Afghanistan, as well as the border areas of Pakistan, have been known to grow and process poppies into opium and heroin, which is primarily exported for consumption to European countries and the United States.
This has been going on for decades. This narco-trafficking escalated during the Soviet Afghan war of 1979-1992. After the Soviets lost and left the country, the warlords took the center stage in killing each other until Mullah Omar overtook them all.
By October 2001, more than 90 percent of the area of Afghanistan was controlled by Mullah Omar and his Taliban.
In July 2000, Mullah Omar issued a decree banning poppy cultivation in Taliban-controlled areas. In compliance with his decree, the poppy production in these areas dropped to nothing. A very small amount, however, continued to be produced in areas controlled by the Northern Alliance. The United Nation confirmed that Afghanistan was practically free of poppy production. In keeping with the principal of supply and demand, the loss in production of poppies in Afghanistan was somewhat made up by increase in production in Myanmar (formerly Burma).
The Northern Alliance has always been known to consist of people with no scruples and principles. They always are looking for an opportunity to capitalize on needs of other people. So in October 2001 when the U.S. needed their help to invade the territory controlled by the Taliban -- they found an opportunity. The U.S. became victorious with the help of the Northern Alliance and Hamid Karzai was installed as the President of Afghanistan (in reality only half of Kabul).
Most of Karzai's government was and continues to be controlled by these people with no scruples, and now is the time to pay for their services. Now they control larger areas to cultivate and poppy production has soared.
The State Department's International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, issued March 4, states that 206,700 hectares (one hectare is equal to 2.47 acres) were devoted to poppy cultivation in Afghanistan in 2004 -- more than a threefold increase over the amount of land under cultivation in 2003. The fields produced an estimated 4,950 metric tons of opium gum, far exceeding the country's previous record of 3,108 metric tons in 2000. Afghanistan's 2004 opium production could potentially be refined into 582 metric tons of heroin, putting Afghanistan far ahead of Burma, the second-place heroin producer, with a production potential of 28 metric tons.
"In Afghanistan, drugs are now a clear and present danger," said Antonio Maria Costa, director of the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime, on the release of the 2004 Afghanistan opium survey. "The fear that Afghanistan might degenerate into a narco-state is becoming a reality."
Terrorism was prevalent in Afghanistan during the Taliban regime, with no poppy production in 2001. And now under the Karzai regime, not only do we continue to have terrorism, but the narcotics production has gone through the roof. In the modern business terminology it is called a paradigm shift. We have traded up for bigger longer term problems. What is ironic about this is it is all happening under the watchful eyes of the U.S. and NATO armed forces.
Terrorists kill with guns, bombs and planes full of fuel. And narco-traffickers kill with illicit drugs. In one case, it is instantaneous death, in other it is long slow, death with very high cost to the people, families and the society.
Since Italians have more experience with criminal syndicates, NATO decided to adopt the Italian system of justice for Afghanistan. This system has been in place for a short while and we do not know whether it will work. We, however, do know that if the narcotics production and trade is allowed to take root, the narco traffickers will be better equipped to face the system that Italians are going to put in place.
So far we know that Osama bin Ladin and Mullah Omar and many other Taliban are still at large. The bombings continue. We have not been able to win the war on terrorism yet. And now we have the narcotics front to contend with. This also is another form of terrorism. Our government tells us we are making progress on war on terrorism. I have hard time believing it.
Taj Khan of Lodi is a consultant and retired engineering manager for the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.