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Afghan opiates and failed US efforts

The Obama administration has included Afghanistan in the list of major drug producing countries. The US President Barack Obama acknowledges that Afghanistan has remained the world’s largest poppy producer in the last 15 years, but gave us no clue about the spread. Most probably he wanted to blanked the fact that poppy cultivation saw a boom after the US and British forces landed in Kandahar, Helmand and other Afghan provinces. Afghanistan is the world’s top opium producer because the anti-narcotics campaigns that the Afghan authorities initiated with help of the international partners are drawn-out.  Despite having military bases in Kandahar and Helmand, the US-led NATO troops failed to prevent the mushroom growth in opium production.

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crimes, poppy was cultivated on 224,000 hectares in the war-hit country in 2014. The statistics show seven percent increase in the production compared to 2013. Helmand, Kandahar, Farah, Nangarhar, Nimroz, Badakhshan, Zabul and Badghis provinces top the list when it comes to poppy as farmers’ favorite crop. Taliban insurgents, Pakistani militants and the Islamic State have presence in these provinces and regularly attack civilian and military installations.

The US has poured $7 billion in the failed counternarcotics drives. That’s why only 15 out of 34 Afghan provinces are poppy-free. Corruption and inattention are key factors. Before arrival of the foreign troops in the country in 2001, opiates production was restricted and limited. Kandahar and Helmand provinces were on top of the poppy cultivating provinces before the security transition in 2014.

There is no denying to the fact that the amount that international partners channeled into the counternarcotics drives was mostly wasted and embezzled.

Corruption is the major barrier that hampered the anti-poppy campaigns, because the illicit drugs trade attracted even foreigners. Besides foreign civilians some spy agency are also cashing the Afghan opiates to fund insurgency in Afghanistan and other countries. There is a perception that the militants are only benefiting from the illegal trade. However, the bitter truth is that they only generate up to $200 million annually from the illicit trade. As per estimates, Afghan opium generates $60 billion per year. The international community failed to trace the remaining amount which is quite sufficient to fund several terrorist organizations.

Looking at the fruitless efforts of the relevant Afghan officials and their international partners, it seems that opium production would increase further. Overhauling of the anti-narcotics police is left in doldrums, though, it is essential. With such minimum facilities and in the absence of capacity building programs, it is unjust to expect that the anti-narcotics department would succeed. The Obama administration should provide equipments and training to the Afghan anti-narcotics police if the US really concerned about the Afghan opiates.

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