The recent United Nations study and Afghanistan’s Ministry of Counter Narcotics about a sharp increase in opium cultivation once again sets people to sigh in utter frustration. The Afghanistan Opium Survey for 2013 of the United Nations projects that the land area used for opium cultivation reached a historic high in 2013 of 516,000 acres, a 36 percent increase from 2012. It noted that now 19 of the country’s 34 provinces are opium growers, and overall production was up by almost half. In a similar report, earlier this month, the Ministry of Counter Narcotics depicted a grim picture of drug addiction. Only domestic addicts paid 300 million dollar for drugs. Both reports bear resemblance with exception that the ministry clarifies that more than 70 percent of opium is produced in three restive provinces — Helmand, Kandahar and Nimroz.
Putting reports together, one thing becomes clear that decades long drug combat has gone to waste. Efforts to reel it back has bluntly failed. Billions of dollars spent both for destruction of opium farms or giving subsidies for alternative crops all went in waste. Like skinny drug addicts, sitting on the streets and following with longing but unexpectedly eye steps of every passerby for least sympathy to turn back and throw a coin on their skirt, Afghan government looks to grim prospective of drug combat. According to New York Times, only the US spent $6 billion dollar in this sphere since 2001. If it is put beside the expenditures made by UN, other foreign involved countries and Afghan government than we end up to a staggering sum depleted without any achievement. Based on the report of the survey, the production increased up by almost half in comparison to last year.
So, the question that pinches our mind is what would happen after the foreign military withdrawal? Amidst political antagonism, drug combat has been an obsession for many countries that are blamed of playing double game in the country. All neighboring countries have always agreed to work closely in terms of exchange of technics and intelligence sharing in order to hunt drug dealers. Pakistan and Iran, considered two of highly influential neighbors suffer from drug production in the country. Iran has one of the highest rates of drug addiction and it has included severe punishment for drug dealers in its punishment laws. Allegedly, anyone who carries more than 48 grams of drug would be hanged. Annually tens of Afghans are hanged in Iran mainly on account of smuggling drugs, however, Afghan officials and Media voiced out concerns that such cases do not pass all their legal procedure.
Despite such severe measures, the government still limp in terms of preventing the drug flows. Drugs still reach to Iranian consumers. So, if it has not been willing to support Afghan government to defeat its armed oppositions but combating drugs has been a shared aim of all. It means unlike the issue of insurgency in which some countries are secretly trying to keep them alive, perhaps there are no country trying to spoil the counter narcotic efforts. All to some extent support the so-called anti-drug campaign, because whether they are already the victims of drug trafficking or would become the victim if efforts fail.
So, with such level of consensus, the efforts bluntly failed. Part of the failure is, of course, linked to hesitation and major part of the wrong policies. Insurgents who are the major beneficiaries of opium cultivation — imposing 10 percent Islamic tax on the every crop, including opium, directing huge sum of money toward them have encouraged farmers to grow opium. Provinces where they exert influence has the largest opium farms like Helmand, Kandahar and Nimroz.
Government exert least influence in these provinces. Government only has dominant presence at the center or center of their districts. So, farmers with the support of Taliban can grow opium without fear. Years ago, our allies and government decided to ruin opium farms but seemingly the policy was neither implemented properly nor followed seriously. After destroying some farms, it appeared how farmers reacted harshly and created fear that such measure easily lead people to the front of oppositions. Therefore, the measure was put out of the scheme. So, if the government could strengthen its dominance in these provinces and followed the policy, it was highly unlikely that the country remain as record producer of drugs.
As said earlier, major part of the failure has a lot to do with policies. Subsidies and directing fund did not work and would not work. Such policy on one hand is based on plead and begging and on other hand will further encourage people to continue their wrong path. As far as they feel that opium cultivation would have any consequence rather would be a reward, they will stop.
Anyhow, we have lost opportunities. Now, Afghan government neither has the resources nor the support of the past years to fight opium cultivation and drug trafficking. And now the support will further decline after foreign military withdrawal. So, the government should reassess the policies or follow the old ones with much seriousness. I think along with improving the capacity of Afghan security forces to push back Taliban from fertile lands of Helmand, it should encourage religious scholars to play their role. According to Islamic Shariah, drug use and dealing is taboo (Haram). Hence, if some people commit suicide for the sake of religion, would they violate Shariah law in terms of opium cultivation? So, if people become aware of it and religious scholar play their role, there would be no need for expenditure of billions of dollars.
This article first appeared in Outlook Afghanistan. Click here to go to the original.