Americans leave, Afghan drug traffic remains

US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — In July 2000, Taliban leader Mullah Omar declared opium a product contrary to Islam, ordering the destruction of opium poppy crops. After the occupation of Afghanistan, with the tacit support of the Americans, drug lords returned to the governor’s posts, and in 2002 Afghanistan produced the same amount of raw opium as before the ban.

The world community is increasingly concerned about the question: what will happen to Afghan drug trafficking after the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, scheduled for September this year? It should not be forgotten that over 20 years of the American presence, Afghanistan has become the main producer of heroin in the world. From 20 to 30% of Afghan GDP is associated with the production, processing, transportation and sale of opiates, this industry employs up to 75% of the adult population in Afghanistan. By comparison, only 6% of Colombian GDP was associated with cocaine production at the height of the cocaine cartels at the beginning of this century.

According to French political scientist Jean-Pierre Filiu, the Taliban who have returned to power will retain the drug industry as their main source of income. They will not repeat the “daring” experiment of Mullah Omar, who banned the cultivation of opium poppy in 2000. The ban lasted just over a year, but after the Americans launched the anti-terrorist Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001 and overthrew the Taliban government, the growth of opiate production resumed rapidly in Afghanistan.

Observers recall that in July 2000, Taliban leader Mullah Omar declared opium a product contrary to Islam and ordered the destruction of opium poppy crops. The result has been an unprecedented drop in the global trade in heroin, the main opioid drug. This led to the massive devastation of Afghan peasants who refused support to the Taliban when the United States launched Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001.

After the occupation of Afghanistan, with the tacit support of the Americans, drug lords returned to the governor’s posts, only formally swearing allegiance to the new President Hamid Karzai. Already in 2002, Afghanistan produced 3,400 tons of raw opium – the same as before the ban in the year 2000. The opium eradication campaign announced by NATO allies has gone unsuccessful not due to the lack of methods for treating addiction, but for the desire of ultimate authority for the ones in power.

Already in 2006, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime stated that Afghanistan had actually turned into a “drug state”, and in 2007 the country produced 8,200 tons of raw opium, from which about 90% of the world’s heroin was produced.

It is noteworthy that heroin produced in Afghanistan is sent mainly to Europe, while it comes to America mainly through Mexico. Precisely because Afghan heroin posed less danger to the United States, the fight against Afghan drug trafficking was practically stopped during the Obama administration. At the same time, the Taliban abandoned the fight against opium poppy and began to encourage its production, as well as collect taxes from peasants.

According to the UN, peasants receive only 10-15% of the final cost of the product, 5% are taxes received by warlords, while 80% remains in the hands of drug traffickers who share the profits with governors and ruling structures. In 2017, Afghanistan set a kind of world record, over 9 thousand tons of raw opium were produced in the country.

Ashraf Ghani, who replaced Hamid Karzai as president, admitted that the opium problem cannot be solved. It was at this moment that US President Donald Trump unexpectedly decided to launch Operation Iron Storm with the aim of destroying hundreds of Taliban-owned drug laboratories using B-52 bombers and Raptor drones.

This extremely costly operation was suspended a year later due to its low efficiency, the Americans were unable to destroy the infrastructure of the Taliban for the production of heroin. The so-called “drug laboratories”, experts say, are rather primitive artisan “kitchens” that are assembled in a couple of days and are easily restored after a raid.

Already in 2018, peace talks began in Doha with the participation of the Taliban, as a result of which a historic agreement was reached on the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the country’s opium production continues to grow. According to the UN, in 2018 the volume of raw opium produced was twice as high as in 2001, when the Americans entered Afghanistan. The Taliban completely changed tactics and, from the ban on poppy cultivation, began to expand crops, which exceeded an area of ​​193 thousand hectares in 2018.

According to American data, the drug business accounts for 65% of the funding of the Taliban *. The geography of production has also changed: if earlier raw opium was transported to neighboring countries, where it was processed into morphine and heroin, now laboratories are concentrated in Afghanistan itself, primarily in the southern province of Helmand, the main base of the Taliban.

The UN notes that the Taliban control all links of the drug business – from production to processing and distribution. They levy a 10% tax on manufacturers and guarantee security of supply outside of Afghanistan.

It is through the drug trade that the Taliban pay salaries to fighters, buy weapons and ammunition, and achieve military victories. According to experts, over the past 20 years, a stable “drug economy” has formed in Afghanistan, which employs over two million people and generates billions of dollars – over a third of the national GDP.

The main direction of Afghan drug trafficking is Europe, it is on the “old continent” that the main consumption of Afghan heroin occurs. Intelligence agencies point to two main routes – through Iran (30% of drug traffic) and Central Asia (40%). From Iran, drugs go through the Caucasus, Russia and Ukraine to Europe.

The Northern Route runs through Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are also important drug trafficking channels. In all these republics, drug traffickers have created strong corruption ties.

Drugs are transported to European markets through Russia and Ukraine. Initially, the collapse of the USSR gave the strongest impetus to drug trafficking; after the withdrawal of Soviet troops, the borders with Afghanistan remained practically open. Russia is trying to contain the surge of drugs and has deployed the 201st motorized rifle division, which is directly subordinate to Moscow, on the Tajik-Afghan border. However, this is clearly not enough.

Another route leads through Iran, the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan and Georgia to the Black Sea ports. The ultimate goal is still the same – Europe. Some of the drugs are sent to the markets of Africa and the Middle East. In turn, Southeast Asia consumes drugs coming from Burma (Myanmar).

According to the Brookings Institution’s forecast, after the withdrawal of NATO troops, drug production in Afghanistan will only expand. None of the parties to the Afghan conflict will refuse such an important source of funding.

Neither the Afghan government nor the Taliban will want and will not be able to initiate a policy to curb drug trafficking. In turn, this will lead to an escalation of the civil war, despite the withdrawal of American troops and the achievement of peace agreements in Doha. So far, analysts say, there is no real opportunity to change the nature of Afghanistan’s drug-driven economy.


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