HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Afghan Opium Trade Grows Anew
Pubdate: Sun, 17 Feb 2002
Source: Austin American-Statesman (TX)
Copyright: 2002 Austin American-Statesman
Author: Tasgola Karla Bruner, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Bookmark: (Heroin)


Taliban's Demise Has Many Turning To Poppy Production For Cash.

BADULLAH QOULF, Afghanistan -- Juma Gul squats in the dirt and points to 
the little green sprouts barely popping out of the earth, the poppy 
seedlings that are going to save his family.

They don't look like much now, but in about five months their pods will 
burst with a milky white sap. The harvest will be refined into morphine, 
processed into heroin, smuggled through borders, and sold around the world 
to be shot into the bruised veins of addicts.

Poppy season is approaching in Afghanistan. Helmand province, where the 
village of Badullah Qoulf lies about 100 miles west of Kandahar, is on its 
way to being the country's top producer again.

At least 200 people in this province, like Gul, are planting for the first 
time in their lives and joining the rest of the poppy cultivators, United 
Nations officials in the region said.

The demise of the Taliban, the hard-line regime pushed out of power by 
U.S.-led coalition forces, also meant the end of a ban on poppy 
cultivation. The Taliban's prohibition, begun in 2000, resulted in a 96 
percent drop in Afghanistan's production of raw opium, from more than a 
million pounds in 1999 to 40,600 pounds last year, according to the United 
Nations Drug Control Program.

U.S. officials say their evidence suggests that the Taliban's ban was 
created to drive up prices on the world market and that despite the 
prohibition the Taliban, its al Qaeda allies and Afghanistan's economy 
profited from opium production and sales of surpluses from earlier harvests.

Today, without a strong central government, the cultivation of poppies is a 

In January, the interim government of Hamid Karzai issued a decree 
prohibiting poppy production and trafficking in narcotics, including opium 
and heroin. But the new government is seen as too weak to enforce the ban.

"It would have been impossible to have grown poppies during the time of the 
Taliban. I wouldn't have done it," said Gul, 30. "The new government has no 
control. They have no army, no tanks. If they did, they would be able to 
stop us, but they don't."

The governor of Helmand province, Haji Sher Muhammad Akhwanzada, said the 
new government, still organizing itself, will in four or five months have 
an army and then some kind of force will be created to stop poppy production.

"The best way is negotiation. We'll first try to convince people to not 
grow poppies and then we'll provide alternative crops. If they don't stop, 
then we'll use force," he said.

Muhammad Akbar, 32, a raw opium merchant in Kandahar, would welcome an 
effort by Karzai's government and the international community to enforce a 
ban on production.

For Akbar, the ban in 2000 meant that raw opium prices went from $100 per 
kilogram to $1,533 per kilogram, he said. He said he has cleared $100,000 
in profits in three years' work.

"The new government has announced this ban but they can't implement it 
because people have no other source of income," Akbar said. "Eighty percent 
of Afghans are doing this business -- the cultivation, the transport, the 

Leslie Oqvist, the United Nations regional coordination officer for 
Afghanistan's southern region in Kandahar, recognizes that the priority for 
the new government is to bring stability.

"Slowly but surely they will start to focus with the international 
community to find alternative means of income for people," he said.

Gul, the farmer, said he will make about $9,000 raising poppies this 
season, 10 times more money than any other of the crops he used to grow, 
such as wheat or corn. Other growers say they make many times more.

Gul's father, Ghulam Sarwar, said the United States has to show how much 
they want poppy production to stop.

"What will the United States give us if we stop poppy production? We have 
opium and the United States has the dollars. Without paying us the 
Americans cannot stop us," he said.

Opium production has long been a staple of the Afghan economy, a trade that 
the CIA helped to flourish, according to some.

In his book "The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug 
Trade," author Alfred McCoy writes that in 1979, the CIA began supporting 
anti-Soviet warlords who, in turn, used the agency's resources to expand 
opium production.

"To support the Afghan resistance against the Soviet occupation, the CIA, 
working through Pakistan's intelligence, allied with Afghan guerillas, 
notably Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who used the agency's arms, logistics and 
support to become the regions's largest drug lord. Within a year, the surge 
of southern Asia heroin captured more than 60 percent of the American 
market, breaking the long drug drought and raising the addict population to 
is previous peak," McCoy wrote.

The head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Asa Hutchinson, told 
a House committee last fall that drug trafficking was a major source of 
income for Afghanistan and the Taliban militia.

Hutchinson said the Taliban's July 2000 decree banning opium production 
increased the market price but had no effect on availability. He suggested 
that the Taliban was controlling a hoarded supply of opium in order to 
drive up the price while it acted at the same time to respond to 
international pressure to crack down on the illicit drug trade.

Hutchinson said Afghanistan produced more than 70 percent of the world's 
supply of opium in 2000, with most of that output being shipped to Europe.

Up and down the street in Kandahar where Akbar works are about 50 other 
shops selling raw opium, each with about five or six traders. They buy from 
the farmers and sell to those who will process the raw opium into heroin.

Akbar says relatively few Afghans suffer from heroin addiction. Still, he 
recognizes that what he does is harmful to people.

"I don't tell my children what I do. I just say I'm a businessman," he 
said. "I know I'm not doing a good thing and I don't want my children to 
know I'm selling poison."

As for Gul, the poppy farmer, he doesn't think much beyond the good money 
he'll be making come June. He expresses a cold indifference when the 
subject of conversation turns to heroin addicts.

"When this drug arrives to the last person on the end of the line, that 
person is finished," he said, chuckling. "The last man who gets this drug 
is no more a son, no more a brother, no more a father."

It is only when he is shown a photo of an addict begging in the streets of 
Quetta, Pakistan, that he is suddenly somber.

Muhammad is that addict. He spends his time living under a bridge with 
other addicts in the center of the city or begging for handouts. He carries 
the vacant look of a man who has no more dreams.

About a 15-minute drive away are a few of the luckier ones. They are 
addicts who have gone to the Milo Shaheed Trust, a drug treatment center in 
eastern Quetta.

Akhtar Muhammad, 40, crouched in a corner with his shawl around his face. 
He'd been in treatment a week after 25 years as an addict. He didn't know 
what heroin was when a friend got him some for 25 rupees, about 42 cents.

"I'm in a lot of pain. I didn't want to come here but my elders made me do 
it," he said. "If I hadn't, I'd be dead somewhere."
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