The bustling opium and heroin "industry" that currently exists in Afghanistan was a direct result of the chaos that existed in the area after the Soviet Union invaded and set up a puppet government in it in 1979. The resulting jihad against Russia, largely financed by the United States, wrecked the countryside. Worse, after the Soviet armies withdrew after years of protracted fighting, the United States withdrew its influence and left the mujahadin warriors to fend for themselves. The Afghan puppet government, now without Soviet support, continued to be brutally attacked by the Afghan guerilla groups. This lasted until the radical fundamentalist group known as the Taliban captured the capital, Kabul, and, to some degree, unified the country.
At this point, the country was in a shambles. Civilization in Afghanistan was virtually destroyed, with almost everything hopelessly wrecked. To make matters worse, the fanatic Taliban sought to turn back the clock by trying to erase all vestiges of technology. Music was outlawed, women lost their rights, etc. It was at this point that the opium trade began. Farmers became aware that opium, when grown and sold, was worth more money than grain or foodstuffs. Furthermore, because of the great poverty and virtual lawlessness in the region, who was going to stop them from ensuring their survival through drastic action?
To make matters worse, the Taliban did not attempt to squash the growing drug trade. Instead, they saw only the money that exporting it could bring them. They forced the few remaining "hold-out" farmers to grow opium instead of foodstuffs, gaining money from taking a portion of the crops and selling them. The money made went to support the Afghan government as well as the various terrorist groups active in the country, including Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda. These groups could even be said to be the real power in Afghanistan, with a large influence in the government and therefore the ability to either raise opium themselves or siphon off money from the Taliban, which supported them. Eventually, Afghanistan became the largest opium producer and exporter in the world. International pressure became so great that the Afghan government was forced to ban the production of opium in the country and opium production did fall greatly.
When the United States coalition forcibly removed the Taliban from power in Afghanistan and Hamid Karzai became Premier, the drug problem unfortunately got worse. Though Karzai is making many beneficial changes to the country, he only maintains a precarious grip on power. Various warlords have control over much of the countryside. Depite the Afghan central government's ban on opium production, they continue to actively produce and export opium in order to enrich themselves and finance their armies.
Currently, the United States is involved in limited drug control activities, mostly restricted to drug interdiction operations on the porous border. However, opium and heroin production will continue indefinitely until the conditions that gave rise to it are eliminated:
- The absence of a strong central government
- Rampant poverty
- The lack of a viable economy to make it impossible to earn a living elsewhere
- Ethnic rivalries that incite violence and cause further destruction to the countryside.
Furthermore, opium farmers must be given incentive to switch crops, through rewards, subsidies, etc. and a comprehensive drug enforcement plan must be drawn up. Until these things happen, Afghanistan will continue to export enormous amounts of opium to the rest of the world, with the money funding terrorists and petty warlords.
- CNN for their special report on this awhile ago
- rougevert for information and general advice