Already having more than enough on its plate in terms of dealing with electoral crisis and peace with insurgents, Afghanistan is also faced with yet another huge challenge of dealing with narcotics – something that is the main source financing terrorism and contributing to the unabated corruption in the country. Sadly, Afghanistan is still the second-largest drug-producing country in the world since 1994 as the value of narcotics produced in Afghanistan surpassed the country’s exports between 2017 and 2018, according to report by the Special Inspector General for AfghanistanReconstruction (SIGAR) last month. Meanwhile, a recent study launched by the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU) titled “The Helmand Food Zone: The Illusion of Success”, identified the issue of drugs as a key challenge that the new Afghan government, whose formation seems to be around the corner, will have to tackle.
The research highlights how the Helmand Food Zone project – aimed at reducing poppy – backfired as it led to a boom in drug production fed local corruption and fomented resentment against the local authorities. It also institutionalized forms of corruption which further alienated the rural population from the authorities because the project, among other issues, turned a blind eye towards repeated reports of corruption concerning the distribution of wheat seed and fertilizers as alternatives for poppy. Moreover, SIGAR in its report said the US has spent $8.94 billion in Afghanistan on fighting narcotics since 2002 but these billions have been of no avail as there is no reduction in these underground economic activities of illegal drugs. Trading in this menace is being fueled instead of being curbed which raises the question of what’s wrong?
It’s the policies pursued that are flawed and there is a need for new approaches. Thankfully, the research has brought attention to a silent tsunami that is eating away at the Afghan state and nation. The information and facts unveiled by the research should be taken into serious consideration by the future government alongside the US and the international community. They should devise viable planning, implementing and monitoring measures that are required for tackling a problem that has serious implications for Afghanistan and the international community because it has been furnishing terrorism with required funds and failing Afghanistan as a functioning state. As Afghanistan’s opium-driven economy has been a thorn in its international backers’ side, the failure of their approach in this regard signifies they had been improperly intervening so far due to not focusing on the main causes and following defective strategies. Their efforts and funds have had no tangible results but rather adverse effects such as paving way for more corruption. The status quo necessitates that they should alter their modus operandi and counter-narcotic strategies and start focusing on how the drugs could be eradicated and interdicted completely, thus avoiding further waste of money.