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Context of 'September 2, 2006: Afghanistan’s Opium Production Hits Record Levels Again'

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A sign put up by the Taliban reads: “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan not only engenders illegal things forbidden but launches effective struggles against illicit drugs as these drugs are a great threat to personality, wisdom, life, health, economy, and morality.”A sign put up by the Taliban reads: “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan not only engenders illegal things forbidden but launches effective struggles against illicit drugs as these drugs are a great threat to personality, wisdom, life, health, economy, and morality.” [Source: BBC]The Taliban bans poppy growing in Afghanistan. As a result, the opium yield drops dramatically in 2001, from 3,656 tons to 185 tons. Of that, 83 percent is from Northern Alliance-controlled lands. This is supposedly done in response to Western pressure. (Harris 11/25/2001; Hopkins and Taylor 2/21/2002; Reuters 3/3/2002) However, United Nations officials later suggest that the ban was actually used by the Taliban to drive up their drug profits. According to these officials, for several years, the Taliban had stockpiled over half of their annual opium harvest in a series of warehouses around the country. When the ban begins, a kilogram of opium sells for around $44 wholesale, but one year later the price rises to $400. (Leinwand, Locy, and Walt 10/16/2001) Time magazine will later suggest that the ban was the idea of al-Qaeda’s financial experts working with Haji Juma Khan (see December 2001 and After) and other alleged top Afghan drug traffickers. The ban “meant huge profits for the Taliban and their trafficker friends who were sitting on large stockpiles when prices soared.” (McGirk 8/2/2004)

An Afghani farmer stands in his opium poppy fields.An Afghani farmer stands in his opium poppy fields. [Source: Shaul Schwarz/ Corbis]“American officials have quietly abandoned their hopes to reduce Afghanistan’s opium production substantially this year and are now bracing for a harvest large enough to inundate the world’s heroin and opium markets with cheap drugs.” They want to see the new Afghan government make at least a token effort to destroy some opium, but it appears that the new government is not doing even that. Afghan leader Hamid Karzai had announced a total ban on opium cultivation, processing, and trafficking, but it appears to be a total sham. The new harvest is so large that it could be “enough opium to stockpile for two or two and a half more years.” (Golden 4/1/2002) Starting this month, Karzai’s government offers farmers $500 for every acre of poppies they destroy, but farmers can earn as much as $6,400 per acre for the crop. The program is eventually cancelled when it runs out of money to pay farmers. (Shah 3/27/2003)

The Afghan government warns that unless the international community hands over the aid it promised, Afghanistan will slip back into its role as the world’s premier heroin producer. The country’s foreign minister warns Afghanistan could become a “narco-mafia state.” (BBC 3/17/2003) A United Nations study later in the month notes that Afghanistan is once again the world’s number one heroin producer, producing 3,750 tons in 2002. Farmers are growing more opium poppies than ever throughout the country, including areas previously free of the crop. (Shah 3/27/2003)

Opium production in Afghanistan, 1980-2005. Based on United Nations data.Opium production in Afghanistan, 1980-2005. Based on United Nations data. [Source: UNODC/MCN] (click image to enlarge)Roughly 4,600 tons of opium are harvested in Afghanistan during 2004, according to a December 2004 statement by Russian Federal Drug Control Service Oleg Kharichkin. By the end of the year, more than 206,000 hectares in Afghanistan are reportedly planted with the crop. The Russians believe that 2005 production will approach 5,000 tons. (PakTribune (Islamabad) 12/22/2004)

Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan by province, 2005. Based on satellite surveys and other analysis by the UN. Redder provinces produce more.Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan by province, 2005. Based on satellite surveys and other analysis by the UN. Redder provinces produce more. [Source: UNODC/MCN] (click image to enlarge)The United Nations says Afghanistan’s latest opium harvest is the biggest ever. The harvest was 6,100 metric tons (enough for 610 tons of heroin), an increase of nearly 50 percent from the year before. This is 92 percent of the world total and 30 percent more than global consumption. Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN’s drug office, says, “It is indeed very bad, you can say it is out of control.” He says the Taliban have profited from the drug trade, and they promise protection to growers who expand their operations. 400,000 acres were planted with poppies in 2006; about ten percent of these poppy fields were destroyed by the Afghan government’s eradication program. About five percent was destroyed in the previous year. (Gall 9/2/2006; Pennington 9/3/2006)


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