Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Opium and Afghanistan

Yes, I start this promising column with an account of the long linkage of Opium and Afghanistan. May I apprise you in advance, however, that the topics of this column will vary, and will seldom be of the same genre. That said, I assure you that they will provide bulk of information that you will be exceedingly interested in.

Opium was first cultivated in ancient Mesopotamia. The Sumerians then referred to it as Hul Gil, 'the joy plant'. The poppy plant is used in the production of narcotics, or drugs as we often refer to them. Opium is typically not transported and sold raw. Typically opium is processed to separate the pharmacologically active morphine (along with some codeine) which is then converted into heroin. The conversion of morphine to heroin cuts down the mass and therefore volume significantly while at the same time increasing the potency. Naturally this makes the process of smuggling much easier.

Opium Poppy

Which brings us to the worlds largest producer of opium - Afghanistan. Yes, Opium is a boom in Afghanistan, infact a driving force of the economy there. As much as one-third of Afghanistan's GDP comes from growing poppy and illicit drugs. Today, it accounts for more than 90% of the world's supply, the famed region of Helmand responsible for most of it.

Why, one may ask, is it so?
Since being largely outlawed and illegal, the production of opium has significantly decreased around the world, despite an increasing demand. Due to large extent of growth and dependence on this flower, however, the ban is not well enforced in this country.

Poppy farm in Afghanistan

In 2000, Taliban leader Mullah Omar banned poppy cultivation in Afghanistan. The Taliban then ruled ~95% of the country, and used harsh methods to enforce this ban. Talibani trucks would tour farms, armed with explosives. According to them, Opium and narcotics was haram, or against the Quran. United Nations Drug Control Program(UNDCP) confirmed opium production eradicated that year. Farmers started planting wheat, and other licit crops.

Board in Afghanistan

In 2001, however, Taliban regime was overthrown by the US and Northern Alliance.
In 2002, UNDCP announced that Afghanistan had regained its position as the world's largest opium producer. It continues to be so, due to the lack of proper law enforcement, and prevalence of bribery in the police forces.

The multi-billion-dollar business that is fed by Afghanistan's vast opium fields is damaging the country's national security, economy and reputation
says President of the newly formed government, Hamid Karzai.

Experts fear of the country turning into a "narco-state" where drugs barons have more power than the government.
Infact, an opium farmer may be earning 10 times as much as the government soldier or policeman.

1 comment:

Nandini said...

An interesting read. Thankyou.