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Afghanistan growing more opium than ever

June 11, 2014 - Jim Anderson
In the most recent Gallup poll on U.S. military action in Afghanistan (conducted in February 2014), 49 percent of Americans said it was a mistake to send troops there.

Forty-eight percent said it was not a mistake.

It marked the first time since the U.S. became involved in Afghanistan in 2001 that Americans were as likely to say U.S. military involvement there was a mistake as to say it was not, Gallup reported.

Opposition to the war is hardly a reflection on the soldiers or the military itself. Rather, it’s an indictment of two presidential administrations that have lacked the political will to withdraw.

In November 2001, a mere 9 percent of Gallup respondents said sending troops to Afghanistan was a mistake. After 13 years, it’s no surprise that support has waned.

It’s a complicated picture, but perhaps no figures are more haunting than those for opium production.

Today, farmers in Afghanistan are growing more opium poppies than ever.

In 2013, according to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, some 516,000 acres in Afghanistan was cultivated for opium production — a record high. That’s nearly triple the acreage cultivated for poppies in 2002 (183,000 acres).

And it’s despite $10 billion spent by the U.S. over the past decade to battle narcotics and encourage other crops.

“Opium has a good income, and that is why people are cultivating it with all its problems,” a farmer in Marjah told the Associated Press earlier this year. “We are not scared from the government, because most of the officials have their share in the harvesting.”

If not the government, it’s the Taliban taking a share, or it’s both.

Taliban rulers moved to eradicate opium in 2000-01, declaring it un-Islamic. But after the Taliban was overthrown in the U.S. invasion, the poppy trade became a crucial funding source for insurgents.

Opium poppies, of course, are needed to make heroin. Afghanistan accounts for 75 to 90 percent of the world’s heroin supply, depending on the given year.

Now, as the U.S. winds down its occupation, the Afghanistan drug trade might only expand. The U.N. has estimated the current value at $3 billion annually, or about 15 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product.

Aside from that, much of Afghanistan’s economy is dependent on international military and development aid. The U.S. has, indeed, promoted progress in many areas, including health care, but the nation remains among the world’s poorest.

Which raises a question. Is there enough demand to keep drug money flowing to growers, no matter how plentiful opium becomes?

Addiction provides a reliable market ... or maybe the ruling powers will restrict the harvest to keep prices from going too low.

That could tragically be Afghanistan’s future — a monitored criminal economy that nurtures other activities and crops as it can.



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