Baitullah Mehsud, the most prominent militant commander in Pakistan’s restive tribal belt, along the border of Afghanistan, is spending around three billion rupees (roughly 50 million dollars) annually on procuring weapons, equipment, vehicles, treating wounded militants and keeping families of killed militants fed.
Governor Owais Ahmed Ghani of the strategic North West Frontier Province is convinced that ‘narco-dollars’ are being used because this significant sum could not be generated solely through zakat (alms) or donations.
The governor holds the US and United Kingdom responsible for ignoring his early warnings of serious repercussions if poppy cultivation was not curtailed in Afghanistan after the ouster of the Taliban regime in 2001.
“In my meetings with the US and British envoys [in Islamabad], I was pleading for the two countries to not allow poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, otherwise the narco-dollars will not help end the militancy,” Ghani said in recent press interview.
The facts speak for themselves. The Taliban wiped out heroin production entirely by 2001. Three years later, there were once again bumper opium crops, accounting for over half Afghanistan’s GNP, and ninety percent of the world’s heroin.
A report on Afghanistan published by the US Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs in last March also confirms this assessment: “Narcotics traffickers provide revenue and arms to the Taliban, while the Taliban provide protection to growers and traffickers and keep the government from interfering with their activities.”
In 2007, Afghanistan provided 93 percent of the world’s opium poppies, the raw material for producing heroin, the US report adds.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) warned, in a February report, that Afghanistan’s opium production levels in 2008 could remain similar to last year’s record harvest of 8,200 metric tons because of increased output in the main opium producing provinces in the south and southwest of the country.
These provinces accounted for 78 percent of total opium cultivation in Afghanistan last year and have continued to grow opium at an alarming rate, the report UNODC said.
Tellingly, the illicit drug money earned through poppy cultivation, opium production and the smuggling of narcotics – estimated to total up to US$4 billion – is equal to almost half of the poor nation’s overall gross domestic product and employs millions of Afghans, experts say.
Not surprisingly, Afghanistan now supplies virtually all of the world's illegal opium. The amount of Afghan land used for opium is now larger than the corresponding total for coca cultivation in Latin America (Colombia, Peru and Bolivia combined), according to the UN report.
The UN Report on the 2007 status of Afghanistan opium confirms what Governor Ghani has been telling the US and UK diplomats: “Opium cultivation in Afghanistan is no longer associated with poverty – quite the opposite. … Opium cultivation in Afghanistan is now closely linked to insurgency. The Taliban today control vast swathes of land in Hilmand, Kandahar and along the Pakistani border. By preventing national authorities and international agencies from working, insurgents have allowed greed and corruption to turn orchards, wheat and vegetable fields into poppy fields.”