Opium Flowers: By Ms Farhat Akram, Assistant Research Officer, Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI)

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Whilst the world was celebrating World Anti-Narcotics day on Jun 27th, by organizing seminars and conferences with loud woes of resolve to end the menace, in the south of Helmand province of Afghanistan Gul Bibi,18, was being sold to the local land owner as a “ opium bride’ by her father for just few thousand dollars. Her father was indebted to the local land owner with a promise to repay at the harvest time. But with opium eradication drive by the government officials and Allied forces, his field was also destroyed, leaving him nothing to pay back the loan. Opium flowers would continue to grow and multiply, till the spring of poverty, violation of human rights and deterioration of socio economic situation of the natives would complete its interval in Afghanistan.
Despite the fact that there is forecast for a “shockingly high” harvest for the year 2008 according to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), anguish of the natives magnifying without light at the end of the tunnel. Weak governance structures and corruption has led these menaces to stand larger than life in this “land of unruly”. Instead of providing relief to the people, the state has started slipping back to a point zero and moving towards a point of no return as the contemporary trends reflects. Many blame lies with the Karzai’s “democratic” government, who has done little over the course of years to put an end to such practices and provide alternatives to the natives and try to win the hearts and minds of the people.
The state of Afghanistan is in flux today with ranking the world’s poorest of all countries – it ranks near the bottom of the UN’s human development index (174th out of 178 countries). It is also ranked the lowest on the human poverty index, largest exporter of the illicit drugs, reaching an estimated street value of US $60 billion. According to the latest UNODC survey some of 3.3 million Afghans (14.3% of the population) are involved in opium cultivation. This does not include over 500,000 laborers and an unknown number of trafficker, warlords and officials. Poppies are grown over just over 4% of Afghanistan’s arable land, the value of illicit drug income is huge, equaling over 52% of the country’s legal GDP in 2002(compared with 24.4% for Burma/ Myanmar and 3% for Colombia).
After careful analysis of the available data shows that the Government’s GDP ratio is lowest to the illicit opium income production. What is much worst and disturbing is that opium production trend is not only upward but outward. Hence this has not only regional but global implications as well. As one observer once notes, “It is cheaper to engage in illegal activity in Afghanistan than almost anywhere in the world. Iraq is catching up, however. Having first followed Afghanistan’s lead in becoming a transnational terrorism, Iraq is now starting to produce poppies.” An estimated of 500,000 Afghan families support themselves by raising poppies, according to UNODC. Last year, those growers received an estimated $1billion for their crops- about $2000 per household. With at least six members in the average family, opium growers’ per capita income is rough $300. The real profits go to the traffickers; their Taliban allies and the crooked officials’ who facilitate these “merchants of death” to operate with liberty.
It is also very significant to understand the effects of narcotics trade and convergence of Afghanistan into a failed state as both are interlinked with weak governance, corruption, shaky state building efforts, fragile development, unstable security and counter insurgency efforts by the Allied forces. One expert refers that if there would not be narcotics there would not be any of the Taliban. But narcotics and its trade is not the only one reason for the state of chaos in Afghanistan is today. It is combination of multiple causes and major among all is that weak state structure and lack of Karzai’s government to expand its control beyond certain regions. Karzai must realize that spitting venom for the state hosting millions of Afghan refugees for years would not serve the purpose but he must put his own house in order.
In order to remove the menace from the very root from the fragile state like that of Afghanistan, it is also very significant to create the alternative livelihoods for the farmers and people who are earlier generating their income from the narco-trade and money. This has been part of the national counter narcotics strategy which includes incentive scheme known as the” Good performance Fund” .set up to reward villages for moving away from opium. Creating better infrastructure facilities like better irrigation system, transport infrastructures to the farmers who grow other crops would do some good. Measurement of these sorts are necessary because other crops often face pitfalls such as the absence of distributors , inadequate domestic demands are few of the impediments that were causing the weak implementation of the counter narcotics strategy in the state.
Despite billions of dollars in foreign investment--the international community pledged an additional $20 billion at a donor conference in June--the coalition forces in Afghanistan and its government have failed to win over the people they are trying to protect. This means Afghanistan's gains since the fall of the Taliban are fragile and are threatened by the insurgency, which continues to rage in the south. The government is weak, and there's little rule of law--local police are seen as scarcely more than “uniformed thieves”. Opium traffickers have a firm grip on the agricultural production of the province, providing credit, seeds and fertilizer to farmers, who have no other recourse than to grow the raw material for heroin--which in turn finances the insurgency.
Afghanistan’s rise as the major factor in contribution to the world’s illicit drug production is largely seen as a failure of the US policies for the country. After the removal of the Taliban regime in 2001, the eradication drive has largely been failed. Major obstacle in getting rid of opium production is the lack of coordination among law enforcement agencies operated upon by the US and its allies and the local warlords, whose major source of power lies with holding opium cultivatable land. Without much of the incentives for the farmers and workers has added of woes of the locals, thus created a larger factor resulting in the rise of the militancy and insurgency in the country.
Helmand is the biggest opium-producing region in the world and it is home to a Pashtun population that has historically resisted centralized rule. It is, says Chris Alexander, the U.N.'s deputy special representative in Afghanistan, "the place where the challenges that used to be nationwide have been swept like dead leaves into a pile." There is a need for much broader and comprehensive counter narcotics approach that could eradicate the menace and provide the relief to the ordinary Afghan who expects removal of crimes and dawn of the substantial security and development to the land. This requires much of the efforts from within the society and government while multifaceted policy of the international actors requires much of the effort. If we all fail to deliver then it would tell little about Afghanistan but much about the world.

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