Afghanistan produces more than 90 per cent of the world’s illicit opium [GALLO/GETTY]
It was a drug trafficker’s dream until they set fire to it.
In the foothills north of Kabul, six and a half tonnes of heroin, opium and hashish were set ablaze as part of a show laid on by the government to demonstrate some success at the sharp end of the drugs trade in Afghanistan.
The haul was the work of Afghanistan’s counter-narcotics police, set up in 2005, and was the result of seizures made in raids and interceptions across the country.
The police unit also arrested 1,100 people, including some international drug dealers.
The reality of course is that this narcotic bonfire is a minuscule triumph, a small victory against the traffickers.
Apprehending the producers is quite another thing.
Drugs are a multi-billion-dollar business in Afghanistan, accounting for a staggering half of the country’s economic output. That is an export value of $3.4bn in 2008 alone.
The nation produces more than 90 per cent of the world’s illicit opium and most of it comes from Helmand province in the south, which is the Taliban heartland.
|Afghan war on drugs|
Here, field after field of poppies cover great swathes of the countryside; this is the time of year when the harvest begins.
Workers are out in the fields, using their special knives to begin a process that ends on the streets of the world’s cities.
They nick the plump poppy heads and after a few minutes, shave off the solidified liquid that oozes from the gash. Their hands are stained rusty red from the raw material that fuels corruption, destroys lives and funds wars.
According to General Mohammed Daoud, the deputy interior minister, the Taliban is making huge profits from the poppy trade.
“We have unimaginable figures of income especially in southern Afghanistan,” he said. “I can tell you in one district in Helmand province alone, the Taliban took $15 million last year.”
In the more peaceful areas of Afghanistan, such as in the north, there has been success in countering the scourge.
Public information campaigns, combined with small levels of eradication and the growing threat posed to traffickers by the counter-narcotics police, have – to a degree – worked.
The British embassy’s Counter Narcotics Agency, a major player in the war against drugs in Afghanistan, says help has also come from an unlikely source – the state of the world economy.
“We have benefited from the economic situation. For example wheat prices have climbed quite high whilst poppy prices have gone quite low,” Mark Miller, the spokesman for the narcotics agency, says.
“So in a lot of areas they’re growing wheat instead of poppy and that’s a big
success. In other areas people are willing to take the financial hit of not growing poppy because campaigning has worked and people are aware there is a danger of being arrested.”
Stability is the key
The real battleground is in the south, where the Taliban holds sway and narcotics production thrives in insecure areas.
Stability is the key; until the rule of law is established in the major producing areas, it is difficult to see how the battle against the poppy trade will be won.
And therein lies the problem.
How can you establish security when, according to UN, the Taliban and assorted drug barons earned up to half a billion dollars from opium in 2008?
That is some war chest.