Afghanistan: Narcotics Knot

Afghanistan’s loya jirga – grand assembly - meets this month to discuss the country’s future. The key issues will be constitutional and include the creation of a new, permanent state to replace the Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan. But these gatherings are as important for their off-table discussions, and a prime issue will be how to tackle the country’s continuing role as a global supplier of opiates. Caught up in worldwide supply routes, Russia and Central Asian states will be watching closely.

The World Today Updated 21 October 2020 Published 1 December 2003 4 minute READ

Mark Galeotti

Director of the Organised Russian & Eurasian Crime Research Unity, Keele University

While the American-led invasion of 2001 was triggered by the desire to oust Osama Bin Laden and his Taliban allies, there was also an explicit hope that it would allow a genuine and long-term campaign against opium production.

The Taliban briefly cracked down on it in 2001, but this did little more than create a temporary shortage. Few expected that it would be sustained, especially given the extent to which effective power remained in the hands not of the central regime, but of local warlords and tribal chieftains, many of whom enjoyed lucrative profits from trafficking.

After all, production had doubled through the 1990s until Afghanistan had become the source of three-quarters of the world’s opiates. The industry had also grown more sophisticated, moving from simply producing raw opium base to processing it into heroin.

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