The announcement by Deputy Interior Minister of Counter Narcotics on Monday, June 20, 2011, mentioning that over three million Afghans are involved in manufacturing or trafficking drugs, has further added concerns to the drug issue that has already been bothering the honest national and international counter narcotics efforts. Afghanistan is considered as the top producer of narcotics and the country has been suffering because of this menace for the last 35 years or so.
The first notable growth of poppy cultivation in Afghanistan can be traced in mid 70's. The Afghan government at that time was very weak, with partial control over the provinces which largely were under the control of landlords and depended highly on agriculture. The landlords were not under strict control of the central government regarding the production of their agricultural activities. The demand of opium at that time was basically triggered by the fact that there was a ban going on in Iran regarding poppy cultivation. This made the landlords in Afghanistan turn their attentions towards poppy cultivation and by the late 1970's almost half of Afghan provinces had started growing opium.
In 1978 Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, and the first years of war mostly from 1979 to 1982 between the Soviet Union and the opposing groups, further deteriorated the situation of peace, harmony and stability. Invasion by Soviet Union turned the course of both national and international politics. The countries opposing Soviet Union, especially America, started supporting the opposing forces in Afghanistan, with the help of Afghan neighboring countries. The Jihadi networks in Afghanistan were basically strengthened during the same era to counter the atheist Soviet Union. This phenomenon started transfer of funds and supports in to the country that was then, to a considerable extent, used for the investment in the production and trafficking of narcotics. Afghanistan turned into a giant producer and trafficker of opium with no prominent control. By the mid 1980's Afghanistan produced one third of the total global production of opium; a total of 800 metric tones. And they were administered by seven major Mujahideen Groups.
In 1989 when Russia withdrew its forces out of Afghanistan, the Mujahideens who were being supported militarily and financially by external forces had to face a decline in support. As a result, the Mujahideens had to dig out their own means of generating economic and military support for themselves. But, as there were no other sources of generating income available in the country the dependence was further laid on poppy cultivation. By 1992,Mujahideen took over Kabul, but not with a very strong central command, thus resulting into fragmentation of the county into many tribes and groups. The individual warlords took no interest in strengthening the central government and each started living on his own. Again the only source that was available for their financial support was opium.
Thus, they did their best to provide the ever thirsty market with huge productions. By the mid 90's Afghanistan produced 2,200 to 2,400 metric tones of opium each year. The fragmentation of the country at the same time provided an opportunity to Taliban to seize power. In 1996, Taliban were able to gain control of most parts of the country and with a comparatively stronger central government in Kandahar. The reign of Taliban further organized the narcotics industry, as they also had to generate resources for themselves after being left without proper support from their earlier supporters. Narcotics at that time became a part of organized crime in Afghanistan and better international connections were made available for its business.
In the first year of Taliban's reign, there was a considerable rise in the production. In 1997/98 total production was 2,700 metric tones, which was a 43% rise as compared to previous year. In 98/99 the production reached to its peak at 4,500 metric tones, representing three quarters of world supply. During the same era there was a draught in the country that reduced the food production to a very miserable extent. As a result of this draught the country was further pushed towards illicit activities. Subsequently, Taliban initiated a ban on the production of opium, which had a considerable impact on the overall production and it reached to negligible amount. Only some areas outside the Taliban control continued the poppy cultivation.
The incident of 9/11 which resulted in the assault of Afghanistan by American forces in 2001, ended the control of Taliban in Afghanistan. The change in Afghanistan's political setup started with the agreement in the Bonn Conference in December 2001. This transition reached to its required result in the parliamentary elections of 2005 that concluded with the formation of the interim government led by president Hamid Karzai. So much has been changed since the formation of this so called democratic government.
Now, the central government enjoys much authority extending to most of the corners of the country. The security arrangements have improved and the country is now having a comparatively stronger army and police and the administrative setup has improved much. All these have been possible with considerable support from foreign allies of Afghanistan. But, it is unfortunate to note that the country has not made any considerable improvement regarding the eradication of opium production and its trafficking. Once again the country is standing among the leading producers and trafficker of opium, with the involvement of three million Afghans. And it is a government statistical record, there may be more involved in the process.
With the developments in all the other areas of the country, it is really unfortunate that there has been development in the industry of narcotics as well. The processes of production and smuggling of narcotics have turned complex. Now, it would not be sufficient to say that land lords are individually involved in the processes and the economic crisis is responsible for its opium production. Rather the phenomenon has gone through considerable changes. Presently, this industry has become more consolidated, rather than its fragmented past. There are more organized groups participating in the processes rather than individual names.
It has become a part of more organized crime with the involvement of international mafia. And proper and more supportive backing is being provided to it from many culprits from within the government and international traders. Therefore, in order to think of any proper solution of the issue the complexities related to the phenomenon has to be understood properly. Only theformation of anti-narcotics force can not solve the issue. There has to be both international and national initiatives in this regard, with proper accountability and punishment of those who are wolves in sheep clothing among the concerned authorities. And above all, all the initiatives must be pursued with honest intentions.