06 March 2007

Afghanistan Already A Narco-State

Afghanistan's Opium Harvest 2001-2006
Even two years ago, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission was lamenting the fact that Afghanistan had already become a narco-state. Today, the country's drugs trade accounts for about a third of Afghanistan's economy and last year's opium harvest of 6,100 tons was 50% higher than the previous two years record levels and three times higher than the level before the Taleban banned production. Under the Taleban, production in 2001 fell to just 185 tons, but then we went to war.

Without adequate international investment for reconstruction, the country has become the source of 92% of the world's supply of opium and the source of at least 90% of heroin on British streets. This means that it’s not a problem that we can simply dismiss as being on the other side of the world. Attempts to destroy the crop have clearly failed (no more than 10% of the crop has been eradicated since we ousted the Taleban) – unsurprisingly, given that it is such a lucrative trade for all involved. A good proportion of Afghanistan opium is smuggled out through the former Soviet republic of Tajikistan, where I used to work. I recall being reliably informed by one of my government contacts there that when the chief of police arrests someone smuggling 1.5kg of drugs, he records just 1kg in the official records – efforts to restrict the trade are as affected by the culture of corruption as every other area of life.

It is high time therefore that we give serious consideration to other options, such as the Conservatives' recent suggestion that Afghan opium poppies should be purchased to make pharmaceutical products such as diamorphine, a pain-reliever used after operations and for the terminally ill, which is in short supply.

The US drug enforcement agency has previously noted that the opium industry is financing terrorism, subversive activities, and warlordism. If our troops are to have any chance of success in Afghanistan, and if we are to get a grip on the cheap drugs that are such a blight on society here in the UK, we cannot continue pursuing the same policies that have failed us so miserably since 2001. Otherwise, United Nations fears that this year's opium harvest will be even greater than last year's bumper crop will be realised.