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The Afghan village that uses opium as its currency

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By Chris Sands in Badakhshan, Afghanistan
 
The Independent (UK)
Published: 04 May 2007
 
Paper money has all but disappeared from the village of Shahran-e-Khash. Instead the common currency is the one resource Afghanistan has no shortage of – opium.
 
At the market in this remote north-eastern corner of Afghanistan, five litres of engine oil – worth around £5 – can be bought for 100g of opium. Two bottles of Coca-Cola will set you back 18g. Even the children use opium to buy goods.
 
“All the children put a little bit of opium on a leaf as payment. They ask the shopkeeper, ‘Please give me a pen, give me two notebooks, give me two biscuits and three pieces of chewing gum’,” explained Shahran Pur, a tribal elder.
 
Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium and the drugs trade has become a major headache for President Hamid Karzai and his Nato allies. While poppy farming often helps fund the Taliban-led insurgency, officials are acutely aware of how important it also is to the general population. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Shahran-e-Khash, a remote village two hours from Faizabad, the capital of the relatively peaceful province of Badakhshan.
 
Its entire economy is built around opium, with everyone from children to the local hardware store owner dealing in the drug. People here are so poor they frequently don’t have the money to buy basic household goods. Instead, they use the poppies they grow in the surrounding fields to purchase what they need.
 
If the poppy is not in season the shopkeeper will keep a record in a ledger of the items people have taken and the debts are paid off after the harvest. When he finally has the drug, he sells it to a third party who comes from outside the area. The money he makes from this transaction is then used to replenish his stock.
 
Khan Agha, 30, who runs a fabric store, said: “Yes, my trade is based on the poppy. If they were not cultivated here everyone would move, especially me.
 
“We weigh the opium and it has a specific price. The fabric also has its specific price; we deal with it that way. After I collect the opium I will put it into packets according to weight, then a customer comes who buys it wholesale. I sell it to them for cash and then go to Kabul or Faizabad to get the fabric for my shop.”
 
Shahran-e-Khash is situated in the district of Khash and many villages in the area are equally dependent upon opium. The poppies are planted in March and commonly harvested during August or September. Unlike other parts of Afghanistan, harvest usually only comes once a year because of the cold.
 
Residents are adamant there is not a single drug addict among the local population. They also claim they have no contact with the people involved further down the smuggling chain.
 
Shahran Pur, the tribal elder, asked that his real name not be published in this article. He told The Independent: “It’s the same system as if someone grows potatoes or onions and takes them to the market. The shopkeeper will buy it and then he will sell it to other customers.
 
“You will see a young man coming here on his motorbike who will need 7kg of opium from the shopkeeper. He might have travelled from very far, for example Faizabad, and he can also put bread on the table just because of this work. But the real mafia involved, we don’t know where they are.”
 
Afghanistan accounts for more than 90 per cent of the world’s opium supply and according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) cultivation in 2006 rose by 59 per cent on the previous year.
 
The Afghan government’s intermittent attempts at curbing the trade are often met with resistance. Even the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) recently aired a radio advert in the southern province of Helmand saying it was acceptable to produce opium. The ad was withdrawn after complaints from Kabul.
 
Cultivation in Badakhshan increased by 77 per cent last year and the people of Shahran-e-Khash said they have been offered no real alternative. “Let me tell you, every member of our tribe, everyone, is aware of how bad this is. We know what sort of crimes might be committed because of these drugs. We feel guilty for doing this and we accept that we partly share in those crimes,” Shahran Pur said.
 
“If the government came to us and gave us food for three months we would try to spend the other nine months with an empty stomach and we would stop cultivating this.”

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Written by afghandevnews

May 10, 2007 at 12:26 pm

Posted in Drugs

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