I’ve written pretty extensively on the opium trade in Afghanistan and how the mainstream media exaggerates the role of the Taliban and downplays the much more dominant role of corrupt government officials and U.S.-backed warlords and other drug lords with connections to the regime, including the following pieces:
- New York Times Misleads on Taliban Role in Opium Trade
- On U.S. Drug Policy in Afghanistan
- Turning “a Blind Eye” to the Afghan Opium Problem
- The Afghan Drug Trade and the Elephant in the Room
- A Reexamination of the Role of the Taliban in the Afghan Opium Trade
- It Isn’t the Taliban Trafficking Drugs Through Northern Afghanistan…
- How the U.S. Helps the Drug Lords Control the Opium Market in Afghanistan
Peter Dale Scott documents the notable pattern of how the drugs trade seems to follow the U.S. military and CIA around the globe in American War Machine, which I highly recommend and in which he also cites some of my own research. See also this interview with Anthony Schaffer in which he comments on NATO’s complicity in the drugs trade in Afghanistan.
A recent New York Times article has some interesting info that can be gleaned, a glimpse into corrupt government officials involved in the drug trade:
As fearful as residents may be of a resurgent Taliban, they are also angry at the government for what they see as widespread corruption and hypocrisy. Some of that anger focuses on bribery connected with government services, and some on policies relating to the opium trade, which still thrives here. Helmand is the supplier of more than 40 percent of the world’s opium, according to United Nations statistics, and the poppy crop is still the most profitable one by far. Even farmers who are willing to grow other crops are angry at officials who have eradicated poppy but failed to provide enough help with alternatives. Farmers say some of those same officials profit from the drug trade they profess to be fighting.
And on the counterproductive policy of eradicating poppy fields:
Local elders fear that many farmers, especially those impoverished by the government’s strict poppy eradication policies, will return to opium cultivation and look to the Taliban or other criminals for protection because the government has not offered them a satisfactory substitute livelihood.
“Before the Marines launched this big offensive, Marja was the center of the opium trade,” said Ahmad Shah, the chairman of the Marja development shura, a group of elders that works with the government to try to bring change here. “Millions and millions of Pakistani rupees were being traded every day in the bazaar. People were so rich that in some years a farmer could afford to buy a car.
“We were part of the eradication efforts by the government, and if they had provided the farmer with compensation, we could have justified our act. But the government failed to provide compensation, and unless it does so, the people will turn against us or join the insurgency and be against development, as they were during the Taliban.”
Part of the government’s rationale for poppy eradication was to starve militants of the opium profits that have been important to their finances. As opium cultivation was pushed away from the centers of the American troop surge, the Taliban made new allies by providing protection for farmers who moved their poppy cultivation to outlying deserts. Over the past few years, militants and opium farmers have increasingly found common cause.
The eradication policy is used by corrupt government officials to help themselves or their associates put their competition out of the market. It is a policy that does not target major drug lords, but which merely destroys the lives of poor farmers:
Juma Khan, a farmer in Nad Ali, substituted wheat and corn for opium poppies but now cannot make enough to feed his family. That means not only a gnawing in his children’s stomachs but a delay in seeking medical services and marriages for his sons, as well as a feeling of being abandoned by the government.
“When we used to cultivate poppy, I made enough money to have sheep, and we could eat meat whenever we wanted,” said Mr. Khan, 53, standing in the middle of his cornfields in the hamlet of Loy Bagh on an autumn afternoon, stripping kernels from the dried cobs with his six children working beside him. “Now we eat a little meat only once every two weeks.”