Global Policy Forum

Afghanistan's Anti-Narcotics Strategy


By Samrat Sinha

Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies
August 29, 2006


The United Nations Opium Poppy Survey Report of 2001 highlighted the effectiveness of a ban imposed by the Taliban in July 2000 on poppy cultivation. The UN reported a 91 per cent drop in cultivation from 82,172 hectares to 7,606 hectares. Helmand province, the highest poppy cultivating province in 2000 accounting for 42,853 hectares, reported no cultivation. However, situation seems to have changed in the last five years. An overview of the statistics released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on poppy production in 2005 paints a dismal picture. As of 12 September 2005, opium poppy cultivation stood at 104,000 hectares and affected all 32 provinces surveyed by the UN. Afghanistan now accounts for 87 per cent of the world's illicit opium production with 8.7 per cent of the total population engaged in cultivation of the opium poppy. Helmand has again become the largest source of opium poppy with 26,500 hectares under cultivation.

This expansion has called into question the National Drug Control Strategy (NDCS) and the counter-narcotics (CN) initiatives of Afghanistan since 2003. In 2004, the newly established Ministry of Counter Narcotics (MCN) released a comprehensive strategy which set up bench-marks for measuring progress. According to the latest NDCS, the Government of Afghanistan will strive to "secure a sustainable decrease in cultivation, production, trafficking and consumption of illicit drugs with a view to complete and sustainable elimination". This objective rests on four national strategies: disrupting the narcotics trade by targeting traffickers and their support system and eliminating the basis for the trade; strengthening and diversifying legal rural livelihoods; reducing the demand for illicit drugs and increase rehabilitation for drug users; and, strengthening of state institutions both at the centre and in the provinces. Institution building is a critical factor in the anti-narcotics strategy with the United Kingdom being responsible for mentoring the MCN, the Counter Narcotics Police (CNP) and the Afghan Special Narcotics Force (ASNF).

However, the effectiveness of the MCN is debatable. According to the UN Annual Poppy Survey of 2005 there has been a 21 per cent drop in production due to MCN-led eradication efforts since 2005. The MCN says that the 2004-05 season saw government eradication programs (spearheaded by the CNP/ANSF) leading to the destruction of 5,100 hectares. Yet, the UN Report says that the decline in opium production conceals important regional variations. There has been an increase in opium production in northern (+106 per cent), western (+98 per cent) and southern (+30 per cent) Afghanistan. Production however declined in central (-95 per cent), eastern (-85 per cent) and north-eastern (-50 per cent) Afghanistan. It is Helmand and the adjoining regions, where the NATO forces are deployed, that are the most problematic.

The lucrative nature of the Afghan opium trade that links cultivators, traffickers and consumers is one of the biggest threats to effective nation-building and regional stability. The total opium yield in 2005 was estimated at 39 kg/hectare, an increase of 22 per cent compared to the 2004 (32 kg/hectare), while household average yearly gross income from opium grew from $1,700 to $1,800. The increase in production is being matched by an increase in consumption. In 2003, there were 1.2 million drug users in Iran and the figure could be as high as 3 million today. The figures from the Pakistan National Drug Abuse Survey estimated that there were 3.01 million drug users and this number is believed to have risen considerably, since the data for the survey was collected in 1993. The UNODC points to a 17-fold increase in narcotic abuse between 1990 and 2002 in Central Asia. Drug users now make up almost 1% of Central Asia's population. Between 70% and 90% of the heroin found in Europe has been processed from opium produced in Afghanistan: the European Union now has up to 2 million drug users.

Most importantly, drug use in Afghanistan has increased substantially in recent years: it is estimated that there are now more than 920,000 drug users. This includes an estimated 150,000 opium users, 50,000 heroin users and 520,000 hashish users. In Kabul the number of heroin users has doubled in less than three years. What is even more disturbing is the fact that the Taliban-led insurgency is now encouraging poppy cultivation in order to fund its activities.

In conclusion, there are three major problems obstructing the implementation of the NDCS: institutional weakness of the MCN, the lucrative nature of the narcotics trade and the difficulty in providing alternative legally acceptable livelihoods. The increase in poppy cultivation and its linkages with drug traffickers and illegal armed groups poses a strong challenge for reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. Thus, an analysis of its ramifications for India is urgently required.





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