Pubdate: Tue, 23 Oct 2001
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Page: A16
Copyright: 2001 The Washington Post Company
Author: John Pomfret, Washington Post Foreign Service
Bookmark: (Heroin)
Bookmark: (Terrorism)


Opium and Heroin Flood Into Pakistan, Complicating Anti-Terrorism Efforts

As the United States wages war on terrorism in Afghanistan, concern is 
mounting about an unintended casualty: America's war on drugs.

Heroin and opium are believed to be flooding into Pakistan and soon could 
be coming to the West. Wholesale heroin prices are dropping. Afghan 
farmers, after a year's hiatus, are preparing their fields for a winter 
crop of opium poppies. And as the United States and Pakistan seek tribal 
leaders who would be willing to turn against Afghanistan's ruling Taliban 
movement, some candidates have been involved in the drug trade for decades.

"Things were looking good for a while," said Abdul Malik, the chief 
psychiatrist in Quetta's main hospital and director of heroin treatment for 
the Pakistani province of Baluchistan. "But with this war, it is going to 
get a lot worse for everybody -- us and the West. The only people who will 
profit are the traffickers."

And possibly terrorists.

Bernard Frahi, the U.N. Drug Control Program representative for Pakistan 
and Afghanistan, warned in an interview that a resurgent heroin trade could 
hamper the West's war on terrorism.

"Before this war, Osama had enough money," Frahi said, referring to 
suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden, who is being harbored in Afghanistan 
by the Taliban. "Now his bank accounts are frozen. What is he going to do? 
Turn rapidly to drug trafficking through networks that exist already."

In Washington, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said the possible 
resurgence of the Afghan drug trade "is something that concerns us, and it 
is a way that the Taliban has found funding for their regime -- which, of 
course, supports [bin Laden's] al Qaeda network."

For years, Afghanistan produced more opium than any other country -- 
accounting for more than three-quarters of the world supply in 1999, 
according to the United Nations. Last year, a Taliban-imposed ban on opium 
poppy growing, along with a three-year drought, slashed the country's 
output -- though not its stockpiles -- and some analysts voiced optimism 
that the problem was beginning to abate.

But in the days after the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, a flood of 
opium and heroin moved out of Afghan warehouses into Pakistan, mostly 
through this border region, anti-narcotics officials and traders say.

Small dealers dumped their product on the market, both in Quetta and in 
Karachi, Abdul Malik said. Today, the wholesale price for a kilogram (2.2 
pounds) of heroin in Karachi, one of the world centers of the heroin trade, 
is one-third of the $4,800 it cost before Sept. 11, a Pakistani narcotics 
officer said.

Pakistani government sources predicted that tons of heroin would begin to 
flow from Karachi's port to Western Europe and the United States once the 
war ends and security in the region loosens.

"Whatever they have, they would like to cash out -- or move out of -- 
Afghanistan," said Brig. Liaquat Ali Toor, the head of the army-run 
Anti-Narcotics Force in the areas bordering Afghanistan. "But right now, no 
one dares to move the goods around too much. There is heightened security 
everywhere. After the security relaxes, we will have a lot of work to do."

In addition, following the breakdown of law and order caused by U.S. 
attacks, Afghan farmers in several provinces are preparing their fields for 
a new poppy crop, analysts say.

Frahi said he had received reports from Nangarhar and Kandahar provinces 
that peasants were preparing their fields for poppies as opposed to wheat. 
The telltale signs, he said, involve a special kind of tilling. The earth 
is not plowed flat; rather, it is tilled so it rises and falls in small 
hills and valleys.

"Last year at this time, no one was cultivating poppies. Now it's a bad 
sign," Frahi said. "We can't ignore drugs because of terrorism. They are 

And as the United States and Pakistan search for Afghan allies against the 
Taliban, they are negotiating with exiles, local commanders and tribal 
leaders who for decades used heroin to keep their followers rich, buy 
weapons and ensure their hold on power. Last year, the only place where 
opium production increased, according to the United Nations, was an area 
held by the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, Badakhshan province.

"Dealing with these bandits is a mistake," said Gul Afgha, a former local 
leader in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar. "Drugs again will flow from 
Afghanistan to the West."

Poppies and Afghanistan have a long association that dates back centuries. 
Farmers have been growing poppies since the time of the British Empire.

The first major wave of opium production occurred during the fight against 
the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Drug money played an 
important role in funding the war and in enriching guerrilla factions.

The second wave started after 1996 when the Taliban seized power. It used 
taxes and tariffs levied on opium production as a major source of cash -- 
an estimated $40 million to $50 million a year, Western and Pakistani 
officials said.

Opium poppy cultivation increased dramatically when the Taliban came to 
power, rising from 52 percent of the world's total in 1996 to a high of 79 
percent in 1999 -- 4,581 metric tons, according to the United Nations.

In a significant twist that meant greater profits, traffickers inside the 
country also began manufacturing heroin for the first time. Now roughly 95 
percent of all heroin reaching Europe comes from Afghanistan. The U.S. 
government reports that only 5 percent of heroin entering the United States 
comes from Afghanistan; Colombia is the country's largest heroin supplier.

Pakistani officials said that last year drug traffickers in 
Taliban-controlled areas in Kandahar, Helmand and Nangarhar provinces were 
authorized to turn the 2000 opium poppy harvest into heroin and morphine base.

"Afghanistan produced about 500 metric tons of heroin last year -- 
sufficient for three years of global demand -- and cornered the world 
heroin market for the next several years," said a senior official in the 
intelligence wing of the Anti-Narcotics Force.

Under intense international pressure, in June 2000, Taliban leader Mohammad 
Omar banned poppy cultivation, declaring that it violated the teachings of 
the Koran. The next year, poppy cultivation in Afghanistan plummeted to 185 
tons, according to a newly released U.N. report. The United States, saying 
it welcomed the ban, in May announced a $43 million grant to help Afghan 

But the ban was not popular at home.

"Farmers cursed the government because they felt they had lost a means to 
livelihood," said Abdul Malik, the psychiatrist. "Wheat certainly wouldn't 
have provided that kind of money."

And abroad, Omar's ban has come under scrutiny in recent months with some 
law enforcement officials saying it appeared to be more of a marketing 
strategy than a law enforcement move.

Abdul Malik said that after the ban and well into this year, his sources 
reported opium and opium-related drugs continued to be sold in Kandahar's 
covered bazaar. "He banned cultivation and its use in Afghanistan," he said 
of Omar. "But he did not ban the trade."

Mohammed Atta is a 22-year-old who lives under a bridge by a fetid creek in 
Quetta. He has been doing heroin, or "chasing the dragon," as he put it in 
his excellent English, for six years.

Dressed in rags, he stumbled toward a foreigner one recent afternoon, 
begging for a handout so he could have another fix. Atta said he too 
expects prices to fall and supplies to rise.

"This is a good thing," he said, trembling slightly as he bent a blackened 
finger toward a visitor. "The new stuff will be cheaper and purer. It will 
be a better high."

Staff writer Peter Slevin in Washington and special correspondent Kamran 
Khan in Karachi contributed to this report.
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MAP posted-by: Jackl