Sunday, December 03, 2006

Afghan regime protects bumper opium crop

This year's Afghan opium crop will set a record, the Washington Post reports. Crop eradication efforts are only a figleaf on the booming illicit trade carried on with the blessing of top officials in the Afghan regime.
Because of security concerns and local sensibilities, all eradication is done by Afghan police, and corruption is a major problem at every level from cultivation to international trafficking. Although the drug trade is believed to provide some financing to the Taliban, most experts believe it is largely an organized criminal enterprise. According to a major report on the Afghan drug industry jointly released last week by the World Bank and the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, key narcotics traffickers "work closely with sponsors in top government and political positions."

The report drew specific attention to the Afghan Interior Ministry, saying its officials were increasingly involved in providing protection for and facilitating consolidation of the drug industry in the hands of leading traffickers. "At the lower levels," the report said, "payments to police to avoid eradication or arrest reportedly are very widespread. At higher levels, provincial and district police chief appointments appear to be a tool for key traffickers and sponsors to exercise control and favor their proteges at middle levels in the drug industry." Source.

Opium production was practically wiped out under the Taliban, the paper reports, but recovered when the U.S. led invasion overthrew the Islamic fundamentalist regime. Now Afghan opium supplies 90 per cent of the world's heroin.

The Post's account corroborates the account of Antonio Maria Costa, the executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, writing in the Beirut Daily Star:
Opium money is corrupting Afghan society from top to bottom. High-level collusion enables thousands of tons of chemical precursors, needed to produce heroin, to be trucked into the country. Armed convoys transport raw opium around the country unhindered. Sometimes even army and police vehicles are involved. Guns and bribes ensure that the trucks are waved through checkpoints. Opiates flow freely across borders into Iran, Pakistan, and other Central Asian countries.

The opium fields of wealthy landowners are untouched because local officials are paid off. Major traffickers never come to trial because judges are bribed or intimidated. Senior government officials take their cut of opium revenues or bribes in return for keeping quiet. Perversely, some provincial governors and government officials are themselves major players in the drug trade.

As a result, the Afghan state is at risk of takeover by a malign coalition of extremists, criminals, and opportunists. Opium is choking Afghan society.

Source. Costa also notes, in guarded tones, "It is a bitter irony that the countries whose soldiers' lives are on the line in Afghanistan are also the biggest markets for Afghan heroin."

For a blog that makes the same point more directly, see "Bush Policies Create Terrorism on Our Streets," here.

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