Sunday, January 16, 2011

Who is Really Growing the Poppy in Afghanistan?

Chart of Poppy Production 1994 to 2007. 

It's curious that we now hear that the Taliban are now a big narco trafficker of Poppy in Afghanistan and are supervising the growing of all this poppy there. I just watched a piece on Fox News with Geraldo and he was saying we are really now at war with the Taliban to stop them from growing Poppy to fund their war effort. So I did a little research and am posting two articles on my blog written in 2001 and 2003 that I found on the internet. It appears that in 2000 the Taliban outlawed the growing of Poppy and opium production and made it punishable by death. The next year in 2001(see chart to the left) there was  virtually no Poppy being grown in Afghanistan according to the UN and the US. Now mind you this was before 911. 

The US then went into Afghanistan in March of 2001 with the most sophisticated equipment and tens of thousands of troops, in the eight years since the US has been there the Poppy production rose every year and now stands at an all time high. How can the Taliban that is being bombed everyday and on the run, manage and control the growth, harvest and marketing of a multibillion business right under the United States Military nose while being targeted every day? It's almost incomprehensible. 

In the piece today with Geraldo, he was in a military compound and he said let me show you the problem here. He walked to the door of the compound and opened it and low and behold right outside the compound there were Poppy fields as far as you could see.  Of course being the astute reporter that he is, he failed to ask the commander of the base why the US military hasn't destroyed all those Poppy fields. What is wrong with this picture?  Here what’s wrong with it, in 2000 the Taliban was able to virtually wipe out the production of Poppy and Opium in one year.  After 8 years of the US military and the Karzi Government in power 

Poppy production is at an all time high. How is that possible? Why were those hundreds of acres right outside the US military compound still growing like wheat fields in Kansas? Why weren’t they destroyed by the US Military? Why hasn't there been a systematic destruction of the Poppy fields?  They certainly know where they are.  The rumors are that Karzi and his criminal brother are the ones really behind the production and marketing of the Poppy crop, which is now worth billions of dollars. Karzi has just called for 20 billion in foreign aid to help the farmers. Sure. Where do you think that money will end up?

Did you know Karzi spends very little time in Afghanistan, he runs the Government from a Penthouse in Dubai. A few months ago the US caught one of his representatives leaving Afghanistan with 500 thousand dollars in his bag. They let him go. What do you think if you or I was stopped with that kind of money it our bag? Do you think we would be in jail and charged with money laundering?  All these billions of dollars that we give in foreign aid every year never reach the people, 90 percent of it is stolen by the corrupt leaders that we support.

Here are the facts; you can make up your own mind. But it's hard for me to believe how a rag tag group of terrorists being pursed and bombed everyday by over 120 thousand US and Nato forces can pull off such a huge enterprise, that requires a high degree of organization, logistics and manpower to first plant, then harvest and then market the product.  If you can figure it out please let me know, I would love to hear about it.

Here are the articles.

Afghanistan, Opium and the Taliban

JALALABAD, Afghanistan (February 15, 2001 8:19 p.m. EST

U.N. drug control officers said the Taliban religious militia has nearly wiped out opium production in Afghanistan -- once the world's largest producer -- since banning poppy cultivation last summer.

A 12-member team from the U.N. Drug Control Program spent two weeks searching most of the nation's largest opium-producing areas and found so few poppies that they do not expect any opium to come out of Afghanistan this year.
"We are not just guessing. We have seen the proof in the fields," said Bernard Frahi, regional director for the U.N. program in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He laid out photographs of vast tracts of land cultivated with wheat alongside pictures of the same fields taken a year earlier -- a sea of blood-red poppies.

A State Department official said Thursday all the information the United States has received so far indicates the poppy crop had decreased, but he did not believe it was eliminated. Last year, Afghanistan produced nearly 4,000 tons of opium, about 75 percent of the world's supply, U.N. officials said. Opium -- the milky substance drained from the poppy plant -- is converted into heroin and sold in Europe and North America. The 1999 output was a world record for opium production, the United Nations said -- more than all other countries combined, including the "Golden Triangle," where the borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet.

Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban's supreme leader, banned poppy growing before the November planting season and augmented it with a religious edict making it contrary to the tenets of Islam. The Taliban, which has imposed a strict brand of Islam in the 95 percent of Afghanistan it controls, has set fire to heroin laboratories and jailed farmers until they agreed to destroy their poppy crops.

The U.N. surveyors, who completed their search this week, crisscrossed Helmand, Kandahar, Urzgan and Nangarhar provinces and parts of two others -- areas responsible for 86 percent of the opium produced in Afghanistan last year, Frahi said in an interview Wednesday. They covered 80 percent of the land in those provinces that last year had been awash in poppies. This year they found poppies growing on barely an acre here and there, Frahi said. The rest -- about 175,000 acres -- was clean.

"We have to look at the situation with careful optimism," said Sandro Tucci of the U.N. Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention in Vienna, Austria. He said indications are that no poppies were planted this season and that, as a result, there hasn't been any production of opium -- but that officials would keep checking. The State Department counternarcotics official said the department would make its own estimate of the poppy crop. Information received so far suggests there will be a decrease, but how much is not yet clear, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "We do not think by any stretch of the imagination that poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has been eliminated. But we, like the rest of the world, welcome positive news." The Drug Enforcement Administration declined to comment.

No U.S. government official can enter Afghanistan because of security concerns stemming from the presence of suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden. Poppies are harvested in March and April, which is why the survey was done now. Tucci said it would have been impossible for the poppies to have been harvested already. The areas searched by the U.N. surveyors are the most fertile lands under Taliban control. Other areas, though they are somewhat fertile, have not traditionally been poppy growing areas and farmers are struggling to raise any crops at all because of severe drought. The rest of the land held by the Taliban is mountainous or desert, where poppies could not grow. 

Karim Rahimi, the U.N. drug control liaison in Jalalabad, capital of Nangarhar province, said farmers were growing wheat or onions in fields where they once grew poppies. "It is amazing, really, when you see the fields that last year were filled with poppies and this year there is wheat," he said.
The Taliban enforced the ban by threatening to arrest village elders and mullahs who allowed poppies to be grown. Taliban soldiers patrolled in trucks armed with rocket-propelled grenade launchers. About 1,000 people in Nangarhar who tried to defy the ban were arrested and jailed until they agreed to destroy their crops. 

Signs throughout Nangarhar warn against drug production and use, some calling it an "illicit phenomenon." Another reads: "Be drug free, be happy." Last year, poppies grew on 12,600 acres of land in Nangarhar province. According to the U.N. survey, poppies were planted on only 17 acres there this season and all were destroyed by the Taliban. "The Taliban have done their work very seriously," Frahi said. But the ban has badly hurt farmers in one of the world's poorest countries, shattered by two decades of war and devastated by drought.

Ahmed Rehman, who shares less than three acres in Nangarhar with his three brothers, said the opium he produced last year on part of the land brought him $1,100. This year, he says, he will be lucky to get $300 for the onions and cattle feed he planted on the entire parcel. "Life is very bad for me this year," he said. "Last year I was able to buy meat and wheat and now this year there is nothing." But Rehman said he never considered defying the ban. "The Taliban were patrolling all the time. Of course I was afraid. I did not want to go to jail and lose my freedom and my dignity," he said, gesturing with dirt-caked hands. Shams-ul-Haq Sayed, an officer of the Taliban drug control office in Jalalabad, said farmers need international aid.

"This year was the most important for us because growing poppies was part of their culture, and the first years are always the most difficult," he said. Tucci said discussions are under way on how to help the farmers. Western diplomats in Pakistan have suggested the Taliban is simply trying to drive up the price of opium they have stockpiled. The State Department official also said Afghanistan could do more by destroying drug stockpiles and heroin labs and arresting producers and traffickers. Frahi dismissed that as "nonsense" and said it is drug traffickers and shopkeepers who have stockpiles. Two pounds of opium worth $35 last year are now worth as much as $360, he said. 

Mullah Amir Mohammed Haqqani, the Taliban's top drug official in Nangarhar, said the ban would remain regardless of whether the Taliban received aid or international recognition.
"It is our decree that there will be no poppy cultivation. It is banned forever in this country," he said. "Whether we get assistance or not, poppy growing will never be allowed again in our country.

Source: Los Angeles Times
Date: 5 October 2003

Opium production spreading in Afghanistan
First-time growers lured by high prices
amid weak oversight, economy

Robyn Dixon

KABUL, Afghanistan - Mohammad Ashrafy waited for the death of the family figurehead, a respected mullah, before he finally planted opium poppies this year for the first time.
And sometimes, when he gazed out over the huge stretch of poppies he grew in the Ghor province of central Afghanistan this spring and summer, he felt guilty, recalling the admonishments of his late uncle, Mullah Mortaza Kahn.

"We know growing opium is against Islam, but we have to do it," said Ashrafy, 38. "I was the only person left here not growing it, and there was no mullah telling me to stop." The United Nations estimates that half of Ghor's farmers don't earn enough to cover basic needs. So exhortations to plant alternatives seem doomed when a grower can make about $5,200 from an acre of opium but $121 from an acre of wheat.

Ashrafy and his brother support 35 relatives, including the widows and children of two other brothers killed in the country's long wars. Last year, Ashrafy grew wheat, but it provided only half of what the family needed. "If I don't grow [opium]," he said, "I'm sure we'll die because we cannot grow enough wheat for ourselves." So he prays to make peace with Allah.

Throughout Afghanistan, thousands who never grew opium began harvesting their crops in May, taught by experienced poppy farmers who have been traveling to new areas to share their skills.
Afghanistan regained its position as the largest opium country last year, producing 3,750 tons, and this year, production is expected to be as high, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. Seventy-five percent of the world's heroin, obtained from opium poppies, comes from Afghanistan.
At a congressional hearing in Washington in June, Bernard Farhi, chief of the operations branch of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, said opium brought Afghanistan $1.2 billion last year - equal to the international aid to Afghanistan in that period. In a recent report, the International Monetary Fund said opium accounted for up to half of Afghanistan's gross domestic product, amounting to $2.5 billion in exports.

Early in the era of the Taliban, the radical Islamic regime that allowed the al-Qaida terror network to flourish in Afghanistan, opium cultivation was permitted. But in July 2000, more than a year before the United States knocked it out of power, the Taliban banned the crop and introduced the death penalty for opium crimes, leading to a sharp decline in production.

Now, the regions outside Kabul are under the control of warlords, many of whom benefit from the trade. Last year's production was nine times higher than during the final year of Taliban rule.
Without a national police force or army, President Hamid Karzai's interim government cannot enforce its poppy ban, leaving drug-eradication workers exposed to retaliation. In June, seven of them were mobbed and killed by enraged poppy farmers in Oruzgan province, 250 miles southwest of Kabul, where authorities were making a major effort to reduce the poppy crops.

Security in Afghanistan has deteriorated sharply in recent months with an increase in attacks by anti-government militants. Many argue that without better security in the provinces, efforts to control poppy-growing will fail. "The fact of the matter is you can't stop opium production when the warlords control the regions and when we don't expand security beyond Kabul," Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., a Delaware Democrat, said at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on drugs and terrorism in May. "It was a power vacuum created by warlords and drug-traffickers that enabled the Taliban and al-Qaida to turn Afghanistan into an international swamp. ... And now we're back in the same situation again." Even before the death of his uncle, who had not been involved with the Taliban, Ashrafy learned to harvest poppies by helping with his neighbor's poppy harvest last year.

Ashrafy and his surviving brother are large landowners. In the past four years of devastating drought, many smaller farmers went into debt. This year, many of them were given loans and seeds by drug traders, to be repaid upon harvest. The political fate of the governor of Ghor province, Ebrahim Malakzada, is a telling example of what can happen to those who try to stop farmers from growing poppies.

"This year, the only person who said not to grow opium was the governor," said Ashrafy, the Ghor poppy farmer. "He met with the elders and told them not to let people grow poppies. Then a commander chased him out, and he had to flee." The deputy governor, Mulladin Mohammad Azimy, seized the official governor's residence, and Malakzada, an ally of Karzai's, was forced to live in Kabul for a time. 

An expert on the international drug trade, Rensselaer Lee, told the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that the control of drugs has taken a back seat to fighting terrorism, building consensus and strengthening alliances. "To build these alliances, unfortunately, we've had to make some arrangements, compromises with people who, frankly, may have some history of involvement with the drug trade and may be even currently protecting the drug trade," said Lee, president of Global Advisory Services, a Virginia-based research group. 

In early June, Karzai called for $20 billion in foreign aid, warning that without an economic boost, people would have to live on the opium trade. Afghan Finance Minister Ghani Ahmadzai has also warned that without more international aid, Afghanistan could become reliant on the drug trade and crime - a problem that would be more expensive to fix than giving short-term aid.

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