Heroin Trade on the Increase: Since the Fall of the Taliban Afghanistan's Multi-Billion-Dollar Drugs Trade Has Soared. (Business & Finance)

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In the weeks leading up to the bombing of Afghanistan, the US and British governments were demonising the Taliban as drug dealers and promoters of the heroin trade. "The Taliban regime of Mullah Omar earns hundreds of millions of dollars from heroin production," a White House spokesman stated, totally ignoring United Nations reports to the contrary. In fact, the reality was very different; the religious fundamentalists were eradicating poppy fields after declaring cultivation of the drug "un-Islamic". However, Bush cabinet members repeated the allegation with such frequency and conviction that the general public began to believe it. British Prime Minister Tony Blair even stated that 90% of the heroin coming into the UK was financing the Taliban's oppressive regime, totally failing to acknowledge that most of Afghanistan's raw heroin was being smuggled into Europe from the Panshir valley, then totally under the control of Sheikh Ahmad Massood's Northern Alliance.

So what is the situation now, with American and allied forces having free reign over Afghanistan's terrain? And how is the Karzai government enforcing the eradication programme, a programme set up--and paid for--by the citizens of the very western nations targeted by the drug dealers?

Recent UNDCP (United Nations Drug Control Agency) reports detail an alarming 1,400% (representing 1,900-2,700 tonnes) rise in the cultivation of poppies throughout Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban. In February 2002, the agency called the problem "serious," stating that Afghanistan had become the source of 70% of the world's opiates and the source of 90% of all heroin reaching European markets. The same agency previously confirmed that under Taliban rule, Afghan poppy cultivation had been reduced by 94% to less then 185 tonnes in 2001.

Hamid Karzai's installation as Prime Minister was centre pieced by the announcement of the heroin eradication programme. It made good copy in London and Washington. Amid much fanfare, teams of experts were dispatched into the countryside with the authority to pay farmers $350 for each one-fifth hectare of poppy plants destroyed. The problem was there was too little money and much of what there was disappeared into the pockets of the Northern Alliance commanders. The rest was too little, too late, since the first harvesting season was almost over. Moreover, farmers recognised a good thing when it was presented on a plate. They planted poppies, destroyed them, received payment and then replanted more as soon as the eradication officials left. And who could blame them? Growing wheat as an alternative crop required 10 times more effort than that required for planting poppies. "It was just a show," village head Dr Hasan Muddin says. "The government initially announced that they would strictly enforce the eradication and many people believed them. When the teams actually came they only destroyed about 2% of the crops, gave money to just a few farmers, and then left. What else can you expect when they only had sticks to cut down the plants?" Confirming that the farmers in his village felt cheated he insisted that "they will all grow poppies next year." "There needs to be a complex response to the problem," Roger Howard, chief executive of Drugscope--a British charity involved in drug programmes--told the press at an international conference on drugs in Paris in September. "If we are to stop the return of full-scale opium production in Afghanistan, the international community must fulfil its commitment to rebuild Afghan society."

Thomas Cronin of the UN drugs control agency also lamented that: "more heroin from Afghanistan will be reaching Europe in the coming months." This coming shortly after British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw had congratulated the Kabul government for stemming the flow of the drug into Britain.

"Progress is being made," Sayed Tariq, governor of Badakshan province said in response to press inquiries, "but the cash incentives are counter-productive because they encourage more poppy growing. …