More than two and half years have passed since the collapse of the Taleban regime in Afghanistan, but the new government of Afghanistan, despite the support of international community, still suffers from different challenges such as terrorism, Talebanism , warlordism, corruption and severe poverty. In addition, the dramatic rise of opium production in Afghanistan has compounded the situation and has endangered not only the fragile stability of Afghanistan but also the whole region. So now the narcotic crisis in Afghanistan has become one of the main burning issues of the day for the international community after the terrorism concerns in the region.
According to UNODC, Afghanistan was responsible for producing about 3,600 metric tons of opium in 2003, a 6 percent increase over the previous year. The more than $1 billion generated by the narcotics trade accounts for close to half of the Afghan gross domestic product (GDP), and is possibly greater than the total amount of reconstruction funds devoted to Afghanistan since the ousting of the Taliban in 2001. An even larger bumper harvest is predicted for 2004 (1)
Mr. Antonio Maria Costa, head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), warned recently that, unless immediate measures are taken to contain drug trafficking, Afghanistan stands to become a "narco-state". (2)
The drug victims
Experts predict that renewed Afghan poppy production will bring more misery to neighbouring countries. But their majority victims are in the West. It is said 90% of heroin consumed in UK is from Afghanistan .
It is really shameful. Who are really responsible for addictions of Western citizens and damaging Afghanistan's image? Where does the money from the drug trade go? How was Afghanistan affected by narcotics? And how can Afghanistan be rescued from the swamps of narcotics by support of the international community?
In my opinion, in order to answer these questions we have to trace the root of the problems from political to economic ambitions, from social to criminal structures inside and beyond Afghanistan.
Politics and narcotics
Afghanistan was affected by narcotics for the first time not for poverty reasons but for its extraordinary geo-strategic position. Consequently, its geopolitical position shifted to geo-opium. Indeed, the history of opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has taken its roots from the wars and geopolitical games since the 1980's when Afghanistan became the center of competitions between the East and the West.
It is said that narcotics were part of the war agenda in Afghanistan. Prior to the Soviet-Afghan war (1979-1989), opium production in Afghanistan and Pakistan was directed to small regional markets. There was no local production of heroin. But the opium production first rose in Pakistan and then with the flame of wars came to the battlefields inside Afghanistan. "The Pakistan-Afghanistan borderlands became the world's top heroin producer... In Pakistan, the heroin-addict population went from near zero in 1979 to 1.2 million by 1985, a much steeper rise than in any other nation." according to research in 1997. (3)
Some observers accuse the US of using heroin as a weapon against their enemies in the Afghan war with the Soviets. In 1995, the former CIA director of the Afghan operation, Charles Cogan, admitted the CIA had indeed sacrificed the drug war to fight the Cold War. 'Our main mission was to do as much damage as possible to the Soviets. We didn't really have the resources or the time to devote to an investigation of the drug trade,' I don't think that we need to apologize for this. Every situation has its fallout. There was fallout in terms of drugs, yes. But the main objective was accomplished. The Soviets left Afghanistan.'(4)
Yes, the Soviets left, but the narcotics didn't leave Afghanistan. The narcotics became not only the main export of the country but also the political economy of wars and instability in Afghanistan and beyond it. In other words, the recycling of drug money was used to finance the post-Cold War insurgents and terrorist groups, including Alqaeda from, Central Asia to Europe, from the Middle East to the US. (5)
Afghan drug routes
The drug trade is a complex business and undercover links to major criminal syndicates. There are powerful business and financial interests behind drugs.
The Independent on 29th February 2004 wrote that narcotic trade occupies "the third biggest global commodity in cash terms after oil and the arms trade."
The control of drug trade and its routes are important as geopolitical and military standpoints control over the oil and oil pipelines. The control of drug routes from Afghanistan is crucial for criminal syndicates.
Afghanistan's geographic position is thought to be playing a major role in drug export to the West. . For example, neighbouring countries where largely unguarded borders and severely under-equipped and corrupt police forces are also preparing easy ground for transition to Europe. Former soviet Central Asian countries are on of the drug transit route to the West. These republics have become the favored routes for moving heroin to the Balkans, Europe and Russia. These routes are controlled by different criminal groups from Pakistanis to Russians. In addition involvement of some official elements such as generals, diplomats and security services from neighbouring countries complicated the narco-network in the region.
Indeed, if the poppy cultivation for Afghan peasants plays a survival role, for international heroin mafia it is the multibillion dollars of income by which they control their vast empire from Afghanistan to south Asia. . According to the UNODC, opium in Afghanistan generated in 2003 "an income of one billion US dollars for farmers, while the international narcotics market gets 100 times more income. " (6)
Some reasons for narcotic increase in the past two years:
1) Lack of strong government -lack of strong government is thought to be one of the main factors of drug booming in Afghanistan. In addition, power struggle inside the government, corruption, and bribe and, especially involvement of some elements of the government in drug deals not only encouraged the farmers but also "legitimised "the opium poppy cultivations throughout the country.
The government of Afghanistan usually blames local warlord officials, in most cases; the government is right, but not always. Narcotic lords of Afghanistan are an extended network of people who could be warlords and could be non warlords.
2) Poverty- It is always said that the starvation and poverty of Afghan peasants are the main causes of narcotic increase throughout the country. This is generally true but not in all cases. If in the beginning for starved farmers, the poppy cultivation was a survival strategy, later it became a habit and they used it for other strategies such as - .
3) Social and ethnic competition- Narcotic has different dimensions: political, economic or social. But in Afghan situations where ethnic tendencies overshadow all aspects of life, narcotics have become one of the subjects of ethnic competition, too. This competition not only broke the monopoly of narcotics just in one region, but also motivated the expansion of narco-network to other parts of the country
4) Security challenges -security challenges are also thought to be one of main factors of narcotic rise in the country. For example, terrorisation of population and permanent attacks on governmental institutions and foreign troops by Taleban and alqaeda has prevented the anti narcotic campaign in southern area of the country. Moreover, it is said part of the drug money, especially from the southern areas of Afghanistan where the Taleban and their allies have direct and indirect influence on them, goes to their war budget.
Counter- narcotic Strategy
As far as we know, the Afghan transitional government with the support of the international community, especially the leading role of the UK, has established a 10 year counter-narcotic strategy in Afghanistan. According to this strategy which was launched last year the country will become free of the drug menace by 2012.
Some observers believe that lack of indetermination and the weakness of the new government of Afghanistan in the past two years have been the main causes of opium rise while others accuse the US of not paying enough attention to the danger of narcotics in Afghanistan since 2001.
One of the criticisms is that the UK fights shoulder to shoulder with the US against terrorism in Afghanistan and beyond, but the USA was reluctant to fight shoulder to shoulder with UK against narcotics in Afghanistan. The reason why Washington was not serious like the UK to fight against drugs in Afghanistan was according to, Barnett Rubin a leading American scholar on Afghanistan because the goal of American policy in Afghanistan "was not to set up a better regime for the Afghan people," he says "The goal instead was to get rid of the terrorist threat against America". (7)
It is often argued that maybe the primary goal of America in Afghanistan was achieved but terrorism is still a serious threat and this time directly from Pakistan's land bordering Afghanistan. It is also thought that the Afghan realities might have convinced Washington that narcotics are not less dangerous than terrorism in the region.
The current situation not only in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan confirms that drugs are still the main sources of incomes for Terrorism and Taleban. In other words, Talebanism+ Terrorism+ Narcotism is the "triangle of evil" not only in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan where they threaten the stability of the entire world. Therefore, sustaining war against terrorism urges the coalition to declare war against narcotics too. The United States recently expressed their concerns over the expansion of narcotics.
In a Statement, Assistant Secretary of State Robert Charles in a Congressional Hearing, on 1st April 2004, said: "Opium is a source of literally billions of dollars to extremist and criminal groups... cutting down the opium supply is central to establishing a secure and stable democracy, as well as winning the global war on terrorism". He also said" the battle against narcotics cultivation has been fought and won in other countries and it [is] possible to do so here [in Afghanistan], with strong, democratic governance, international assistance and improved security and integrity." (8)
President Hamed Karzai expressed recently his concerns over the narcotic crisis in Afghanistan. He sounded the alarm at an Afghan donor's conference in Berlin in the beginning of this month when he said drugs were "undermining the Afghan state".
Mr. Karzai appealed for international assistance to fund a four-year; $300 million plan to reduce opium cultivation by 70 percent.
In an ambitious effort to get rid the country of illicit drugs, Mr. Karzai announced a jehad (holy war) against the menace early in this month. Although the leader of Afghanistan is serious in fighting against narcotics, the main question is, can President Karzais' jihad generate support among the majority population of Afghanistan against narcotics in this crucial pre-election time for him?
The international community, especially Americans, do not doubt in Mr.Karzais' sincerity and his determination to fight against opium poppy cultivation, but the realities of Afghanistan, especially power struggle inside and outside of the government make it hard to believe. In addition, some Afghans accuse the government of having neither fair disarmament and reconstruction agenda throughout the country nor a realistic counter- narcotic strategy. The only obvious strategy seems to be how to defeat the rivals in the election and monopolise the power in the country. If this is true, then the holy war against narcotics becomes a slogan and a subject for political games.
Not only are Afghans skeptical about the implementation of strategy of their government in the following years, some foreign observers also expressing their doubts.
(Xinhuanet), in 15 April this year, from Kabul reported:" a number of international analysts, who have based themselves in the Central Asian country, has expressed doubt that Karzai's commitment would ever come true. This is to a larger extent a goodwill gesture that the Afghan authorities made to international community in an effort to win over more potential donors". In report is also said:" Advocating poppy growing, most of the farmers say they would not stop its cultivation unless the government provides alternative livelihood and security to enable their impoverished economy to recover" (9)
Some experts suggest the international community should take a broader approach towards addressing Afghanistan's drug threat. The fastest way to stop drug production is to enhance Afghan security and faster economic development. "Nobody should be under the illusion that without security structures and economic development that the drug economy in Afghanistan will be halted, or even significantly reduced," Barnett Rubin said. (10)
Some other observers do not hide their concerns about the fair distributions of foreign assistance to the regions. They see first of all, two challenges: 1) tremendous level of corruption among the governmental officials; 2) the social disputes. For example, if one region gets more assistance even without eradication of opium poppies but another region without receiving any economic assistance, loses its opium poppies, then this discrimination will cause a new social crisis.
If Afghanistan in 1980s was one of the main points of clash of interests between the East and the West, since the September attacks, this country likely have become a model of international assistance and friendship a part from Iraq crisis. Indeed, it is a golden opportunity not only for Afghans but also for international communities to work together for peace, democracy and prosperity in the region.
Many believe that a stable and a prosperous Afghanistan would be useful for all; whereas an unstable Afghanistan will benefit no country only terrorists and drug mafia.
Some experts believe for implementation of counter- narcotic strategy first of all, Afghanistan needs a strong, democratic and qualified government. A strong government in Afghan situation is not possible unless it is broad base and multiethnic.
In addition, Afghanistan needs a decentralized structure, without such state Afghanistan will not be stable and united. This idea is not supported by majority population of Afghanistan but also by many foreign observers. Barnett Rubin is one of the leading experts who has profound knowledge about Afghanistan realities also concluded that for stability and best management of the country, Afghanistan needs a kind of decentralized structure. "Most important is working with Afghans to change the image and role of the state, seen largely as a distant and indifferent if not hostile power. Local power structures that have largely grown up as defensive measures of self-rule to keep the state or power holders away have to be incorporated into official structures of planning and service provision. It is unlikely that any central power will find it worthwhile to provide localities with much in the way of governance and services. For this very reason, Afghanistan needs a decentralized governance structure in which provinces and localities should receive official authority to tax and plan in consultation with local shuras (councils). In the past local societies developed unofficial power structures to shield themselves from the state, rather than participate it, and the centralizing mentality shared by the Taliban and much of their opposition reproduces that past pattern. Instead, modest local resources under local control could be directed into locally accountable planning processes rather than a dysfunctional central state. The central state will still be needed for provision of basic security and dispute resolution, but a clear division of labor among levels of governance will promote greater accountability over the reconstruction process."(11)
He also proposed very important ideas in draft constitution for harmony divisions of power between centre and locals, but was not heard by ethno-centrist groups in the Afghan government.
On the eve of attacking on Taleban in 2001,US administration also concluded that without a decentralized structure, Afghanistan will not be stable according to Bob Woodward's book "Bush at War", "Afghanistan is stable only in a decentralized structure. It was not a modern state with a strong central government and might not have one in the future." writes Bob Woodward.
Although the Bon agreements legitimized such government, now this government likely loses its multiethnic base and tends toward a single base ethnic government. According to the new constitution of Afghanistan, instead of establishing decentralized state and multiethnic government, a single ethno- centralized state was imposed. Indeed, this is a direct way to the future tragedies and confrontation in Afghanistan.
Therefore, with such government Afghanistan even with support of the International community will not be able to root out opium poppies from the country.
Finally, in my opinion, it is time for a test not only for Afghans but also for their allies. It is also test time for implementation of "counter- narcotic strategy" which has already been launched by Afghan government and their allies. The success of this strategy without doubt will be the success of Afghans and international allies first and foremost for the UK as the leader of this project.
London, 27th April, 2004
Tel: 0208422 7827
(1) and (2) For details see press release SOC/NAR/88 or
(3) And (4) Chossudovsky Michel, "The Spoils of War: Afghanistan's Multibillion Dollar Heroin Trade
(5) For details, see Michel Chossudovsky, War and Globalization,The Truth behind September,11,GlobalOutlook,2002,http://globalresearch.ca/globaloutlook/truth911.html
(6) US State Department quoted by the Voice of America (VOA), 27, February, 2004
(7) For details see The other war, the new Yorker/04/05/2004 or The article "Why Bush's Afghanistan problem won't go away
(8) For details see "Congressional Hearing, on 1st April 2004"
(9) Fore more information please see xenhuanet the articl" Afghanistan
determined to get rid of drug" or www.chinaview.cn, 2004-04-15 19:37:10
(10) For details see Eurasia insight Mark Berniker "Afghanistan stands on brink of becoming "narco-state" 2/10/04
(11) Rubin Barnett "The Political Economy of War and Peace in Afghanistan", eurasianet.org
(12).Bob Woodward, " Bush At War", p. 225