Profits and poppy: Afghanistan's illegal drug trade a boon for Taliban
The United States spent more than $8 billion over 15 years on efforts to deprive the Taliban of their profits from Afghanistan's opium and heroin trade, from poppy eradication to airstrikes and raids on suspected labs. That strategy failed.16 Aug 2021
As the United States wraps up its longest war, Afghanistan remains the world's biggest illicit opiate supplier and looks certain to remain so as the Taliban is on the brink of taking power in Kabul, said current and former U.S. and U.N. officials and experts.
Widespread destruction during the war, millions uprooted from their homes, foreign aid cuts, and losses of local spending by departed U.S.-led foreign troops are fueling an economic and humanitarian crisis that is likely to leave many destitute Afghans dependent on the narcotics trade for survival.
Some U.N. and U.S. officials worry Afghanistan's slide into chaos is creating conditions for even higher illicit opiate production, a potential boon to the Taliban.
"The Taliban have counted on the Afghan opium trade as one of their main sources of income," Cesar Gudes, the head of the Kabul office of the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), told Reuters. "More production brings drugs with a cheaper and more attractive price, and therefore a wider accessibility."
With the insurgents entering Kabul on Sunday, "these are the best moments in which these illicit groups tend to position themselves" to expand their business, Gudes said.
Despite the threats posed by Afghanistan's illicit drug business, experts noted, the United States and other nations rarely mention in public the need to address the trade - estimated by the UNODC at more than 80% of global opium and heroin supplies.
"We've stood by on the sidelines and, unfortunately, allowed the Taliban to become probably the largest funded non-designated terrorist organization on the globe," said a U.S. official with knowledge of Afghanistan's drug trade.
"The U.S. and international partners have continued to pull out and not addressed poppy cultivation," the official said on condition of anonymity. "What you're going to find is that it has exploded."
POPPY CULTIVATION SOARS
Afghan farmers weigh myriad factors in deciding how much poppy to plant. These range from annual precipitation and the price of wheat, the main alternative crop to poppy, to world opium and heroin prices.
Yet even during droughts and wheat shortages, when wheat prices rocket, Afghan farmers have grown poppy and extracted opium gum that is refined into morphine and heroin. In recent years, many have installed Chinese-made solar panels to power deep water wells.
Illicit narcotics are "the country's largest industry except for war," said Barnett Rubin, a former State Department adviser on Afghanistan.
The estimated all-time high for opium production was set in 2017 at 9,900 tons worth some $1.4 billion in sales by farmers or roughly 7% of Afghanistan's GDP, the UNODC reported.Share this on: