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Afghanistan: Vertical Opium Monopoly
The United Nations has released its 2007 World Drug Report
providing stark data on the rise of Afghanistan to world dominance in opium production. In a multi-dimensional challenge to any claim that the 2001 U.S.-led attack on the country made the world safer, the report, together with other
official documents, paints a veritable tapestry of grim news about the situation in the country:
- • From 2005 to 2006, opium production in Afghanistan rose from 4519 tons to 6724 tons, a 50% increase.
- • Providing 92% of the global supply of opium, Afghanistan now stands as the most concentrated site of production on the planet for any illicit substance.
- • In conjunction with the surging production of raw opium, Afghanistan now processes almost all of its domestically grown, unrefined field product before exporting it to world markets, thereby making the country a vertical manufacturing monopoly in opiates like street heroin and morphine.
- • Taliban forces ousted in the U.S.-led attack on Afghanistan, which commenced the still-ongoing military phase of Operation Enduring FreedomAfghanistan on October 7, 2001, are using revenue from opium production to fund their continuing battle with multi-national forces now operating under the auspices of NATO in the country.
The graphic below presents the 2007 World Drug Report data on potential opium production in Afghanistan for the years 1990 through 2006.
The graphic depicts the rise, fall, and resurrection of the opium production industry in the country. The early years of Taliban rule were marked by a relatively constant output; the dramatic drop that began in the last two years of the 20th Century was the result of the central government bowing to international pressure to stop cultivation of the poppy plants from which the opium comes. As evidenced by the virtually non-existent output by 2001, the success of the Taliban rulers was remarkable, in part because their authority had pervaded most of the country and driven into some degree of inactivity the old, entrenched drug warlords of what would later come to be known as the "Northern Alliance" working with Coalition forces. With the swift collapse of the Taliban regime under the onslaught of Operation Enduring FreedomAfghanistan, civil law enforcement came to an end, and it would not be long before vast swaths of the country beyond the capitol were back under the rule of local forces that would induce farmers to move fields away from grain and toward the poppy plants.
Interestingly, however, the recent, massive secondary spike in production is the result of the resurgence of the Taliban, itself, militarily and economically controlling larger and larger tracts of the countryside, particularly in southern provinces. With farm gate prices attractive and the willingness of Taliban forces to use violence on those who resist, many farmers who had up until recently continued to commit their fields to grain are now pressing their acreage into service for opium production, this despite continuing (albeit highly variable) risk of drug interdiction raids by Coalition forces working in coordination with central government instrumentalities and personnel.
With the United Nations report predicting a continued increase in opium production through at least 2007, and with much of that increase due to the Taliban consolidating more widespread control, any claim of a lasting beneficial effect from Operation Enduring FreedomAfghanistan, either in Afghanistan or beyond, remains far less a realistic assessment than merely another attempt by the Bush Adminstration to divorce its propaganda from any connection whatsoever to the realities its incompetence has wrought on the Middle East and Asia Minor.
The Dark Wraith would like to imagine that Americans are learning a lesson about the unintended consequences of using brute military force, but that would probably be hoping for too much.
What is this "unintended consequences" of which you speak?
The Dark Wraith remembers Elliot Abrams doubtless. With counsel such is this, it is highly unlikely the Cheneyburton administration would be unfamiliar with the consequences of their actions in Afghanistan.
And even less likely they wouldn't be covertly making [strike]millions[/strike] billions off of it.
Good evening, kelley b.
The unintended consequences are those unexpected by the millions of flag-waving, yellow ribbon wagging fools who thought this was about killing Osama bin Laden.
For those hapless twits, a global market being flooded with horse is the last thing they had in mind, particularly considering that most of them had no idea where Afghanistan even is, much less its history as an opium producing engine just waiting to rev up under total anarchy.
The Dark Wraith finds it almost mildly amusing what people look like when the unexpected turns out to have been the only possible outcome.
Gee, think how bad it would be if we hadn't invaded Afghanistan to try and catch Osama.
And isn't it a good thing that we didn't know that he's been dead since December of 2001 (so says WelfareState.com)?
Doggone it, if we hadn't given them (Afghanistan) all that money (several years ago) to stop opium production we could have used it to fund our (USA) own "stop the opium production". After all, if there's a market, we'll exploit it.
I guess the Taliban were good for something since they had gotten the trade down so low. How odd that our interference helped bring the trade back to lively levels.
Can anyone say "Agent Orange?" Of course, we now have better herbicides but aren't using them. Makes sense to me - not!
Do we now have a selective conscience? Or doesn't the CIA and Amurikan Business want these "fields of dreams" destroyed just yet?
good morning dark wraith:
it's hard for me to consider the rise in opium production to be an "unintended" consequence with the memory of the CIA's materiel and monetary support of the opium groweres on the shan plateau in burma (they were considered to be an armed bulwark against the communist chinese), which was closely followed by their support of coca growers and dealers in southern colombia and bolivia in early 80's because they were a bulwark against the maoist movements in peru.
consequence? certainly. unintended? probably not.
good morning dw.....
another success for the free market! a third or fourth world country pulling itself up by its poppy roots. and where would our own war on drugs be without drugs to war against? kinda like providing guns and munitions to everyone so we can have enemies in the hotter sort of war. and of course we need poor people for our war on poverty.
we have vertically integrated wars of all sorts.
IMHO, opium is one of God's most wonderful gifts. It is an incredibly beautiful drug, especially for those in pain, emotionally or physically. I am saying this as a non user, who has not, in fact, never had occasion to try it. But from what I read and know, it is so. Like all other gifts, it should be used with wisdom. But the use of "heroine" for recreation or escape is certainly not wise. It is extremely concentrated and addictive. Such use of heroine constitutes the penultimate abuse of what should be wonderful gift.
I, for one, believe people make choices, and must be allowed to, even if they choose self-destruction. Instead of controlling others, we should love others enough to teach wisdom and also to make a world where people have enough love and respect for life not to want to abuse themselves. The overall effect of the so-called "war on drugs" works in precisely the opposite direction. And that is exactly why it exists.
I am absolutely convinced that the people running the 'war on drugs' are also the people running the drugs. What better way to control the competition and maximize the profits? See, if a zipperhead like me can realize this, so can they.
Stop the War.
Good afternoon. I do dearly love the commentary here.
I wanted to reprint a responsive comment I made over at Big Brass Blog on the thread from the cross-post of this article:
Opium markets are complicated. Many of the same backers from the heady days of the Golden Triangle are now the purchasers in Asia Minor; however, new times call for new players.
One complication is that, because the Afghans are delivering near-final goods, that means some of the old players, who would have been involved in an intermediate stage of production, are unnecessary, meaning that the old manufacturing chain is no longer going to need many of its originals.
Now, among the many places that qualify as the Worst Place on Earth, Afghanistan is a top contender: mountainous, miserable, and dangerous, with a matrix of tribal alliances that would make a quantum chromodynamics matrix look like an ordered pair. These tribal alliances have blood, dialect, and historical roots, most definitely, but they physically manifest themselves as transportantion and logistics structures. In practical terms, the opium is going to be flowing along these routes, mostly heading north, but actually (at least from what I've heard) going south and west, too. That's right: Iran and Pakistan.
The worst part of it is this: our intel comprises pretty much nothing more than a combination of highly self-interested players from the warlords of the Northern Alliance (who are far weaker than the U.S. media was describing them) to the Pakistanis (who are either corrupted or scared of the vicious tribal boys) or some of the other, non-aligned tribal cats in the region (some of whom are about the last people on earth you'd want to do any kind of business with). We can also get intel from the Europeans, the Israelis, and a few others, but every last bit of that intel is going to be shaky, partial, or downright bad. We, ourselves, have assets in the field, but (believe it or not) from what I've heard even our own assets have agenda that aren't exactly what we might have in mind.
That's the big pain: it is very possible that at least some of this traffic is generating revenue streams for something other than the local farmers, insurgents, and coffee houses. This is an old, old story going back centuries, and it played itself out magnificently in the 20th Century with our own CIA (and other groups, including the Europeans, Mossad, and others) using drug trade to finance off-the-books ops. Every last time there's war and drugs, you're going to find us right there at the hog trough, along with the Chinese, the Russians, and a whole host of other spook folks. We just can't help ourselves; and that's why it's inevitable that it will happen.
I was mildly taken to task (in good, fun humor) over at my flagship blog, The Dark Wraith Forums, for using the term "unintended consequences" to describe the opium trade emerging so virulently across Afghanistan, but I defended myself by explaining that it is, indeed, unintended, but only to the good, God-fearing, flag-waving Americans who had no idea that drug trade is an intimite part of war. It always has been.
The only unfortunate part, other than for the fact that the street price of heroin in Europe has collapsed by maybe 90%, meaning that a whole lot of kids can now afford to get their monkey on, is that we in the United States are the taxpayers spending the money to make the fields of Afghanistan fertile for opium poppys through our investment in a war we cannot win but will nevertheless continue to prosecute for a long time to come.
And we will continue to prosecute it for a long time to come because it is so darned profitable for those who know what war is really all about.
The Dark Wraith should probably think about offering a war investment circle here to help progressives earn their fair share.
I'm not even going to ask what a "quantum chromodynamics matrix" is. But I could imagine it as a likely mathematical model of the verbal processing cortex section of the Dark Wraiths brain.
one must certainly admire the vertical integration of the market that has taken place. it used to be (back the original BBC production of "Traffic") that the processing took place in pakistan or iran.
and yes, afghanistan has always been a very complicated and dangerous place. alexander the great found that out when it took him nearly five years to simply cross from persia to the hindu kush after conquering the entire persian empire in less than three years. he also had to fight opium wars in his campaign. his soldiers called it "pank" and it was chewed, smoked, and dissolved in wine. (off topic but hashish was referred to as "nazz" and alexander tried to suppress the use of both of them to no avail because his supply train could not ensure sufficient quantities of drinkable wine). but the vertical integration is a new problem. even when they were dealing with the burmese growers the CIA needed to maintain processors in thailand and cambodia, of course, they were then able to allay much of their later costs by refining the smuggling operation to use the caskets of the american battle dead from viet nam. come to think of it, since that operation worked so well and wasn't exposed until over a decade after the war, i would not be the least surprised to find many of the very same players involved.
i mean, hooly milk chocolate crucified jaysus, how can anyone be shocked to find that people who are willing to subvert the law of war and the u.s. constitution in order to have the ability to torture and rape prisoners are also not above a little drug dealing on the side?
Good evening, Minstrel Boy. I remember once long ago telling students in a marketing class about that innovative product transport arrangement with the caskets. I think that story bothered the kids.
I, of course, long for the old days. You know: back when desecrating the battlefield dead was nothing but a morale booster.
Sort of makes you wonder why the Pentagon is all kinds of interested in preventing journalists from being around when the caskets come back from Iraq, doesn't it?
The Dark Wraith wonders how many people know all the dimensions of that phrase from Apocalypse Now, "...the horror."
"...all the dimensions of that phrase from Apocalypse Now, "...the horror."
One dimension perhaps can be found at whysanity.net.
"It's impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror. Horror has a face, and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and mortal terror are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies."
you have the right to kill me, but not to judge me.
Greetings Dark Wraith,
Not really surprising that the Afghans have stepped up to refining their opium into finished product. Really, the only thing I find surprising is that they didn't think of it before
1 - Finished product makes logistics much easier to deal with, since the total volume is considerably less than the raw material
2 - Finished product has a much higher value, while refining costs are comparatively low. Cutting out the middleman also ensures that a much larger percentage of the ultimate profits stay close to home
Of course, heavy opium production is another form of evil the US legions must remain in Afghanistan to keep fighting, along with the Taliban terrorists. Oh, and no doubt Iran will somehow be at the root of the 'problem'. So that will be another aspect of the 'problem' that will have to 'addressed'. So here we have the WoT dovetailing quite nicely with the WoD. Slick.
of course, they were then able to allay much of their later costs by refining the smuggling operation to use the caskets of the american battle dead from viet nam. come to think of it, since that operation worked so well and wasn't exposed until over a decade after the war, i would not be the least surprised to find many of the very same players involved.
I was gonna say, "So, THAT'S why they don't want the coffins met or publicised!"
.. but DW, ya beat me to it.
Good afternoon, all.
I remember hearing about the Taliban crackdown on poppy production in 2000/2001. I wondered then, what happens to the local junkies when their supply got cut off. How many junkies are there in the 'stans and iran, anyway? Showing my utter ignorance in all things ME, is there a drug problem in Afghanistan?
Just a simple question: Has any family actually physically seen the returned bodies of their loved ones? I've checked with two that I know and they told me that the military said the bodies were too badly destroyed for display or even viewing by the family. They accepted that out of hand. I now question this.
Anyone have similar experiences?
Speaking of "monopolies", caught this over at Liz' Blondesense site:
Justices End 96-Year-Old Ban on Price Floors:
"Striking down an antitrust rule nearly a century old, the Supreme Court ruled today that it is no longer automatically unlawful for manufacturers and distributors to agree on setting minimum retail prices."
There's more at the NYTimes link, and as I wrote at Blondesense:
"The Congress of the United States is now extinct. Who needs a legislative body when the cops and judges make their own laws?"
Good evening my friend, this is a great post on Afghanistan and the opium production actually fueling the Taliban. Earlier this month the Taliban got more brazen in the changing of it's tactics, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/world/2007-06/19/content_897811.htm carrying out attacks in southern Afghanistan. With all this poppy production the reasoning of the military is that they will have to find these individuals something else to do, in other words something other than growing poppies, the government has also denied the US from spraying the massive fields, seems as though they are on the take also, all this production going on there are lining the pockets of the terrorists so if one looks at it for what it is, we have our hands tied there as well as in Iraq.
makes me wonder how available some of the 90% of the world's heroin supply is for thousands of young GI's being used for another unwinnable war in a dessert mountain wasteland on the other side of the globe away from home.
how many, if they don't lose their lives, or limbs, will still lose their souls? When I think about our 'American statesmen', the concept of divine justice and eternal accountability is downright palatable.
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