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A scourge woven into the fabric of Afghanistan

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Tom Hyland
The Age (Australia)
October 28, 2007

THE opium poppy symbolises the complexities and dilemmas confronting Afghanistan and its allies.

There are no easy answers in dealing with the crop that has made Afghanistan the world’s largest opium producer, supplying 93 per cent of the illegal opium trade.

Opium cultivation accounts for 60 per cent of the Afghan economy and 90 per cent of its exports. More than three million people, 14 per cent of the population of 23 million, depend on it for their income.

The bulk of the cultivation is centred in the southern provinces — and it’s no coincidence that this is where the Taliban insurgency has erupted over the past two years.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported in August that “opium cultivation is now closely linked to insurgency,” with the Taliban using drug money to arm, supply and pay its guerilla fighters.

Australia has direct interests in this. It’s not just that law enforcement agencies are warning that heroin made from Afghan poppies could soon flood our streets.

The opium trade also has a direct bearing on the security of Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.

Oruzgan province, where Australia’s troops are based, is one of the country’s biggest opium producers, with 9204 hectares under poppies this year, according to the UNODC report. That figure is slightly down on last year, but it’s still double what it was four years ago.

The Afghan Government’s half-hearted poppy eradication program is compromised by official corruption. But the major obstacle is a lack of security in growing areas and resistance from farmers.

The UNODC argues that foreign military forces in Afghanistan have a vested interest in supporting counter-narcotics operations. But it says foreign forces instead tacitly accept opium trafficking along the border with Pakistan as a way to extract intelligence information.

Australian troops don’t take part in poppy eradication; they have their hands full with reconstruction, trying to restore stability, and fighting the Taliban. They regard dealing with the drugs as essentially a police function.

But there’s another reason, recently spelled out by Lieutenant-Colonel Mick Ryan, former head of Australian reconstruction troops in Oruzgan. The drug trade plays a key role in the province, adding to a complex environment that presents Australian troops with “constant and multifaceted challenges”, he wrote in The Army Journal.

Opium is the largest component of the local economy, involving a large proportion of farmers and others. “As a consequence,” Lieutenant-Colonel Ryan wrote, “any effort to disrupt the drug trade incurs hostility from the local people and active and violent resistance from drug traffickers and major dealers”.

So here’s the Catch 22: opium provides the cash that funds the insurgency, but forcibly eradicating the drug trade fuels the resentment that is the seedbed of the insurgency.

Heroin, the facts

Where it comes from:

(Drugs seizures in Australia, 2006-2007):
– South-East Asia (Golden Triangle): 61.9 per cent
– Afghanistan: 23.6 per cent

What it’s worth:

Afghan farmers can earn $US5200 ($A5700) per hectare of opium or $US546 per hectare cultivated with wheat

What it costs:

About $50 for a 0.1 gram hit

SOURCES: AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE, UN

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Written by afghandevnews

October 29, 2007 at 3:42 am

Posted in Drugs

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