Failure of anti-narcotics programme and Structural Integration of opium in Afghanistan
Gaurav Dixit is a Research Assistant at Institute of Conflict Management, New Delhi. A Delhi Based Think Tank. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The political economy of opium in Afghanistan touches upon the heavily woven nexus between the three powerful institutional strucuture of a democratic country- State, Market and the Society; however, undermining the very essence of Democratic structure and it’s functioning. Dynamics of opium economy and its integration into social and political structure is bringing systematic aggravation to the various Anti Narcotics programme in Afghanistan. The process of economic integration of opium has both local as well as international dimension. The various agencies within Afghanistan integrate them with larger and more powerful structure/organization at both national and international level.
The biggest factor in the failure of the anti- narcotics programme in Afghanistan, which was supposed to remove opium cultivation through poppy eradication plans and implement various alternative livelihood plan, is the lack of understanding of the Afghanistan’s political economy of opium. The cultivation, production and trafficking of opium create a powerful institution functioning at every level – local, state as well as international. Unfortunately, same institution threatens to destabilize the larger institutions by supporting insurgents, strengthening local warlords, creating a hierarchy of power within the Afghan society and promoting corruption. The structural integration of the opium in the Afghanistan economy is the biggest threat to any vision of stable state. Any attempt to dismantle such institution without creating a better functioning institution is going to push the things further away from normal. With almost 10 percent or around 3 million Afghans of total population are involved in opium economy, some way or other; the integration of opium economy into the society can be understood only through the understanding of integration of the afghan population into this opium economy. The role of laborers, farmers, warlords, politicians, officials to Traffickers and insurgents is critical to the whole understanding of opium economy.
The opium cultivation is a labour intensive crop and is best suited for the Afghanistan economy- Low on capital and labour-surplus economy. It provides wage labour to many local Afghans including some Taliban, who returns for opium harvest during the spring season. A wage labourer on an average gets almost double to wheat harvesting. The farmers- although, seen as the poor link in the chain of the powerful institution- is an important player. Farmers by cultivating opium, on an average can make ten times more amount than by cultivating Wheat. The reason behind is the demand of opium across the globe, and it being and illicit drug makes its production more constrained pushing the prices higher-making it a profitable agricultural product. However, the luck of the farmers many not always be same, as weather equally plays important role. Any rise and fall of temperature impacts the yield of the poppy. The reason behind farmers being weakest link is that any eradication plan or programme impacts the livelihood of the farmers most, especially those on the margin, small scale farmers. In majority of the cases- the farmers are financed by the big landlords, Taliban or even traffickers to cultivate opium. Any loss to the crop either through eradication programme or through natural calamities pushes farmers and at times their families in the spiral of debts. There is ample example of farmer’s suicide, killing by lenders and even cases of “opium brides” as collateral. In many cases farmers becomes indentured labourer.
In understanding the higher chains of the opium economy, one needs to understand the law and order situation along with military and security situation in the opium growing areas of Afghanistan. The trafficking of large amount of Opium along with various porous boundaries of Afghanistan and neighboring countries needs high hand support of various intelligence and government officials. Corruption among the Government officials is prevalent and their support for the Narco trade has time and again been proved. The current counter-narcotics minister, Zarar Ahmad Moqbel, was allegedly involved in selling positions and appointing police chiefs who worked with drugs traffickers, when he was interior minister in 2008. Interdiction has hardly impeded trafficking of heroin. Equally shocking is the fact that tons of chemical were used in the drug production, which reached Afghanistan illegally. The possibility of such a huge import without proper knowledge of administration and officials is impossible. The case of controversial Ahmed Wali Karzai, brother of President Hamid Karzai, who was one of the most powerful drug-lord and drug-dealer of Afghanistan reminds of the nexus between politicians and drug mafias. According to various Wiki leaks cable of 2008 and 2009, President Hamid Karzai was himself involved in many cases of release of officials and Police convicted of or charged with drug trafficking. It clearly shows a strong nexus between the drug mafias with the officials both at local and national levels.
It’s not just officials who earn hefty amount from the opium economy, but also the traffickers and insurgent groups. The traffickers, who have the access of the opium directly from the farmers is a key player. Once bought from the farmers, the traffickers convert opium to cocaine which is sold at the double or triple price. The trafficker is basically involved in the processing and trading of opium. The cocaine is further smuggled through countries like Iran, Pakistan and various central Asian countries to markets in Europe and Russia. The prices increase as it crosses the borders and finally reaches to the big markets of Russia or Britain. There is huge network of agents involved in the overall process of opium economy, making it a successful venture for everyone involved.
Opium economy is the biggest fund raising activity of Taliban. The income generation sources of insurgent are: charges on opium farmers, Self participation in opium Harvest/cultivation (as farmer or laborers), Protection fees from farmers, Lab processing, trafficking and Charges on Drugs transportation. The two biggest poppy cultivating areas- Helmand and Khandhar- are areas of Taliban control and are also records high insurrectionary incidents. However, it is not clear that opium cultivating areas have any positive correlation with every kind of anti state Insurgency in Afghanistan. Nor even there is any evidence that poppy cultivation is used by all insurgent groups in Afghanistan to raise their revenues. For example, in case of provinces like Khost, Paktia, and Paktika- which are area of operation for the Haqqani groups- were poppy free area and is expected to maintain its status quo in 2012. However, much of the major insurgent attacks in 2012 have been attributed to the Haqqani groups including the coordinated attacks on Kabul and three other provinces on April 15 2012. This atleast show that there is no direct correlation between opium economy and anti state insurgency.
Government’s claim of cutting down poppy cultivation by making poppy free provinces in Afghanistan looks thoroughly hollow. However, there are some provinces which fall and rise time and again in the chart of Poppy free provinces, merely makes any difference to the overall area of cultivation or even overall production of opium, if the aggregate production levels remains high. For example, in 2004, poppy cultivation was observed in 32 provinces and on 131,000 hectares. The same amount of area was cultivated in 2011 too; however, only in 17 provinces. The expansion of poppy cultivation comes even as eradication efforts led by the Afghan government rose by 65 percent from last year; clearly, stating that poppy free provinces are/were less important, as far as strategic eradication programme is concerned.
The opium growers say that higher prices tempt them to go for opium farming. However, this reason seems to be only possible, when various factors allow such a favorable option to the farmers. The factors like, lack of rule, insecurity, lack of employment, pressure from warlords, traffickers, insurgents or traders and lack of better income generating livelihood (legal) provides better opportunity cost to the farmers to grow opium. At the same time, any fall in supply or scarcity of opium, either by eradication programme or by the bad weather, will push the price speculatively high. The high price of opium will attract more farmers for the next season opium cultivation, as higher prices will always be incentive for them. In May 2012, Zarar Ahmad Muqbel Osmani, the Minister of Counter Narcotics said, “The price of opium cultivated in Afghanistan is set to rise as the security forces step up their eradication efforts and a fungus ravages the poppies that yield it, squeezing supply and stirring violence. The tendency towards cultivation will grow, it will create resistance, law and order issues, and it will raise the casualty rate.” In other words Afghanistan is going to burn again and it’s going to be tough task in 2012. This year, till May 99 lives have been lost in the process of seizure and eradication, counting lives of both the Police and the farmers. In spite of various anti narcotics programme of creating alternative livelihood, providing legal subsistence programee: The embedment of opium in the social strucuture seems to be deeply rooted. The persistent corruption and intangible government response to various social and economical problems of Afghanistan gives structure to such kind of economy a systemic form and, which in turn has become now, clearly, a major source of income generation and attaining political power in Afghanistan.