Fighting Drugs in Afghanistan

Fighting Drugs in Afghanistan

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In Roman mythology, a dual-faced Janus was the god used to symbolize change and transitions such as the progression of past to future. The seventh recommendation of the White Paper of Interagency Policy Group’s Report on US Policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan, the new US strategy for AF-PAK, establishes the necessity to break the link between narcotics and insurgency.

Maybe this goal could be a Janus-liked mission: although the insurgency in AF-PAK is seen as a Taliban-led force, it is also clear that there are other groups interested in maintaining ungoverned areas in Afghanistan. At the same time, there are different approaches among allies to fight drugs in the country.

The drugs problem affects the ultimate nature of governance and society structure, to the development of Afghanistan as a successful state, to the Central Asia area, and finally to the international health and law system: Afghanistan is the world's leading supplier of opiates (93%) trafficked as opium, morphine and heroin. In Helmand is produced 50% of world production of opium, and this province, along Kandahar, is the place where the Taliban are strongest. At the same time, most labs are in the province of Nangamar.

In its final Afghan Opium Survey for 2007 issued recently, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) shows that opium is now equivalent to more than half (53%) of the country's licit GDP: the total export value of opiates produced in and trafficked from Afghanistan in 2007 was about $4 billion, a 29% increase over 2006.

Since the ousting of the Taliban from power in Kabul in late 2001, the area under poppy cultivation has risen from roughly 8,000 hectares to an estimated 165,000 hectares. The narcotics industry in Afghanistan and the region around it supports domestic instability and increases the terrorist threat emanating from the region. There needs to be a regional and multi-faceted approach to combating the problem.

Corruption associated with the opium economy has spread to all levels of the Afghan government from the police to the parliament, and is eroding the rule of law. The link between the narcotics industry and governance is threatening efforts to build stable and legitimate Afghan institutions. This poses a threat to Afghan institutions as well as to its economy by creating a parallel economy corrupting every level of national institutions. For example, in a single raid, 9 tons of opium was recovered from the offices of the Governor of Afghan’s Helmand Province. While the governor was eventually replaced, no punitive action was taken against him, and he moved on to a high-level position in parliament. This case is not unusual, with corrupt officials routinely being simply reassigned rather than removed from office.

For many of Afghanistan’s warlords, the opium trade brings money and power. Therefore, several of Afghanistan’s powerful warlords are also top drug-lords. In some cases, these warlords are the same individuals who cooperated with the United States in ousting the Taliban in 2001. In some provinces, the warlords are now promoting the opium industry by bribing government officials and providing protection to farmers and traffickers. Moreover, the UNODC reports that the Taliban have distributed leaflets ordering farmers to grow poppy. Furthermore, they are paying Afghan men up to $200 a month to fight alongside them against U.S. and NATO troops, compared to a mere $70 a month that the average Afghan police officer is paid by the Karzai government. Political corruption is so widespread in Afghanistan that it is undermining public institutions, eroding the rule of law, and creating widespread instability and volatility. Muhammad Daud, former governor of Helmand Province, in describing this linkage to the Taliban, stated: “the Taliban have forged an alliance with drug smugglers, providing protection for drug convoys and mounting attacks to keep the government away and the poppy flourishing.” For example, an estimated 70 percent of the Taliban’s income now comes from protection money and the sale of opium. Furthermore, the situation appears to be getting worse as evidenced by a Kabul Police Anti-Criminal Branch report stating, “Evidence is growing that the Taliban and their allies are moving beyond taxing the trade to protecting opium shipments, running heroin labs, and even organizing farm output in areas they control.”

However, the US and European Union nations are pondering a radically different approach, with positions even favouring the legalization of poppy production in Afghanistan. Furthermore, it would be problematic to merge counter-insurgency and counter-narcotics policies because COIN strategy needs the continued support of the local Afghan population. The correct approach starts understanding that opium production is not simply about illicit crops, but that it is a part of a complex rural economic system. Thus, the UK government is currently trying to embed counter-narcotics planning within the broader comprehensive rural development strategy by supporting the integration of the work of the Afghan counter-narcotic ministry with other ministries in Afghanistan. At the same time, there is an increasing approach on interdiction operations even carried out by ISAF forces, following the lines of the US interagency report’s recommendations.

The UK is supporting the Afghan Government in implementing their National Drug Control Strategy (NDCS). According to this strategy, the plan is sustained by eight pillars, which includes the whole range of activities required to combat the drugs trade. These eight pillars are: building institutions, information campaign, alternative livelihoods, interdiction and law enforcement, criminal justice, eradication, demand reduction and treatment of addicts, and Regional cooperation. This strategy disposes £1.6m to free provinces from poppy crops, targeting areas for eradication (6000ha), creating alternative programs and information for more than 30,000 farmers. Following the ISAF integrated strategy of coordinating all institutions to create unity of effort in each district, the UK strategy will try the same approach, starting with a pilot program in Helmad, funded with £12m. But since 70% of the Afghan opium is also processed now in heroin in Afghanistan, then interdiction of precursor chemicals is a key goal, not only in the country but also in the region.

A regional strategy to combat the production and import of precursor chemicals would be a direct and effective way to stop the dangerous rise in the value of Afghan opium production. In this matter, regional cooperation is a central issue: Iran, Pakistan, Russia and, the Central Asian republics are being hit hard by drug trafficking. Some 2.8% of Iran's population has a dependency on hard drugs. Afghanistan’s drug use stands at 1.4% just behind Iran. Estimates of the number of addicts range from 1 million to 10 million. Four years ago most Iranian addicts used opium, but now a majority use heroin or "crystal". Thus, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan carried out the first-ever joint operation against drug trafficking networks on 8 March 2009, in the framework of an initiative brokered by the UNDOC under the so called Triangular Initiative that is part of the UNODC-coordinated Rainbow Strategy to counter the threat posed by Afghan opiates. This strategy engages both Afghanistan and surrounding countries in finding solutions. It consists of several operational plans targeting seven internationally agreed priority areas including border management, precursor chemicals, financial flows and drug abuse prevention and treatment.

The god Janus was worshipped in the Ianus geminus , a kind of temple with gates at each end. In the course of wars, the gates of the Janus were opened, and in its interior sacrifices and vaticinia were held to forecast the outcome of military deeds. Unfortunately, the doors were closed only during peacetime, an extremely rare event.

Professor David Garcia Cantalapiedra - Professor of International Relations at the Complutense University in Madrid. Co-author of "Perceptions and Policy in Transatlantic Relations. Prospective views from the US and Europe". Routledge 2009

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