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UN: Afghan Drug Trade Thriving

Hannah Schaeffer

U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime Chief Yury Fedotov warned Wednesday that Afghanistan risks becoming a “full-fledged narco-state.” Fedotov confirmed that the annual “Afghanistan Opium Survey” due to come out next week, will show growth in drug trading from 2012, affecting not only southern provinces but also land in the north, traditionally under control of the central government. Without support from the international community to create jobs, he said, poppy cultivation and opium production will continue to rise.

As a global leader in opium production, Afghanistan’s government and NATO forces have tried for over a decade to reduce the problem with eradication campaigns and crop substitution programs. Despite these efforts, opium production in Afghanistan represented 75 percent of global production in 2012, and areas of cultivation have more than doubled since 2002.

An Afghan boy works in an opium poppy field Saturday in Musa Qala in Helmand province. (Photo: Reuters)

Effects of poppy cultivation and the resulting drug trade run deep throughout the economy and society. Rural Afghans depend on the crop for their livelihood, often making many times more money for planting poppies than they do for wheat or pomegranates. Opium trade has provided financing for the Taliban insurgency, as well as corrupt Afghan government officials. But widespread production, has also taken its toll on the locals in contact with heroin. The rate of drug use in Afghanistan reached 30 percent in some areas. Nationally, up to 1.6 million people use drugs, draining the economy of productive labor and spreading HIV.

The withdrawal of coalition forces at the end of 2014 will pose a new challenge to combating poppy cultivation. U.S. officials say they have set up a competent counter-narcotics team within the Afghan government, and continue to shift responsibility for security to the Afghans. Yet, this week’s study shows that even with a NATO presence the illicit drug trade increased. According to the office of the special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, drug trafficking is all but guaranteed to boom in the southern provinces. Without the U.S. military, Afghan agents have limited mobility and will have to limit their drug operations to Kabul.

With its army impeded by corruption, lack of equipment, and poor logistics, the Afghan military will struggle to wage its war on drugs, which has major implications for its ability to fight a raging insurgency. Already, Taliban units have fought to claim ground as U.S. forces have withdrawn.