According to a recent report by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, UNODC, there was seven per cent decrease in opium cultivation in Helmand during 2010. It has been the result of a two-year eradication campaign by the Anti-Narcotics Ministry. One wonders, why such a sluggish result? Billions of dollars are spent on this eradication campaign, but in two entire years, they could only make 7% reduction in the production. Helmand is still the 'Opiumistan' of the world. This province alone is the source of most of the world's heroin.
In official Government press releases, they claim opium cultivation is the main source of income for farmers in the province; therefore it needs longer-strategy to reduce production. Millions of dollars have been spent in alternative crop supporting programs.
Farmers in Helmand did not grow poppy in 70's and 80's, and under the last years of Taliban rule. If these peasants could make a livelihood through other crops, why they are unable to do so today, despite the attractive supporting-packages they are being offered in alternative-crop programs? The US, Britain and Denmark is financing $13 million for the eradication campaign this year.
More than 42,000 farmers in Helmand were enlisted to receive subsidized wheat and fertilizer. The peasants pay only a quarter of the market price for the supply they are provided under this subsidy program.
Though sluggish, the reduction in Helmand makes no difference in the statistics of poppy cultivation countrywide. Due to price-hike in higher demand, there is a similar percentage of increase in poppy production in Northern parts of the country. According to reports, there is 59% hike in drug prices.
According to latest media reports, there is a dangerous trend of new rise in the use of drugs in Afghanistan. According to a report from Herat, an increasing number of drug users are female. Statistics show that annually there are more than 150 new addicts. Among them, there are also pregnant women, who transfer this deadly-addiction to their newborns. It is more dangerous, because children of a female addict also become addicts.
In the kingdom of 'Opiumistan', Governor Mengal is credited for the support-package dubbed as "food zone program". For the last two years, we have seen their failure to bring a big difference. The question is, how long will the international community continue financing the campaign, and the Anti-Narcotics Ministry keep 'bribing' the farmers to stop poppy cultivation? The Government has been very soft in the opium war. There are certain reasons behind this.
The answer to this question is clear. The drug business is not that simple. There is a big mafia that controls the supply and cultivation, with support from bigwigs in the corridors of power.
The official argument and statistics is that 60% to 70% of the farmers in Helmand depend on poppy production, and if there is an eradication campaign of destroying the crops, it will "push" the peasants to insurgency.
With this logic, the poorest of Afghanistan in Badakhshan and Daikundi should have been the 'Opiumistan', or centers of insurgency. It is not a reduction-campaign, but a bribery-package to the so-called 'farmers'. The myth that majority of farmers grow poppy because of extreme poverty is partly a propaganda and disinformation campaign by drug-lords and those who are the bigwigs of Government who are in this business.
For instance, President Karzai himself has been the fiercest opponent of aerial-spray of herbicides in the eradication campaign. He has rejected such US proposals on anti-narcotics previously. The fact is that no one has been honest in the fight against drugs. The international troops are involved with insurgency, and local administrative corruption has hugely affected the campaign.
The US policy against drug eradication has been a total failure. Despite millions of dollars spent on efforts to eradicate, the drug production is high. It was the late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke who urged the Obama Administration to change drug efforts from poppy eradication to ban on drug shipments and supplies. It happens like this when a diplomat expert in political conflict resolution and peace negotiation try to fix drug business.
The UN, NATO and the US should have a joint eradication strategy going persistent and strict. The most effective way of eradicating poppy is aerial-spray of field and strict attitude by the Afghan Government. At the same time, the US should intensify the campaign to find, identify and target drug lords and those are involved in the process of trafficking.
The UNODC report says that 91 per cent of the poppy fields are in the insurgency-hit areas in Southern part of the country. Taliban-linked networks make about $400 million a year from the production and trafficking of opium. Afghanistan still produces more than 70 per cent of world opium supply.
And more than half of cultivation comes from Helmand. We set aside the argument that poppy-cultivation is Haram [forbidden] in Islam, and the fact that most production comes from areas with huge Taliban control.
It exposes their propaganda that the Taliban had cleaned Afghanistan from poppy under their rule, otherwise why they do not discourage farmers in areas of their influence to stop poppy-production, if they are concerned for Sharia, and consider it Haram. Just saying for the record, the myth about Taliban and opium production is based on false propaganda reports.
It's true that the Taliban stopped drug production during the last years of their rule. It was aimed at gaining international recognition for their brutal regime. But the fact is that initial financiers and supporters of the Taliban movement were drug smugglers of Kandahar and Chaman city of Pakistan. There is a famous decree of Mullah Omar that says after taking out the share of Zakat [religious tax], poppy production is not forbidden in Islam.