Drug Dealers Now Helping Us"),
"Pakistan's shadowy intelligence service, one of the
main sources of information for the US-led alliance against the
Taliban regime, is widely associated with political assassinations,
narcotics and the smuggling of nuclear and missile components
- and backing fundamentalist Islamic movements." The Telegraph
The Telegraph continues:
The Telegraph also notes that there is some concern over which side the ISI is actually on. "The main concern for Gen Pervaiz Musharraf, the current leader of Pakistan, is that the ISI's loyalties may still lie more with the Taliban than with its own government and its new American 'partner'."
As the Wall Street Journal on
October 2, 2001 (
"In Targeting Terrorists' Drug Money, US Puts Itself
In An Awkward Situation"), reported:
It is not only Afghans who are involved in the opium trade in that region. For instance, the Journal notes: "Drug money, in fact, has proved a lubricant for a peace agreement signed in 1997 that ended Tajikistan's civil war, analysts say. To persuade the country's competing warlords to lay down their arms, military leaders and their followers were given posts in the government. Now former warlords and their troops control portions of the Tajik border, regional police and customs. Says a Western diplomat: 'Government people are up to their eyeballs in the drug business.'"
Producers and traffickers in other parts of Asia are watching
events unfold around Afghanistan, and are also keeping
an eye on their own bottom line -- which some feel this
recent turn of events may help improve. Again, from the Journal:
Fears are growing that the ban on opium production in Afghanistan may soon be lifted, according to news stories. The BBC reported on Sept. 24, 2001 ( "Afghan Opium Prices 'Crash'" ) that "UN officials in Pakistan say the price of Afghan opium has collapsed following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Before 11 September, one kilo of opium was selling for $700. The price is now between $200-300. The Taleban regime in Afghanistan had outlawed poppy production, but it's now feared that cultivation will start once again." The BBC notes that "Reports from the semi-autonomous tribal areas of Pakistan say that prices have been driven down by the sheer quantity being sold by Afghan traders."
If opium production is to resume, farmers are expected to begin planting shortly. As The Times of London reported on Sept. 25, 2001 ( "Flood Of Cheap Afghan Heroin") that "The ban was imposed by Mullah Muhammad Omar last year, leaving many farmers ruined. But the sudden halving of the price of raw opium to $250 a kg suggests the decree has been reversed. Even if it remains in place, desperate farmers are expected to resume planting next month while Taleban security forces are engaged elsewhere."
The Taliban's edict against opium planting in territories under their direct control may limit Afghanistan's military capability, according to a senior UN official. A Reuters wire service story on September 19, 2001 ( "UN Official -- Opium Cuts May Hit Afghan Capability") reported that "Smuggling the drug to western markets was seen as a major source of funding for the Taliban, currently under pressure to hand over Saudi-born dissident Osama bin Laden, suspected in last week's attacks on New York and Washington. (UNDCP Chief of Research Sandeep) Chawla said Afghanistan began cutting back opium production in the summer of 2000, following a Taliban view that it was un-Islamic. But it also cut off a crucial source of funding that has undermined its military capabilities."
According to Reuters, "the UNDCP, which monitors the illicit drug trade across the world and carries out surveys in Afghanistan, believes opium production has also been hit by a severe drought. In 2001, land used for growing opium in Afghanistan fell by 90 percent to around 19,768 acres, Chawla said." Yet, "The bulk of the heroin produced from opium is smuggled along the Balkan route -- through Iran, Turkey and southern Europe to markets in the West. The central Asia route is growing rapidly, while smuggling across the border into Pakistan and India has been reduced, he said." According to Reuters, Chawla said "'Opium cultivation played a pivotal role in the Afghan economy in the nineties, and funded resistance to Soviet occupation. Now Afghanistan's capability (to resist attack) is limited, unless other sources of financing like smuggling arms and other contraband, or the legitimate economy were to pick up."
This is a public service advertisement from Common Sense in Fall of 2001 dealing with the question of prohibition's funding of terrorism, "Is The Funding Of Terrorism Another Unintended Consequence Of Drug Prohibition?" .
Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Frontiers) has a great deal of information on the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and Central Asia