Terrorism and Drug Trafficking

09 September 2012 | 05:23 Code : 1906564 Interview General category
Iranian Diplomacy’s interview with Dr. Mohammad Reza Amirkhizi, Former Representative and Director of UNODC in Afghanistan
Terrorism and Drug Trafficking

What is your assessment of cultivation and trafficking of illicit drugs in Afghanistan at this time?  What is the share of such activity in Afghanistan's economy?

Afghanistan is the largest producer of opium in the world.  Economic dependence on cultivation and trafficking of opiates, limitations in law enforcement activities, lack of security, corruption and lack of institutional arrangements in all parts of the country have added to the complexity of this problem.  In 2011, compared to 2010, the production of opium increased from 3600 tons to 5800 tons.  The decline in production in 2010 was due to opium plant disease.  In 2011, about 83% of world illicit opium was produced in Afghanistan.  The income generated from cultivation of opium is high.  The cultivation of opium in Afghanistan is a strategic decision for the farmers.  In 2011, cultivation of opium in each hectare had 11 times more profit than cultivation of wheat.  In 2003, this figure was 27 times.  In 2011, average farm-gate price of dry opium was 241 US Dollars per Kilogram.  This is 43% increase compared to the previous year. Total farm-gate value of opium production in 2011 is estimated at 1.4 Billion US Dollars, 9% of Afghanistan's GDP, 133% increase compared to the previous year.  Potential gross export value of opiates for the same year is estimated at 2.6 Billion US Dollars, 15% of Afghanistan's GDP, 79% increase compared to the previous year. Such revenues cannot be easily replaced by other economic activities.

What have been the steps taken by the international community to reduce cultivation and trafficking of illicit drugs in Afghanistan and to what degree can we assess their success?

After the Bonn Conference, in 2002, the international community designated lead nations for different tasks in Afghanistan.  United Kingdom was chosen as the lead nation in charge of drug control in Afghanistan.  The international community with the coordination of the United Kingdom has assisted the Afghan authorities so far with the establishment and training of drug police, establishment of Governmental Narcotic Control authority which transformed to a ministry after a few years, training of judges and prosecutors for drug offences and renovation of prisons and training of its officials.  The government has also been assisted in its eradication campaign.  In 2010, about 2300 hectares and in 2011, about 3800 hectares of opium farms were eradicated, mostly in areas close to the districts centers and roads.  With 130,000 hectares under cultivation in 2011, such eradication figures are not significant.  Moreover, Afghan Special Forces have also raided many heroin production laboratories.

However, the problem will not be solved with such measures.  The main problems are the lack of security, political instability, lack of rule of law, inefficiency of the government and corruption among some of the local authorities.  78% of the opium produced in 2011 was cultivated in Southern provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan and Zabul, which are all among the areas with most security problems.  The Western provinces of Farah, Nimruz and Badghis cultivated about 17% of the 2011 opium production.  The Southern and Western provinces together, produced 95% of the total opium production.  In provinces where the local authorities have been determined to reduce cultivation of opium, the production has decreased substantially.  In Ghor and Nangarhar, the local authorities of the two provinces have been successful in substantial reduction of production for the second year.  If the local authorities in these two provinces, do not maintain the same policies, the high income generated by opium production and bonuses provided by the traffickers will lure the poor farmers back into cultivation of opium. It is not clear, without coordinated national policies, how long the local authorizes can maintain their no-opium cultivation policies.

Taking into account the economic situation of Afghanistan, is reduction in production and trafficking of illicit drugs feasible in future? Is it possible that after the departure of foreign forces from Afghanistan, this issue will again become a problem for the international community?

This issue at this time with the presence of the foreign forces is a problem for the international community.  Production and trafficking of illicit drugs, lack of security, political instability and terrorism are all related.  Lack of security and instability result in increase in production and trafficking of illicit drugs and in turn, the revenues from such activities increase lack of stability and security.  Some believe that terrorism and trafficking of illicit drugs are two sides of a coin.  In combating cultivation and trafficking of illicit drugs in Afghanistan, there is the need for a realistic policy which takes into account the complex political and security situation of that country and provides for social protection, income, jobs and rule of law.  The production of illicit opium in Afghanistan has increased 29 fold in the last three decades.  At the time of Soviet occupation and later during the civil war in that country, the international community focused on political issues and did not pay any attention to the yearly increase in illicit opium production.  In 1980, at the outset of Soviet occupation, Afghanistan produced 200 tons of opium.  In 1989, when Soviet forces left the country, the production was 1200 tons, 40% of world production.  As a result of the international community's lack of attention, coupled with the lack of security and stability in the country, production and trafficking of illicit opium became a major part of the economy.  The current situation is the result of a political vacillation by the international community which cannot be resolved in short-term.

In eliminating cultivation of illicit opium in Afghanistan, the long-term goals should be the economic development of that country without a need for the revenues generated by the illicit drug production, reconstruction, fighting corruption and establishment of peace and security.  Analyzing the yearly production levels will not determine whether the drug control policies are working or not.  The focus should be in establishment of peace, security and the rule of law.  With the departure of the foreign forces, there will be no direct effect in fighting illicit drug in Afghanistan, as the foreign forces are not directly involved with the activities in drug control.  The issue is the establishment of security and political stability.  If after the departure of foreign forces, the Government of Afghanistan could take steps in establishment of security and stability, then we could be optimistic about reduction in production of illicit drugs.  However, if the departure of foreign forces results in furthering lack of stability and security, then we might face an increase in production or at least lack of progress in its reduction.

What is the share of Afghanistan in the addiction problem in the world and our country?

It is estimated that the transnational organized crime networks, in 2009, for all their activities have earned about 870 Billion US Dollars worldwide, that is 1.5% of World's gross product and 7% of world's exports, out of which 320 Billion US Dollars have been from the trafficking of illicit drugs, with about 70 Billion US Dollars generated from Heroin trafficking.  The net value of a kilogram of heroin exported to the borders of Afghanistan is about 3,800 US Dollars.  This figure relates to pure heroin and in Europe with 30% purity, heroin is sold about 70 US Dollars per gram.  This is 50 fold profits from Afghanistan's borders to Europe.  In the transit countries, the transnational organized crime is also profiting greatly and causing tremendous problems for the transit countries, in terms of crime and addiction, especially among the young.  Even if we consider reducing the opium production in Afghanistan in the short-term, the addiction problem in the world and our country will not be resolved. We need to discuss and coordinate at the global level and with result oriented policies which have been tested, reduce its harm to our people.

In fighting illicit drug production and trafficking, Afghanistan has not yet utilized the regional capacities.   In the region, including the Islamic Republic of Iran, there are capacities and capabilities which could benefit Afghanistan in its fight against illicit drugs. 

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