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American Policy Shift in Afghanistan Opium Production, or is it?

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opium production 1994 - 2007

This is the latest song and dance out of Afghanistan that fools few people, except those in the West. The official American policy has been to destroy the evil poppy grown by these farmers before it gets to the streets of New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, London, Paris and many other Western metropolises.

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Heroin wasn't always the evil we associate it with today. In fact, according to Wikipedia, in the late 1800s, Bayer would name the substance "heroin", probably from the word heroisch, German for heroic, because in field studies people using the medicine felt "heroic". Bayer even marketed it from 1898 to 1910, first as a cure for Morphine addiction. But the bad effects soon became too common to ignore, and The Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914 restricted it to prescription only, and in 1924, it was banned altogether.

WWII saw a near 100% end of the drug, due to wars in China and other heroin producing (not growing) regions. However, the end of the war helped spark a new and excitingly adventurous career for many in the illegal heroin manufacturing, transportation and sales industry.  This industry had been set up by the mafia in Sicily, the French in various regions in the south, and by the CIA in Laos and other areas inhabited by "anti-Communist" tribesmen and former Chinese nationals. The exact questionnaire they used to ensure that one qualified as an anti-Communist and therefore was worthy of American taxpayer money in the heroin industry, which supplied illegal drugs to criminals in the United States, has never been fully disclosed.

Wikipedia also gives us a few insights in the more recent scaled-up production of opium in Afghanistan. For many decades, the rugged, mountainous area of the country made eradication difficult, the climate made growing a snap, and the obscurity within international policy programs gave the nation a unique status as the 'Who the f*** cares" capital of Asia. Opium grew aplenty, Western governments concentrated on stopping the mafia manufacturing centers in Sicily (yeah, right), the French connection centers in southern France (not until Popeye Doyle showed up) and the CIA-run centers in Southeast Asia. We had great success in stopping the CIA-run centers in Southeast Asia according to every American politician who ever spoke on the subject.

When the government/political/military meltdown of Afghanistan was initiated by NSA Director Zbigniew Kazimierz Brzezinski and signed into executive order on July 3, 1979 by President Carter, also known as the Soviet-Afghan War, the great opium farmers got a new, unexpected boost in production as well as demand. Life was more or less great, give or take the occasional Soviet Mi 4 Hind and Mi 24 Assault helicopters bellicose interventions. But soon, American-supplied stinger missiles evened the ante, and the Soviets became even less visible. Opium poppies grew, manufacturing centers around the world enjoyed banner years, Afghanistan became Poppy Central in the industry and addicts in all the major usage areas smiled.

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But then came the down years. The evil, radical, horrible, diabolic Taliban decided that opium, and its assorted legal and illegal medicinal productions, were anti Islam and started banning the stuff. Heroin addicts across the world complained, well sorta. Wikipedia tells us that, "The cultivation of opium in Afghanistan reached its peak in 1999, when 225,000 acres - 350 square miles - of poppies were sown. The following year the Taliban banned poppy cultivation, a move which cut production by 94 percent. By 2001 only 30 square miles of land were in use for growing opium poppies."  

Ah, but it gets worse. The ACSA 2001 South Asia Analysis Group paper entitled, "Heroin, Taliban and Pakistan," states, "In the 1980s, at the instance of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the US, the Internal Political Division of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), headed by Brig (retd). Imtiaz, who worked directly under Lt.Gen.Hamid Gul, the DG of the ISI during the later years of Zia-ul-Haq and during the first few months of Mrs. Benazir Bhutto's first tenure as the Prime Minister (1988-90), started a special cell for the use of heroin for covert actions." This wonderful relationship would just get better with age. "After the withdrawal of the Soviet troops, the ISI's heroin cell started using its network of refineries and smugglers for smuggling heroin to the Western countries and using the money as a supplement to its legitimate economy. But for these heroin dollars, Pakistan's legitimate economy must have collapsed many years ago."

In other words, American taxpayer dollars have been instrumental in keeping the Pakistan economy afloat through the maintenance of their heroin industry, whose products were enjoyed by millions of criminals and addicts all across the Western world. And you thought you were just trying to help the budget deficit. But things turn sour. The pressure from the international community is great, and starting in 1999, Pakistan and Taliban-controlled Afghanistan start dismantling their heroin refineries and switching their agricultural endeavors to nonpoppy crops. 

There were two major and immediate effects of this. The farmers had to plant something else, which made less income, and the monies received by these lucrative refineries dried up. The ISI and Taliban demanded that the world pay them for their efforts. Well, that's like spitting in the wind. The US taxpayer did cough up $11 billion for their efforts, but it seems that the Taliban didn't really get much of this money. It went to our good buddies at the ISI. After all, they had been nurtured by our CIA all these years, so the camaraderie was there. And it's just easier to give to secret, intelligence services than radical, Islamic organizations that take criminals and use Toyota pickups to pull their arms apart on weekends as part of their leisure series of activities. Old habits die hard, I guess.

The study concludes, "If this figure of what the Taliban gets is taken as reasonable, more than US $11 billion per annum from the heroin trade goes to Pakistan, that is, more than Pakistani Rs. 715 billion, as one US dollar equal to 65 Pak rupees.  During 2000-01, the Pakistani State had a total revenue of Rs. 570.6 billion, of which Rs. 471.6 billion came from taxes. That is, Pakistan's heroin economy was 30 per cent larger than its legitimate State economy." The Taliban were stuck with a mere $45 million, sorry. The line has to be drawn somewhere, and well, once sol, always sol. Better luck next time on the Ferris Wheel.

According to the October, 2007 abstract by the click here (Editor's note: this link does not work) target=_blank>Strategic Studies Institute, a US Army organization, OPIUM AND AFGHANISTAN: REASSESSING U.S. COUNTERNARCOTICS STRATEGY, "Cultivation and production of opium in Afghanistan have skyrocketed since the Taliban were toppled in 2001 such that Afghanistan now supplies 92 percent of the world's illicit opium. The expanding opium trade is threatening to destabilize the Afghan government and turn the conflict-ridden country back into a safe haven for drug traffickers and terrorists." Hey, don't laugh. They made that report with our tax dollars. I wonder if they actually asked the CIA for the info..... Nah, too easy.

Since the US has returned the Afghan farmer to his rightful cash crop, the world's illegal heroin refineries have been enjoying one great banner year after another. The US government has been bugging President Harmid Karzai for help. President Harmid Karzai says that the US has the troops, they have the guns, and they have the means, so why don't they do it? After all, he's lucky if he can make it to work everyday. His authority makes it as far as the nearest traffic signal, on a good day. So, as the US government and the Afghan government play "Tag," the Afghan farmer gets to make moolah, that's "moolah," not "mullah," hand over fist.

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Now the "new" US policy is for the US to go after the refineries and leave the farmer alone. According to click here (Editor's note: this link does not work) Yahoo news, "The U.S. envoy for Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, told The Associated Press on Saturday that eradication programs weren't working and were only driving farmers into the hands of the Taliban. "Eradication is a waste of money," Holbrooke said on the sidelines of a Group of Eight foreign ministers' meeting on Afghanistan, during which he briefed regional representatives on the new policy.

"The G-8 ministers 'strongly appreciated' the shift, which also includes an increase in annual U.S. funding for agricultural development from a few million dollars to a few hundred million dollars, said Foreign Minister Franco Frattini of Italy, the current G-8 president.... Afghanistan is the world's leading source of opium, cultivating 93 percent of the world's heroin-producing crop. The United Nations has estimated the Taliban and other Afghan militants made $50 million to $70 million (off) of last year's opium and heroin trade."

But isn't this just a repeat of their fantastically successful program during 2000 and 2001 when American taxpayer money spent $11 billion to "compensate" the loss in drug revenue? Well, we compensated the ISI loss at least. That's one out of two. C'mon, in global terms, to get it 50% right has got to be one of the top ten successful events of the era. Now we are compensating the farmers with ..... "a few hundred million dollars."

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60 year old Californian male - I've lived in four different countries, USA, Switzerland, Mexico, Venezuela - speak three languages fluently, English, French, Spanish - part-time journalist for Empower-Sport Magazine. I also write four (more...)

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