By Hooman Peimani (5/8/2002 issue of the CACI Analyst)
BACKGROUND: The opium and heroin production in Afghanistan and Afghanistan-based international drug-trafficking are a byproduct of over two decades of chaos, lawlessness, and poverty caused and reinforced by the civil war that lasted until the fall of the Taliban, which removed a major obstacle to ending the Afghan civil war, but did not eliminate the four major factors contributing to the operation of the drug \"industry\": rampant poverty, lack of a viable economy, ethnic rivalries and the absence of a strong central government. The first two factors have motivated many Afghan peasants to substitute non-profitable traditional farming (e.g.
BACKGROUND: The opium and heroin production in Afghanistan and Afghanistan-based international drug-trafficking are a byproduct of over two decades of chaos, lawlessness, and poverty caused and reinforced by the civil war that lasted until the fall of the Taliban, which removed a major obstacle to ending the Afghan civil war, but did not eliminate the four major factors contributing to the operation of the drug \"industry\": rampant poverty, lack of a viable economy, ethnic rivalries and the absence of a strong central government. The first two factors have motivated many Afghan peasants to substitute non-profitable traditional farming (e.g., grain production) with financially rewarding opium production, while creating a large army of recruits for drug-trafficking. Apart from foreign influences, the other two factors have given birth to warlords who have ruled over distinct territories as independent rulers for over two decades. The bloody rivalries among warlords has deepened ethnic conflicts while preventing the formation of a fully functional central government and Afghanistan\'s reconstruction.
In the absence of a strong central government in control of the entire country, the prevailing lawlessness and the impoverishment of Afghanistan have created a suitable ground for the production and trafficking of narcotics under protection of the local warlords. Drug-generated income has been the main domestic source of revenue for almost all the major Afghan political actors, whether warlords or Taliban, over the last two decades. The Taliban turned Afghanistan into the largest global producer of opium, but under severe international pressure, imposed a ban on opium production. Since their fall, the drug \"industry\" has grown, despite the Afghan interim government\'s commitment to fight the drug \"industry\".
IMPLICATIONS: Apart from the rampant poverty and lack of employment opportunity, the weakness of the Afghan central government has enabled the continuation of the drug \"industry\". The majority of warlords have accepted the authority of the Afghan interim government in words, but have governed their territories as independent rulers in practice. In absence of any major international effort to revitalize Afghanistan\'s economy, the emerging disagreements among the warlords over their share of power and their respective ethnic groups\' role in the future of Afghanistan have prepared grounds for inter- and intra-ethnic fighting. In particular, this has been evident in the Pashtun-dominated south and southeast Afghanistan, where most of the opium is cultivated. Reports suggest a significant increase in opium production and its future continuity despite the interim government\'s ban on opium cultivation. The government simply lacks any power in those regions to enforce its ban, which is clearly ignored by the local warlords who, like their people, have no other reliable source of income.
Being involved in a fierce territorial conflict, warlords in the south have expressed dissatisfaction over the Pashtuns\' share of power in the interim government dominated by non-Pasthuns, a natural result of the pivotal role that the mainly non-Pashtun Northern Alliance played in the Taliban\'s overthrow. Since January 2002, fights over controlling territories between and among warlords, and between warlords and government-appointed regional authorities, have been a common occurrence in the Pashtun regions. In late April, Bacha Khan Zardan\'s firing rockets into the eastern city of Gardez controlled by governor Taj Mohammed Wardak was just a recent example of this trend.
Facing a wide range of immediate problems, the interim government lacks resources to contain the warlords and to prevent opium farming and the production of opium and heroin. It has been compelled to accept the tragic reality of warlords\' authority, their destructive territorial and ethnic wars and their drug-related activities. This \"acceptance\" is notwithstanding of the destructive impact of those realities on its power and on peace and stability in Afghanistan, which are the prerequisites for any meaningful reconstruction project.
Opium cultivation is still the only financially rewarding farming for the Afghan peasants. Unsurprisingly, drug-production in the post-Taliban era has reportedly increased significantly to near the record high production level of 1999. Lacking resources to impose a forcible ban, the interim government\'s \"persuasive\" policy has practically failed, a policy implemented only after the opium-growing peasants refused to destroy their crops voluntarily and clashed with government agents that sough their forcible destruction. The money offered to those peasants, which is a fraction of what they earn by growing opium, has not motivated them to stop that farming in favour of growing other products. In short, the Afghan central government\'s weakness enables warlords to operate as independent rulers in their territories who allow the production and the trafficking of drugs as a means of employment for their people and a reliable source of income for their local political and military apparatus. In turn, this situation weakens the power of the government and contributes to lawlessness, which prolong economic paralysis and its resulting poverty. This situation guarantees the continuation of the drug \"industry\". The warlords\' hefty shares of its operation enable them to consolidate their position as independent local rulers at the central government\'s expense.
CONCLUSIONS: The Afghan drug \"industry\" will continue as long as Afghanistan suffers from two major deficiencies: the absence of a strong central government, and the lack of a viable economy capable of generating enough revenue for the government and adequate numbers of well-paid jobs for the people. Given the strength of the warlords, the half-hearted commitment of the international community to Afghanistan\'s economic development, and that country\'s impoverishment, there is no realistic ground for the success of the interim government and its successor in addressing those deficiencies in the foreseeable future. Afghanistan will therefore remain the largest global producer of opium and heroin and a centre for the international drug-trafficking in the near term. Apart from its obvious health hazards, Afghanistan-based drug-trafficking and its related crimes will be a destabilizing factor for not only Afghanistan, but also for all the countries on the trafficking route: Iran, Turkey, the Central Asian and Caucasian countries and Russia. It will also be a major contributing factor to the warlords\' strength and to their inter- and intra-ethnic turf wars with a negative impact on the consolidation of the Afghan central government and on the Afghan economy\'s revitalization.
AUTHOR BIO: Dr. Hooman Peimani works as an independent consultant with international organizations in Geneva, Switzerland, and does research in International Relations. His writing has centered on the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and the Persian Gulf.
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