Afghanistan drug war a lost cause

THE West is losing the heroin war in Afghanistan, 10 years after world leaders said wiping out the drug was a main reason for invading the nation.
Despite the expenditure of tens of billions of dollars in a conflict that has so far cost the lives of almost 3000 Coalition troops, including 32 Australians, production of the drug by Afghan farmers rose between 2001 and 2011 from just 185 tonnes to 5800 tonnes.
It increased by 61 per cent last year alone. The United Nations yesterday warned that the situation was out of control.
Declaring that the West had lost its war against the drug, a glum UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon added: "Time is not on our side."
A separate news report in the Washington Post  yesterday said the US military expected that sustaining the Afghan army and police forces after the planned withdrawal of American combat forces in 2014 would cost about $4 billion each year.
Most of that money will have to come from the US and from other outside donors.
The Afghan Government can afford to pay only about 12 per cent of the expected $4 billion annual price tag of the Afghan forces beyond 2014, said the US military official.
Most of the remaining costs would be borne by the US Government. US officials are also counting on big contributions from NATO allies to fund the Afghan forces beyond 2014.
The UN figures on the heroin industry make grim reading for those who backed the invasion.
Three weeks after the attack on America's Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said: "The arms the Taliban are buying today are paid for by the lives of young British people buying their drugs on British streets.
"This is another part of their regime we should seek to destroy."
But 10 years later, the UN figures reveal that the outcome has been dramati cally different.
Some 15 per cent of Afghanistan's Gross National Product now comes from drug-related exports, a business worth up to $3.2 billion each year, it was claimed.
Officials say there is evidence the opium trade is being orchestrated by the Taliban, with the vast profits used to buy weapons.
The warning came at a meeting in Austria of more than 50 countries.
Ironically, the Taliban had overseen a significant fall in heroin production in the months before the invasion.
Their leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, had collaborated with the UN and decreed that growing poppies was un-Islamic, resulting in one of the world's most successful anti-drug campaigns.
As a result of this ban, opium poppy cultivation was reduced by 91 per cent from the previous year's estimate of 82,172 ha.
The ban was so effective that Helmand Province, which had accounted for more than half the production, recorded no poppy cultivation during 2001.
However, with the overthrow of the Taliban, opium fields returned, despite the destruction of crops by coalition forces and initiatives to persuade farmers to switch to other produce.
There was some success, but commanders said forces were too stretched to focus on crop destruction and it turned farmers against the troops.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime estimated that the 2006 harvest was about 6100 tonnes - 33 times its level in 2001 and a 3200 per cent increase in five years.
Cultivation in 2006 reached a record 165,000 ha, compared with 104,000 in 2005 and 7606 in 2001 under the Taliban.
This fell in 2010 because of crop disease, but the UN figures show that it increased sharply again last year when 131,000 ha were under cultivation, producing some 5800 tonnes of opium.
The rise came even though the Afghan government and NATO have boosted crop eradication measures by 65 per cent and made significant seizures in recent months.
The UN says there are now 17 provinces in Afghanistan affected by poppy cultivation, up from 14 a year ago.
Experts say the Taliban's involvement in the drugs trade ranges from direct assistance such as providing farmers with seed, fertiliser and cash advances to distribution and protection.
The UN Secretary General warned the problem was threatening Afghanistan.
"Drug trafficking and transnational organised crime undermine the health of fragile states (and) weaken the rule of law," he said. "Above all, the Afghan government must prioritise the issue of narcotics."
A report by the UN Office of Drugs and Crime said revenue from opium production in Afghanistan soared by 133 per cent last year to about $1.8 billion after the crop recovered from a 2010 blight.
Afghan minister Zarar Ahmed Moqbel Osmani urged the international community to work hard in preventing the components needed to turn opium into heroin from entering Afghanistan.


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