Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Wednesday, July 15th, 2020

Opium Production and Trade Aggravate a Simmering Social Crisis


Opium Production and Trade Aggravate a Simmering Social Crisis

The unbridled production and trafficking of narcotics in many parts of the country impose great social and political costs on the country. The social dimension of this illicit, albeit lucrative trade has been an unprecedented rise in drug addiction among our population; needless to say that Afghan drug continues to take its heavy toll on the streets of Asian and European cities.

The international community and the government of Afghanistan have so far responded by throwing money at the problem. The success in curtailing this burgeoning trade has been limited over the years. One reason can be traced to the continued military-security attitude towards eradication of opiates production in Southern planks of the country.

The Western military forces have been reluctant in eradicating the production in southern areas as they fear a public backlash that, in their thinking, might endanger them and compromise their mission of defeating the Taliban in those areas.

The sprawling drug production and trade continues to be one among many hurdles that have hampered the process of building a viable Afghan State. It would be no exaggeration to say that the drug trade has been a major source of many problems that have afflicted our country and hampered progress since 2001. The flow of black money in hundreds of millions of Dollars per year has inflated a parallel, black economy and has been a source of corruption and delegitimization of the Afghan government.

It is such an irony that at the peak of the recent global financial crisis, when the large banks and financial institutions in the Western countries stopped lending and liquid credit dried up, according to a high-ranking official at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, it has been Afghan drug money coupled with Columbian cocaine proceeds that came to the rescue of these banks and financial institutions. This has been so since hundreds of billions of Dollars from the retail sale of drugs is largely liquid and these proceeds, when deposited at these banks, were their only tradable, liquid assets at the height of the crisis.

The fall-out of the drug produced in our country has led to a social crisis in the country with close to 8% of our population estimated to be addicted to one form of narcotics. The countries consuming our narcotics too pay a heavy social cost as millions are hooked to drugs coming out of Afghanistan. According to conservative estimates, the black money obtained from the so-called "export" of opium and heroin reaches hundreds of millions of Dollars per year. This black money has been a major source of corruption in the government since 2001.

As bulk of the drug production takes place in the Taliban-infested areas of the South, Taliban have been able to profit to the tune of tens of millions of Dollars per year from taking part in this lucrative business. It is rightly pointed out that drug trade finances a large part of the Taliban operations and international terrorist networks.

The profit from this black trade has gone into purchasing weapons, explosives and equipment which have been in turn used against our army soldiers and Police personnel. However, Taliban, of course, are not the only beneficiaries of this vast and sprawling drug trade.

Certain powerful and well-connected individuals at the helm of organized trafficking syndicates have been able to control and monopolize the trade and use the proceeds, among other things, for political subversion, elimination of their political rivals and weakening the institutions of the government.

On the social front, the drug produced in Afghanistan has had catastrophic consequences on our society as well as the countries whose people consume our opiate. Addiction to drugs has sharply increased in the country over the past few years. It has led to lives being destroyed, families falling apart and the young men and women of our country throwing themselves into a vicious circle of disarray and decay. The drug coming from our country continues to wreak havoc in the consuming countries.

In sum, the menace of drug production and trade has been a major hurdle in the way of state-building in the country and strengthening the rule of law and writ of the government. Regional warlords and crime syndicates, both national and international that actually control and sustain this trade challenge the rule of law and the authority of the Afghan government.

As long as the burgeoning black economy exists and continues to thrive, it would be very difficult for the government of Afghanistan to extend its authority and deliver on its promises and obligations towards the people.

Therefore, our country Afghanistan and our government face a historic challenge. It is imperative to not only confront the Taliban on the battlefields of Helmand, Kandahar or Uruzgan, but to combat them on other fronts as well. These fronts will be eliminating the production and trafficking of narcotics, destroying the secretive networks of crime syndicates engaged in trafficking and ultimately dismantling the black opium economy. This process will be long and complex and impossible to achieve in a matter of a few years but a longer-term perspective of a decade and longer would be adequate.

Accomplishing this feat would require revisiting and revising the counter-narcotics strategy currently pursued by the Afghan government with the help of American and British agencies. In spite of spending hundreds of millions of dollars so far, the counter-narcotics efforts have had limited success.

The government should address the root causes of the problem and not only the symptoms. The strategies should involve both supply-side and demand-side solutions. On the supply side and at the producer level, it should promote alternative crops and livelihoods for the farmers.

The political will among the highest officials must be mustered and law enforcement agencies should be required to come up with redoubled resolve and capacity to bring to justice the kingpins, however politically influential they may be.

Appropriate legislations must be passed by the Parliament. On the demand side, awareness of the evils of drug-use among the people especially the youth in rural and urban areas must be increased. The Afghan drug problem is an international problem since the opium produced in villages of this country continues to take its toll on the streets of Europe, Russia and Iran. Therefore, other countries must come to the aid of Afghan government in this battle of utmost importance.

The author is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at outlook afghanistan@gmail.com

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