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FLASH 7: Official UN Report about Northern Alliance Drug-Trafficking

A recent UN Report confirms that opium production plummeted in Afghanistan last year except in Northern Alliance areas, thanks to a Taliban decree outlawing its cultivation. However what might have been a major curtailment of world heroin trafficking will apparently not now happen. Instead there are reports we can anticipate future increases of opium cultivation now that the Taliban has been defeated.

(For my 12/17/01 newspaper story on this, go to "Heroin, Drug Warlords Reappear on Afghan Scene", Article for Pacific News Service, December 17, 2001.)

On 10/16/01 the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention released its UNDCP Afghanistan Annual Opium Poppy Survey 2001. This confirmed press stories that since December of last year, it has been reported that the Taliban enforced its total ban on opium cultivation, while provinces under Northern Alliance control sharply increased cultivation to partly fill the shortfall.

The following paragraphs are reprinted from the Report:

"In July 2000 the Taleban authorities banned the cultivation of opium poppy throughout all areas under their control. In November/December 2000, reports from Afghanistan suggested vigorous implementation of the ban by the authorities. Early in February of this year, UNDCP carried out a Preassessment Survey to obtain an early quantitative assessment of the area of poppy cultivation, and to determine the degree of compliance with the ban. Subsequently, in May 2001, a delegation of UNDCP major donors undertook a mission to the main poppy cultivating areas of Afghanistan to, inter alia, assess the effectiveness of the ban first hand. Both the Preassessment Survey and the UNDCP Donor Mission observed the near total success of the ban in eliminating poppy cultivation in Taleban controlled areas. This finding has been confirmed by the Annual Opium Poppy Survey.

"Results:

"Cultivation: An estimated 7,606 hectares (Ha) of opium poppy was cultivated in Afghanistan during the 2001 season. This represents a reduction in total poppy area of 91% compared to last year's estimate of 82,172 Ha. Helmand Province [under Taliban], the highest cultivating area last year with 42,853 Ha, recorded no poppy cultivation in the 2001 season. Nangarhar [under Eastern Shura], the second highest cultivating province last year with 19,747 Ha is reported to have 218 Ha this year. Almost all major former poppy growing provinces had no poppy or relatively small areas under cultivation this year. The reductions are clearly the result of the implementation of the opium poppy ban.

In Badakshan [under Northern Alliance], there has been an increase from 2,458 Ha to 6,342 Ha compared to last year. In Samangan [under Northern Alliance], there has been an increase from 54 Ha to 614 Ha compared to last year.1

1 Although the increase in Badakshan is cause for concern, some perspective is needed. Helmand Province last year was the highest producer of raw opium with 1,853 MT [Metric Tonnes], which represented 57% of the national product. Badakshan's record production this year amounts to almost 151 MT, which is about 8% of that amount.

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Production: Based on the above-mentioned figures for yield, an estimated 185 metric tonnes (MT) of raw opium was produced in Afghanistan in 2001.2 This would suggest a large reduction in opium production of 94% from the 2000 total of 3,276 MT and a reduction of 96% from the record high of 4,581 MT reported by the 1999 survey. Preliminary data for 2001 would indicate that the approximately 3,100 MT of reduction in opium production this year in Afghanistan compared to last year has not been offset by increases in other areas or countries.

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Largest cultivating provinces: In the 2001 season, the top four provinces with largest cultivation of opium poppy are: Badakshan Province [Northern Alliance] with 6,342 Ha or 83% of the national poppy area, Samangan [Northern Alliance] with 614 Ha or 8%, Nangarhar [Eastern Shura] with 218 Ha or 3%, and Takhar [Northern Alliance] with 211 Ha or 3% of the national poppy area. In the 2000 season, the top four provinces with the largest cultivation of opium poppy were: Helmand [Taliban] with 42,853 Ha or 52% of the national poppy area, Nangarhar [Eastern Shura] with 19,747 Ha or 24%, Oruzgan [Taliban] with 4,331 Ha or 5.3% and Qandahar [Taliban] with 3,427 Ha or 4.2% of the national poppy area.

Impact of Drought...." [affected all areas]

From the body of the report we also learn that in Nangarhar all but 4 districts reported 100% reduction. The big exceptions were Goshta with 99 Ha (58% reduction) and L'alpur with 95 Ha (62% reduction). Both are on the Pakistan border in the northeastern corner of the province.

In 2001, the provinces under the Northern Alliance, with a 158% increase in Badakhshan (to 6,342 Ha) and a 1,048% increase in Samangan (to 614 Ha), now represented over 90% of Afghanistan's opium production.

The motives for the Taliban ban have been challenged, as possibly a move to raise prices by restricting production. It does seem likely that the Taliban had large stocks of processed opium on hand, perhaps even a year's worth, as was widely reported by the London Guardian and others.

Nevertheless, we can conclude that:

1) In 2000 the Taliban decreed an almost totally effective ban on opium cultivation, a fact reported at the time of the November-December 2000 planting season;

2) The Northern Alliance responded by radically increasing opium cultivation, amounting to 90 percent of Afghanistan's 2001 opium crop;

3) However the 2001 crop of an estimated 185 metric tonnes (MT) of raw opium represented a reduction in opium production of 94% from the 2000 total of 3,276 MT, and a reduction of 96% from the record high of 4,581 MT reported by the 1999 survey. Furthermore the net reduction of approximately 3,100 MT in Afghan opium production has apparently not been offset by increases in other areas or countries.

4) Thus the world heroin traffic was on the point of experiencing a major reduction after 2001. It now appears that this may not happen, if as alleged there is a rapid expansion of opium cultivation in provinces seized by the Northern Alliance with US support.

Indeed, unless preventive steps are taken, the world may see a new flood of opium and heroin on the world market, as happened after previous US interventions in Afghanistan and in Laos. Fields in other provinces such as Nangarhar, originally planted with wheat, have already been replanted this year with opium poppy.

The London Observer on 11/25/01 reported that "Western and Pakistani officials fear that, within a year or two, Afghanistan could again reach its peak production figures of 60,000 hectares of poppies producing 2,800 tonnes of opium - more than half the world's output." The London Guardian reported further on 12/10/01 that, "With the Taliban gone, Afghanistan's farmers are going back to their old, lucrative ways. In the tribal areas of Pakistan, where most of the opium is processed, prices have plummeted in expectation of a bumper crop."

The failure of the US press to report or comment on these developments is an ominous sign that the US Government is happy to see its former proteges finance themselves once again through the drug traffic. Another ominous sign is active disinformation by officials of the US Government. The Taliban's drastic reduction in opium cultivation was ignored, and indeed misrepresented, by CIA Director George Tenet in his report to Congress on 2/7/01, in a speech that threatened retaliatory strikes against the Taliban: "Production in Afghanistan has been exploding, accounting for 72 percent of illicit global opium production in 2000. The drug threat is increasingly intertwined with other threats. For example, the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which allows Bin Ladin and other terrorists to operate on its territory, encourages and profits from the drug trade."

Yet another ominous sign is the recent and unexpected release from a Pakistani jail of Ayub Afridi, once the Khyber Pass kingpin for a network of Pushtun drug warlords in Nangarhar Province (Asia Times, 12/4/01; cf. Cooley, Unholy Wars, 139-143). In the words of the Asia Times, "Sources say that Afridi's constituencies in eastern and southern Afghan provinces have been revived following the withdrawal of the Taliban, and with them the drugs trade. Commanders such as Haji Abdul Qadeer, Haji Mohammed Zaman and Hazrat Ali are once again ruling the roost in these areas. These commanders used to be the biggest heroin and opium mafia in Afghanistan's Pashtun belt."

In short it would appear the situation in 2001 is recreating that of the 1980s, when, in the words of the Washington Post (5/13/90), US officials ignored heroin trafficking by the mujahedin "because U.S. narcotics policy in Afghanistan has been subordinated to the war against Soviet influence there."

(For further details see below at FLASH 5 (A): Pre-1990 Drug Networks Being Restored Under New Coalition?.)