Farmers collecting poppy sap in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan
"The poppies are all over the mountains, and the snow-capped mountains not far away are looming..." This scene is like a "fairyland" on earth. If it weren't for the sound of guns and guns around, this "wonderland" hidden in the heart of the Eurasian continent would hardly be known to outsiders.
This land is Afghanistan, and the world also calls it the "Imperial Cemetery." The blooming scene of poppies and the scene of guns fighting each other on this land have become a common landscape, and over the years, one invader after another has been ruined. In April this year, the US government announced that it would complete its withdrawal from Afghanistan before September 11, 2021. Will the departure of the US military make poppies bloom more prosperously?
The drug economy penetrates the social fabric
In the 18th century, there is a record of opium poppy in Afghanistan. However, the fuse of the proliferation of drugs in Afghanistan was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.
On December 24, 1979, the "steel torrent" of the Soviet Union marched into the "Imperial Cemetery" and opened Pandora's box. Afghanistan has since fallen into war for more than 40 years. During the ten years of the Soviet army in Afghanistan, they basically controlled the major cities, but they were unable to reach the vast rural areas.
The various anti-Soviet forces in Afghanistan hid in mountainous rural areas and fought guerrilla warfare with the Soviet army. The enemy advances and we retreat, the enemy retreats and we advance, and the Soviet army is overwhelmed and miserable.
In order to fight a protracted war with the Soviet Union in a land where the rituals are decimated and the lives are devastated, various anti-Soviet forces in Afghanistan actively encourage the peasants under the rule to plant low-cost and high-profit poppies. As a result, the production of opium in Afghanistan has soared. By 1980, Afghanistan’s opium production accounted for 20% of the world’s total production. By 1991, it had surpassed the "Golden Triangle" and accounted for 50% of the global share. In 1994 this value reached 63%.
In order to get rid of the curse of the "Imperial Cemetery", the desperate Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan 10 years after the invasion. The departure of the Soviet Union left a huge power vacuum in Afghanistan. In order to fight for power, the Afghan anti-Soviet forces, which once shared the same ups and downs, set off a "teapot storm." Opium is the economic source that the anti-Soviet armed forces of all factions rely heavily on, and therefore it has become the main focus of competition among all factions.
On May 15, 1988, the first Soviet troops evacuated from Afghanistan arrived in Termez, Uzbekistan
On May 15, 1988, the first Soviet troops evacuated from Afghanistan arrived in Termez, Uzbekistan
More than a decade later, the United States followed in the footsteps of the Soviet Union and rushed into the "Empire Cemetery" with European brothers under the banner of "anti-terrorism." The United States drove the Taliban into the mountains and re-supported the new "puppets." With the support of the United States, the new Afghan regime has implemented a policy of destroying poppy fields.
Opium production in Afghanistan has fallen sharply, from 3278 tons in 2000 to 185 tons in 2001. Unfortunately, the good times did not last long. After the outbreak of the Iraq War in 2003, the US counter-terrorism center of gravity shifted westward, and the Taliban got a respite.
The Taliban seized this opportunity to organize opium poppy cultivation and drug processing in areas under its control, especially Helmand Province in the south and Nangarhar Province in the east. In 2002, Afghan drug production returned to an annual output of 3,422 tons, and showed an upward trend year by year.
According to reports, Afghan opium production increased 36 times in 2003 than before. Although the government began to implement the anti-drug plan in 2004, it did not have much effect because the drug economy has already formed a prairie fire in Afghanistan and has penetrated into every cell of society.
The climate of Afghanistan is dry and rainless. Among the country's 65 million hectares of land, only 2.6 million hectares of arable land are cultivated, and most of them are barren land. It is the ceiling of ordinary planting, but it is a hotbed for opium poppy growth. The local yield of 1 mu of wheat is only 35 kg, while the yield of poppy is four times that of wheat.
Vendors sell red dates on the streets in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 7, 2021
The prolonged war has completely destroyed the irrigation system of farmland in Afghanistan, and the farmland has been fragmented. Wheat, corn, and barley that could be grown in the past are now difficult to survive-and the extremely drought-tolerant poppy has become a "life-saving straw" for farmers.
Drug smuggling channel to the world
Although poppy cultivation violates the teachings of Islam, it is important to know that more than one-tenth of the population in Afghanistan has no food and clothing. Helpless, for these suffering people, growing opium is their only way out-there are no factories here; in arid, barren and war-torn land, the harvest of cereals is not good.
The Taliban, a self-proclaimed "student of Islam", claimed in the early days that they would prohibit the production, use, and trading of drugs, and that offenders would be punished by the Sharia law. However, in the face of money and power, perhaps faith is not that important. Out of fear that the local drug lords' counterattack and farmers' resistance would damage their ruling foundation, the Taliban have gradually turned to a laissez-faire policy towards drugs. In order to supplement war consumption and strengthen its rule, the Taliban even actively encouraged farmers to plant opium poppies and levied heavy taxes to some extent.
After the Taliban regime collapsed and returned to the mountains in 2002, in order to make a comeback, it intensified the development of the drug economy in the areas under its control. At present, the southern and western parts of Afghanistan are the main opium poppy growing areas. The actual control of these places is mostly in the hands of the Taliban.
Among them, Helmand, Afghanistan's largest poppy-growing province, is the main activity area of the Taliban. These poppy-growing areas straddle Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran, and are concentrated at the junction of the three countries. They are known as the "Golden Crescent" and are one of the world's three largest drug producing areas.
After 2002, although the power was lost, the Taliban quickly regained a foothold in the vast rural areas due to the foundation left over from the ruling period and the ability to take advantage of the dissatisfaction of the people at the bottom of the US. The Taliban actively organize farmers to grow opium, produce and sell opium, and collect taxes from it themselves.
At the same time, the Taliban escorted drug traffickers in smuggling drugs, helping them open up communication lines and unblock local contacts. It not only opened up the domestic market for drug dealers, but also successfully expanded drug smuggling channels from Central Asia and the Caucasus to the rest of the world under the coordination of the "Uraqi Movement" and Chechnya and other separatists.
As a result, Afghan drugs were able to control almost 100% of the heroin market in Central Asia and Russia, and successfully entered the European and American markets. In the Taliban-controlled area, the annual output of opium once exceeded 10,000 tons, accounting for about 90% of the world's opium output, with an annual output value of 4 to 5 billion U.S. dollars.
With the support of drug funds, the Taliban not only obtained traditional transportation such as motorcycles and cars, but also purchased satellite mobile phones. These funds have also allowed the Taliban to continuously supplement their weapons, ammunition, oil, food, tents, and medicines.
On May 2, 2021, the US military transferred control of the base to the Afghan National Army, and an American flag was lowered
President of Afghanistan Ghani (right)
The Taliban also used drug funds to establish a training camp for recruits at the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and a medical center for wounded soldiers in Quetta, Pakistan. A large part of the salaries of Taliban officers and soldiers at all levels is also derived from drug funds. According to United Nations estimates, the opium stocks of the various drug lords headed by the Taliban are as high as 2,800 tons-this stock can be said to be one of the largest costs for the Taliban to deal with the United States.
In the eyes of many farmers in Afghanistan, poppies are "green gold". Some media have reported that in the drug economic activities, Afghan farmers can make at least 10% of the profit, which is more than a hundred times higher than that of traditional crops. Furthermore, in remote areas lacking basic medical conditions, opium is often used as a life-saving medicine. Therefore, Afghan farmers do not want to see poppies completely eradicated.
Many farmers despise the corrupt and incompetent Afghan government and firmly believe that only the Taliban can bring them real security and a better life. These farmers will even join the Taliban against the officials sent by the Afghan government to destroy opium poppies. A NATO official once commented on these Afghan farmers: “When the opium production is good, they will be farming. Once the opium harvest is not good, they will take up guns and join the Taliban.”
"Insiders" United States
Drugs have spread in Afghanistan so far, endangering the entire world, and are inseparable from the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. Today, major powers are still fighting openly and secretly in Afghanistan, laying more uncertain factors for the root cause of the drug problem in Afghanistan.
In September of this year, the United States will withdraw from the "quagmire" of Afghanistan. In the 20 years of the war on terrorism, what the United States left for Afghanistan was a piece of chicken feathers, and what it left for itself was a joke. At present, the Afghan government does not have the ability to independently control the spread of domestic drugs. The United States strongly supports the Afghan government in anti-drug control. Between 2002 and 2017, it invested a total of US$8.6 billion in anti-drug work in Afghanistan, but with little success. In the final analysis, the dilemma of Afghanistan's drug control is that the "imperial graveyard" can end any empire myth, and the United States is no exception.
"When the opium production is good, they will be farming. When the opium harvest is not good, they will take up guns and join the Taliban."
The primary goal of the U.S. war against Afghanistan is to combat terrorism and the Taliban regime that supports it, thereby eliminating their security threats to the United States and comforting the souls of the "9.11" incident. Compared with the fight against terrorism, drug control is insignificant. Even in order to eliminate the Taliban, the United States did not hesitate to recognize and support the local warlords who were involved in drugs, and turned a blind eye to the drug trafficking of these warlords.
With the proliferation of drugs in Afghanistan, the United States has never been an "outsider" from beginning to end. As early as during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the US CIA began to be involved in the Afghan drug problem. In order to bring down the Soviet Union, the CIA used drug money laundering to provide funding for anti-Soviet forces in Afghanistan, and even support and protect the local drug trade.
On April 17, 2021, in Sari Pul Province, Afghanistan, local police destroy drugs
In today's world drug production market, Afghanistan's drug production occupies an absolute dominant position. If Afghanistan completely succeeds in drug control, the world's drug prices are bound to soar. This is an outcome that some European and American stakeholders do not want to see.
The drug economy has already penetrated all walks of life in Afghanistan, with nearly 10% of the population directly or indirectly involved in drug cultivation and smuggling. The drug economy accounts for 60% of the national economy. Statistics show that if poppy cultivation is eradicated, the country's GDP will directly evaporate more than 30%. The achievements of Afghanistan’s years of reconstruction may be ruined.
After 2014, President Ghani's coming to power and ruling the country were inseparable from the support of farmers. If it completely prohibits drugs without adequate preparation, it will cut off the means by which farmers rely on making a living. In the big dye tank where the drug economy is pervasive, many local officials and police in Afghanistan are more or less inextricably linked to drug activities. If drug activities are thoroughly investigated, these people are bound to become a factor of national instability.
Afghan drugs may bring so-called benefits, but after all, they are only immediate benefits, no different from drinking poison to quench thirst. According to statistics, 10% of Afghans smoke opium. Among these addicts, only less than 10% can get effective medication.
An Afghan once joked: "Our whole family is addicted to opiates, and even our rats and snakes enjoy it." In this regard, the major European and American countries do not want to be alone. After all, in an avalanche, no snowflake is innocent.