Global Insights: Afghanistan’s Opium Tragedy

Global Insights: Afghanistan’s Opium Tragedy

As if to provide yet one more piece of evidence of the Afghan tragedy, the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released a report yesterday showing the devastating effects of domestically produced opium on Afghanistan's own population. It complements other studies (.pdf) that have highlighted the suffering that Afghan opium, heroin, and other opiates cause in other countries. Taken together, the reports make it clear that solving the Afghan drug challenge will require a comprehensive multilateral approach.

Yesterday's UNODC report (.pdf), entitled "Drug Use in Afghanistan: 2009 Survey," confirms a pattern seen in the international evolution of the Afghan drug problem: Afghan narcotics production has exploded since the U.S.-led coalition invaded the country and deposed the Taliban-led government in Kabul in late-2001. Earlier that year, under the threat of international sanctions, the Taliban had cracked down on opium poppy cultivation, resulting in its near disappearance from the 2001 spring harvest.

Once they were driven from power, some Taliban members decided to tolerate and even support the production of opium. The U.N. now estimates that the Taliban insurgents derive several hundred million dollars annually from taxing opium growers as well as charging fees to protect the production and transit of narcotics and their chemical precursors through guerilla-controlled territory. They then use this revenue to purchase weapons, pay salaries, and bribe corrupt officials.

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