Afghanistan's real war: Poppy and poverty
KABUL, Afghanistan -- Until 2000, Afghanistan was the world's main producer of opium poppies -- not any more, after its interim leader issued a decree banning its production.
The ban comes after Pakistani drug agents intercepted one of the largest seizures of Afghan heroin exiting the country.
Hamid Karzai's decree may have renewed a ban issued by the former Taliban leadership in 2000, yet the U.N. drugs body less than a month ago reported that poppy cultivation had resumed and was extensive among desperate farmer families.
With the poppy cultivation period now in full swing and the price nine times as high as it was in June 2001, poor farmers devastated by war may turn back to the poppy and the badly needed cash it brings.
Farmers still have stocks piled high and critics are already saying that war-torn Afghanistan now stands poised to regain its position as the world's biggest producer of opium.
Karzai's statement declaring "the cultivation, manufacturing, processing, impermissible use, smuggling and trafficking of opium poppy and all its derivatives" illegal has made it clear that the new administration plans to get tough.
Yet many recognize this is only just the beginning and that the only way to convince farmers not to grow the highly profitable crop is for international donors to help them plant substitute crops of equal merit.
However, with production of food, as well as opium, hit by the severe and extended drought it is likely that only harsh laws and the rise of a legitimate economy will convince farmers that the poppy is not the answer.
Until the year before last, Afghanistan's poppy farmers elevated the country to the world's largest producer of heroin, which is made from opium.
It is not surprising, therefore, that poppy cultivation played a pivotal role in the Afghan economy, funding for the toppled Taliban regime and paid for resistance against the Soviet occupation.
It appears that drug smuggling, which declined after the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan, was now picking up, the Pakistani Anti-Narcotics Force officials told Reuters news agency.
"It all reveals the determination of traffickers to resume their dirty business," Bernard Frahi, director of the U.N. drugs control office in Pakistan and Afghanistan told Reuters.
He hoped large seizures of drugs would take place in Afghanistan and neighboring countries in the months to come.
All that the Interim government in Afghanistan has to do is look across the border for advice in the war on drugs.
Pakistan, one of the world's biggest sources of heroin smuggled to the West in the 1980s, has now almost eradicated illegal cultivation of the opium poppy, from which heroin is processed.
Golden Triangle on the rise
Falling opium production in Afghanistan has prompted growers elsewhere in the Asian region to pump up their production.
The notorious "Golden Triangle" region has boosted its crops to serve the rising global demand for heroin according to the Thai Army.
Lieutenant General Udomchai Ongakasing, commander of the Third Army patrolling 17 northern Thai provinces, told Reuters that opium supply in Thailand and neighboring Myanmar was rising to fill the shortage caused by the war in Afghanistan.
He said drug lords in the "Golden Triangle" -- where the borders of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos converge -- had supplied opium growers with new technology to boost their efficiency despite constant suppression by authorities.
Myanmar is now the world's biggest opium producer and with production limited in Afghanistan and demand from China ever greater the future for opium production appears secure.
China borders both Afghanistan and Myanmar and has surpassed Thailand as the biggest transit zone for heroin from Southeast Asia, according to the United Nations.
In the first nine months of 2001, China seized 8,000 kg (17,640 lb) of heroin - more than in all of 1998, and the most of any country for which the U.N. has statistics.
There is no doubt that even though Afghanistan's war on drugs has just begun, another area will use this as an opportunity to fill a gap in the world's ever increasing demand for opium.
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