Since 2001 the drug production in Afghanistan raised constantly. Just before “Operation Enduring Freedom” – during the reign of Mullah Omar and the Taliban – five up to ten per cent of world wide poppy came from Afghanistan. Currently the country is, with ninety percent, the most important supplier of opium in the world. Most buyers are in Europe and in the United States. Meanwhile, media is blaming the corrupt politicians, the warlords and the Taliban for the opium production in Afghanistan in such a huge percentage, while it is a fact that especially Western countries are responsible for the rise of opium production.
Afghanistan was once well-known for its melons, pomegranates, dry fruits and grapes. The country was famous for these kinds of fruits and was exporting to other countries around the world. Afghanistan was also very famous for precious stones, such as lapis lazuli, which were extracted from the Hindukush and Pamir mountains. But currently the natural products of Afghanistan have lost their fame and value and nobody cares about exotic fruits or rare stones. At this very moment, the most famous Afghan products are hashish; people just know Afghanistan is the country where largest poppy fields can be found.
From the Mogul dynasty to the Taliban
Illicit drug trade in Afghanistan has a long history. Hundreds of years ago even the addicted Mogul emperors got their opium poppies from there. Later, during the Anglo-Afghan Wars, the British were also interested in the opium business. It is well-known that during the age of imperialism the United Kingdom was very interested in the drug trade, especially the so called Opium Wars fought between China and Great Britain were a proof of it. China lost both wars and was forced to accept to continue the drug trade.
Afghanistan was different; the British were not able to colonialize the country. So, they had to quit their plans and leave. Currently, in the 21st century, in NATO’s presence, poppy production and drug trade is growing day by day in Afghanistan.
During the reign of Burhanuddin Rabbani in the 1990s, poppy production grew significantly. The goverment of Rabbani mainly consisted of warlords and criminals. Human Rights Watch reported that Rabbani – who was killed in 2011 – was responsible for crimes against humanity during the Afghan civil war as well, next to other war lords and human rights violators. On the one hand it is not a surprise that those political players used to become rich via drug trade. On the other hand, the poppy cultivators had no other choice. The Soviet Union was defeated and the West had no interest to continue to support the former Afghan mujahedeen groups. Therefore, these groups had to find another source of income.
In 1996, Rabbani’s government comprised of warlords was chased away by Mullah Omar and his Taliban fighters. Nevertheless, the poppy production continued. The Taliban regime was dependant on taxes like any other government in the world. Most of these taxes were paid by drug-lords so, the new government, after the fall of the Rabbani government, decided to not destroy the poppy fields. Just a few years later when the Taliban’s treasury was stuffed with money by their supporters outside Afghanistan, they started a new policy against the drug barons.
In summer of 2000, the Taliban regime implemented one of the most successful anti-drug-campaigns in history. Mullah Omar declared poppy production as “unislamic” and banned it throughout the country. This prohibition was very effective. The opium export shrunk immediately. In Helmand, which currently produces more opium than whole Myanmar or Columbia, could not be seen a single poppy field after the Taliban declared it haram.
NATO-intervention and the “rebirth” of drug production
A year later, the NATO and ISAF forces entered Afghanistan. The Taliban were chased away of Kabul in 2001 and suddenly the poppy production rose. currently, more than ninety per cent of the world opium has “Afghan roots”. Even though, the new government formed the Counter Narcotics Ministry and the United Nation’s mission UNODC also started working rigorously against the cultivation of poppy and worked on provision of alternative livelihoods to the farmers through different projects. Counter Narcotics Trust Fund was formed to implement projects for Public Campaigns to raise awareness, to reduce the demand of drugs, to implement the alternative livelihoods projects, to work with the law enforcement agencies to at least reduce the opium trafficking and to work on judicial reforms etc. The most important producers are based in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar.
Drug trade in Kandahar is completely controlled by the Karzai clan. Various reports showed links of Ahmad Wali Karzai, the president’s late brother who had reportedly been on the CIA payroll, to the drug trade. Ahmad Wali Karzai was killed in 2011 in a suicide attack. During his lifetime he was known as one of the most powerful man in Afghanistan. Even older tribal chiefs had to listen to him and agree with him. .
Moreover, the British Independent claimed in January 2010 that the CIA had used airplanes to transport drugs to Latin America from Afghanistan. Those planes were also used for the abductions of so-called terror suspects all over the world. In 2004, in one of those wreckages in Nicaragua, one ton of cocaine was found. Earlier reports said that that Kam Air, an Afghan airline, smuggled tons of opium to neighboring Tajikistan. Nevertheless, the airline is denying all such allegation.
Mainly, British soldiers are based in Helmand province, while the area is dominated by the Taliban. In the past tons of opium was confiscated and burnt but the poppy cultivation is on the rise. In December 2011, Yousef Ali-Waezi, a government official and advisor to the President Karzai, blamed British soldiers to be involved in the opium production in Helmand. Ali-Waezi pointed out that the British did not only tolerate the whole drug production, but also supported it.
Most illicit drugs on the streets of Great Britain have their origin in Afghanistan. Until today the British government did not respond about Ali-Waezi’s reproaches. Years ago former prime minister Tony Blair said that it is a main goal of the United Kingdom to stop the poppy production in Afghanistan.
Poppy production will not stop because all political players make a profit out of it
It is a fact that the opium production in Afghanistan will continue to flourish. All protagonists are interested in the cultivation of opium because every one of them makes a lot of profit out of it. Also, the Taliban who banned it once are currently forced to support the drug trade. They need more money for their fight against the foreign soldiers and against the Afghan army. Meanwhile the warlords in the Karzai government have not changed their attitude. They are one of the biggest sources of corruption in the Karzai government and the present day’s Afghanistan. . Not a single one of them cares that about eighty per cent of the Afghan people have no food and no clear water. The main problem is that these warlords and criminals of civil war are still supported by the West. So, it is impossible to disempower them.
Besides, the CIA drug connections prove that they are playing a similar game in Afghanistan that they played in the whole Latin America. They will continue supporting drug barons and criminals, just like the British. Given these facts and the high incentives related to the poppy cultivation compared to other crops, poor Afghan farmers have no other choice than to produce opium.
Emran Feroz is an Afghan freelance journalist and blogger with focus the Middle East, Immigration and Islam in Europe. He has already written for different German news papers and political journals.