From poppy to fentanyl lollipops

The war on drugs in Afghanistan

"For god's sake, don't destroy it! We don't ave anything else....
These children have no father! How will I provide for them now?"

- An Afghan widon and poppy farmer begging a poppy eradication team not to destroy her fields

TWENTY-FIRST century Afghanistan remains a country of astonishing contradictions. It is one of the most undeveloped, technologically backward countries in the world, despite billions of dollars poured into the economy from foreign governments. The majority of Afghans turn on a radio to get information. In a country where 90 percent of women and 60 percent of men in rural areas are illiterate, radio is a necessity.1

Communication technologies are concentrated in small, urban areas. A study by the Asia Foundation estimates 88 percent of urban households have television, while only 28 percent of rural residents do.2 The digital divide in Afghanistan is a chasm; only 9 percent of the population owns a computer and most of those are in the capital, Kabul. In the Hazarajat region, there are no computer owners.3 It’s no wonder; computers need electricity. The lack of a national power grid ensures that nine out of ten Afghans have no reliable access to electricity.4Diesel generators and kerosene lamps are ubiquitous. Satellite video taken at night reveal a country plunged into medieval darkness.

Extreme poverty condemns millions to a premature death. Most Afghans live on less than two dollars a day, and the average life expectancy in Afghanistan is forty-four years.5Unemployment is endemic in most parts of the country. All the missionary zeal of the well-funded, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that have clogged Kabul’s most secure and satellite-enabled neighborhoods, ostensibly to “help” Afghans, haven’t made a dent in the amount of suffering.

But in one economic area Afghanistan excels: the cultivation of opium. Opium is derived from the poppy plant Papaver somniferum. Afghanistan is the world’s number one grower and exporter of opium, supplying 90 percent of the drug to Central Asian and European markets.6It’s a position the country has held for an almost uninterrupted decade. Opium farmers are highly skilled experts at planting, growing, and harvesting poppy in difficult conditions, often on land where there is little irrigation and with no fertilizer or pesticides. It is organic farming out of necessity. Afghan farmers successfully grew poppy even during a seven-year drought.

About 789,000 workers, men, women, and children are responsible for growing and harvesting poppy on just 3 percent of the land.7 Harvesting is low-tech and employs two simple tools: a neshtar (lancing stick) and a rambey (scoop). The productivity of poor Afghan opium farmers is a stunning agricultural achievement. It is even more incredible when these facts are considered: the government has declared the cultivation of opium illegal; according to Islam it’s haram (forbidden); for ten years the country has been under continuous aerial bombardment, ground assault, and occupation by the United States military and NATO forces; and counternarcotics operations are increasing. As a result, the market in opium is violent and operates within an economy and country suffused with violence.

This is the backdrop to the war on drugs in Afghanistan. Two wars are being fought simultaneously: the so-called war on terror, which as this publication has argued, is an imperialist war; and a war on drugs, an assault on poor Afghan farmers and their families struggling to survive in a shattered economy.

In the post 9/11 world, terror and drugs have become conflated. Afghanistan’s designation as a “narco-state” that harbors “narco-terrorists” has become a potent justification for the United States to intervene military and to ramp up the role of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The linking of terrorists, always the Taliban, with trafficking in narcotics and using the profits to fund the insurgency allows all manner of violence to be legitimized. There is a tried and true template for the war on drugs: mendacity, hypocrisy, corruption, violence, massive profits for the few, immunity from prosecution for the kingpins and government officials at the top of the illicit drug chain, and punishment and incarceration for those at the bottom.

Past is prologue/push down pop up
Afghanistan didn’t always lead the world in poppy production.Other countries, such as India, China, and Burma (now Myanmar) have had that distinction. During the eighteenth century, the British exported large quantities of Indian opium to China. They saw the trade as a way to reduce Britain’s negative trade balance with China. The attempt by Chinese officials to ban British imports of opium resulted in two opium wars between the countries in 1839 and 1856, which ended in Britain forcibly imposing the trade, and initiating a period of colonial conquest and domination over China. As the nineteenth century progressed, China became the main producer, exporter, and a large consumer of the drug. Millions of Chinese were recreational opium smokers. After the Second World War, the Chinese government launched a massive and violent opium suppression campaign. The government arrested more than 80,000 drug traffickers, sent 30,000 to prison, held public trials, and executed hundreds.8 There was an immediate decline in opium use due to the crackdown, but since 1986 the number of narcotics users, in particular intravenous heroin users, has increased.9

The Chinese have extensive networks in the thriving opiate trade in Myanmar. From the 1960s onward, Myanmar has become a prolific cultivator of poppy. During the 1990s, it was the world’s biggest producer, but now ranks second to Afghanistan in market share.10 The crop is grown almost exclusively in the northeast province of the Shan State and in the Wa Special Region 2. Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos make up the “Golden Triangle,” but poppy cultivation has declined dramatically in the latter two countries. In 2005, the Myanmar government banned opium cultivation in the Shan State and used the military to enforce the ban. Prisons filled up with inmates shackled in leg irons, forbidden to move from the lotus position, warehoused in wooden cages, and given prison sentences of up to ten years.11 The ban failed. Production in the northern part of the Shan State simply shifted to areas in the south. Since 2006, opium cultivation has increased each year in Myanmar, and more than 1 million people depend on the crop for their livelihood.12

India, Pakistan and Iran form the Golden Crescent. Each country has deep roots in the opium trade, both legal and illegal. India is the largest supplier of licit opium gum to the world’s pharmaceutical industry. Farmers are licensed to grow opium in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan. Illicit poppy is grown in the far northeast state of Arunachal Pradesh, which shares a border with Myanmar. Researchers estimate that over 30 percent of India’s legally grown opium is diverted into the illegal market, converted into heroin, and sold on the black market.13

During the 1980s, Pakistan was a major opium cultivator and central hub for heroin manufacturing labs. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) worked closely with President General Zia-ul-Haq and funded the Pakistani military and the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI). The CIA covertly encouraged Pakistani trafficking in drugs as a way to generate revenue to fight wars against a constantly changing cast of enemies. Economists estimated the annual revenue from Pakistan’s heroin industry at $8 to $10 billion.14 Both the Pakistani military and the ISI continue to be involved in the drug trade.

Opium trafficking is concentrated in three areas that border Afghanistan: the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) formerly called the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP), and Balochistan.15 Two Pashtun tribes, the Shinwari in Afghanistan and the Afridi in Pakistan are central actors in the cross border opium trade. The tribes have fought attempts to eradicate their livelihood. “The government cannot stop us growing poppy,” one farmer warned. “We are one force and united, and if they come with their planes we will shoot them down.”16 In the 1990s, Pakistan, under immense pressure from the United States, initiated a campaign to eliminate poppy production. The government used a series of carrots and sticks. The threat of prison and the promise of economic infrastructure projects funded by the international community convinced many poppy farmers to either abandon farming completely or grow other crops.17 The strategies were largely successful, and, in 2001, Pakistan was declared a “poppy-free” nation. It didn’t last. The tribal areas still cultivate thousands of hectares of poppy, and the Torkham border that straddles Nangarhar province and FATA is one of the most important drug trafficking routes between Afghanistan and Pakistan.18

Iran has a history stretching back for centuries of growing opium and a deeply rooted culture of recreational opium use across economic classes. In Tehran in 1949 there were 500 public opium dens with a capacity for 25,000 smokers.19 Opium dens functioned like bars without alcohol (which was prohibited), where people socialized and got high smoking opium. The Shah imposed a complete ban on opium in 1955, but in 1969 his government re-legalized opium and created a national maintenance program for users addicted to opium and heroin.20 The Islamic Revolution in 1979 reversed the liberal drug policies of the 1960s and declared opium cultivation and narcotics use illegal. Initially, drug traffickers fought the Islamist government and killed thousands of police officers.21

Ayatollah Khomeini and subsequent ruling parties have enforced the ban with lengthy prison sentences and frequent use of the death penalty. This year alone, 126 people have been executed, many by “suspension strangulation” for drug crimes, and 300 drug-related death warrants have been issued.22 It’s estimated that 74 percent of people executed were trafficking in large quantities of opium smuggled in from Afghanistan.23 Despite the brutal crackdown, Iran continues to be both a major consumer and a critical smuggling route for opium and heroin through Baluchistan province.

Opium and its most lucrative derivative, heroin, are global commodities that cross all borders regardless of their illegality. The moment the cultivation and manufacture is outlawed in one country it crosses borders or jumps continents and sets up production in another. This phenomenon is called “push down pop up”—cultivation of an illicit drug is pushed out of one area only to pop up in another. One of the immutable laws of commodity production under capitalism is if a profitable market exists as it does for psychoactive substances like narcotics and cannabis, prohibition cannot succeed. Push down pop up acts like a broom: it sweeps poppy seeds out of one country, and they take root in another. China cracks down on poppy, Thailand and Laos ramp up production. Thailand eradicates poppy, it migrates to Myanmar. Iran and Pakistan ban poppy, and it crosses the border into Afghanistan, where within ten years the country is the number one cultivator in the Golden Crescent. Push down pop up functions like a relay race, but instead of passing a baton to another runner, it’s passed to another country.

The decades-long international effort to suppress the illegal opium and heroin trade clearly hasn’t worked, but that’s not a problem for US drug warriors. The goal of a drug-free world is an elaborate deception captured in the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) slogan “Promoting health, security, and justice.” That the United States has declared “war” on drugs, and that the CIA has simultaneously promoted cocaine and heroin traffic for its own particular aims, show deep contradictions in US drug policy. Yet there is more of a connection between these two things than first meets the eye. There is an unelected and unaccountable multinational cabal of counternarcotics agencies led by the UNODC that have an ideological and material stake in continuing the war on drugs (and consequently, the drug trade). The United States wants and needs a nonstop war on drugs abroad as a pretext to invade or intervene in countries they seek to control for geostrategic purposes. That is the real, but hidden agenda of the international war on drugs. The consistent “failure” of the war is its success.

Opium, invasion and the mujahideen
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 unleashed a “scorched earth” bombing campaign in rural areas that severely disrupted agricultural production. Millions of Afghans were internally displaced and fled to the cities or refugee camps in border countries. Arable land, dams, aqueducts, and irrigation canals were blown up, destroying the export economy. Prior to the invasion, Afghanistan was self-sufficient in food production and had supplied an estimated 65 percent of the world trade in dried raisins.24 Adding to the insecurity of farming, rural areas were embedded with millions of landmines, making Afghanistan one of the most mined countries in the world. There are 10 million antipersonnel mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) in the ground, and thousands are maimed and killed each year.25

The near total devastation of the rural economy of legal agricultural products by warfare acted as a vector for the illegal cultivation of opium. Poppy is one of the few crops that can grow in harsh conditions. The plant is relatively weather and drought resistant; it matures quickly, doesn’t rot or bruise, needs less water than other crops, and can be double cropped. Afghanistan lacks refrigeration, rapid transportation and paved roads, but opium is easily stored, transported, and conveniently sold at the farm gate. The labor-intensive nature of opium planting and harvesting also provides employment for entire families in a country where rural unemployment is persistently high. It’s survival farming and worth the risk for some farmers to grow opium because it’s the only commodity guaranteed an export market.

The economic meltdown and political instability caused by a decade of war, coupled with the loss of Russian and American funding once the war was over, set the stage for several mujahideen leaders to become major players and purveyors in the poppy trade with the backing and blessing of the CIA. Afghans were pawns in the great game that was the Cold War proxy wars, so supplying arms and cash to drug trafficking mujahideen “freedom fighters” to fight the Soviets was of no concern to Washington: the defeat of the Russians was. Narcotics production posed no serious dilemma for Islamic leaders either, despite the teachings of the Qur’an which forbid it.26 In 1981, Mullah Nasim Akhundzada, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) sanctioning poppy cultivation, and his brother Mohammed Rasul proclaimed, “We must grow and sell opium to fight our holy war against the Russian nonbelievers.”27 The superprofits from poppy make believers and hypocrites out of everyone.

During the war against the Soviets, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, founder of the mainly Pashtun Hizb-i-Islami (Islamic Party), became the leading recipient of covert US aid from the CIA via Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and a major drug trafficker.28 The warlord’s extreme cruelty was legendary (as an engineering student in Kabul, he was known for throwing acid in the faces of women who wore Western-style dress). Under the protection and patronage of the CIA, Hekmatyar was able to capture prime agricultural areas and dramatically boost poppy production in Helmand Province. He coerced Afghan farmers to cultivate poppy and set high production quotas with threats of punishment if they weren’t met. Local commanders collectedushr, a traditional Islamic tax on agricultural products, anywhere from 2.5 to 20 percent. Hekmatyar then moved up the poppy chain into the more lucrative manufacturing of morphine into heroin. In a cross-border alliance with Pakistani heroin syndicates, he invested in and controlled at least six heroin refineries in Koh-i-Soltan in Pakistan.29 By 1987, an estimated 100 to 200 heroin refineries were operating in the Khyber district of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa territories.30

Two years later, Hekmatyar instigated a turf war with Mullah Akhundzada to seize control of opium production in the northern Helmand Valley but was repelled. Akhundzada decided to get out of the drug business and cut a deal with Robert Oakley, US ambassador to Pakistan at the time. For $2 million in “aid money” to be paid to him personally, the mullah agreed to curtail poppy cultivation. He kept his end of the bargain but Oakley reneged, invoking US law against negotiating with drug dealers.31 Large-scale poppy planting began the next season.

The leading warlords of the Northern Alliance, Ahmed Shah Massoud, Burhanuddin Rabbani, and Abdul Rashid Dostum, were involved all along the poppy chain, from taxing and transporting opium, to manufacturing it into heroin, and smuggling it across the border.32 The vast revenue from the drug trade allowed mujahideen commanders to switch from tribal warlords into drug warlords with more power, giving them the ability to control key areas of the country and allowing them to depend less on funding from external sources.

The withdrawal of Soviet forces in 1989 plunged the country into a civil war. The siege of Kabul reduced the city to dust and crushed piles of concrete; the civilian death toll was between 65,000 and 80,000.33 Rural areas were the scenes of fierce and protracted fighting. But throughout the six years of civil war the opium trade—bullet, beheading, and bomb proof—flourished despite an attempt by the newly emerging Taliban to suppress it.

When the Taliban moved in to vie for control of Helmand Province in 1995, poppy cultivation was declared haram, and production dropped by one-third. The ban caught the attention of the United States and international drug interdiction agencies who voiced support for the Taliban, believing they’d become partners in a total poppy eradication campaign.34 But the poor and war-ravaged poppy farmers in Helmand had other ideas and resisted the ban, forcing the Taliban to rescind it the following year. In order to secure the key provinces of Helmand and Kandahar—the iron lungs of poppy production in Afghanistan—Taliban commanders quickly realized they couldn’t outlaw cultivation and win allegiance to their rule.

The Taliban consolidated power in Afghanistan in 1996 and inherited an economy disintegrated by sixteen years of war. Opium export earnings powered what was left of the economy. The Taliban concocted a contradictory and self-serving edict on drugs decreeing, “The cultivation of and trading in charas (hashish) is forbidden absolutely. The consumption oftariak (heroin) is forbidden, as is the manufacture of tariak, but the production of and trading in opium is not forbidden.”35 Abdul Rashid, head of the Taliban’s counter-narcotics force gave the edict an Islamic twist, “Opium is permissible because it is consumed by kafirs (infidels) in the West and not by Afghans.”36 Exhibiting the Taliban leaders’ understanding of the politics of the drug economy, Rashid added, “We cannot push the people to grow wheat as there would be an uprising against the Taliban if we forced them to stop poppy cultivation. So we grow opium and get our wheat from Pakistan.” The Taliban collected up to 20 percent of the value of each drug shipment as a special form of zakat, an Islamic tax where Muslims give 2.5 percent of their annual disposable income and savings to the poor and needy. Regional warlords, police, and bandits imposed their own zakat to be paid in drugs or cash at checkpoints that dotted all major drug transiting routes out of Afghanistan.

Afghanistan was further isolated from the world and cut off from aid that could rebuild a more diversified economic infrastructure in 1999, when the United States introduced and passed Resolution 1267 in the United Nations Security Council. The resolution imposed sanctions on the Taliban. Flights out of the country by the state­owned airline Ariana were banned, and Taliban assets were frozen, triggering a humanitarian crisis.37 The imposition of sanctions disproportionately impacted the Afghan people, not Taliban leaders. Resolution 1267 virtually guaranteed that poppy cultivation would not only continue but increase, as the development of other agricultural crops couldn’t be financed or find markets.

The Taliban ban
Then in 2000, almost inexplicably, the supreme leader of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, declared the cultivation of opium to be un-Islamic. US Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca declared, “We welcome the Taliban enforcement of the ban and hope it will be sustained.”38 The imposition of sharia law and well-documented, gross human rights violations were shunted aside in American support for the new ban. The prohibition was enforced ideologically by the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, and backed up in the provinces by the use of tactics that ranged from threats of destruction of property, bribery, to public lashings and death. The United States ignored this brutal aspect of the ban and gave the Taliban $43 million in humanitarian aid.39

But the Taliban had to negotiate with the powerful 400,000–member Shinwari tribe in Nangarhar province, who had a track record of resisting all attempts to eradicate poppy. The Shinwari could match the brutal violence of the Taliban if they attempted to implement a ban by force and without compensation. In 2010, the Shinwari cut a similar deal with the Karzai government against their former rulers in Kabul. The tribe agreed to back President Karzai, declared war on the Taliban, and warned they’d burn down the home of any Afghan who harbored Taliban guerrillas. For their support, American commanders agreed to give the Shinwari $1 million for development projects. No questions were asked about the tribe’s central involvement in the opium trade or what type of development projects the money would be used for.40

What led to the Taliban one-year ban on opium cultivation is still a subject of speculation. The ban was only on the cultivation of opium, not trafficking in the drug, yet another convenient contradiction that allowed a section of the drug trade to continue to operate. Taliban leaders might have been motivated to curb production in order to jettison their drug kingpin status in the eyes of the international community. Only three countries recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The ban would also entitle the Taliban to $25 million per year for ten years from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) for alternative crop development.41

The more plausible motive for the ban was that it was a calculated economic decision: the price of opium was in a free fall and bumper crops from previous years had resulted in massive reserves. Captain Saif Raiaz, a Pakistani drug enforcement officer, estimated Afghanistan had “sufficient stockpiles to last at least 10 years.”42 Other estimates range from two to three years. Prohibition doesn’t allow for coordinated planning and planting of opium across regions, and the capitalist laws of supply and demand of an illegal commodity converged to “oversupply” the market. A time-limited ban should drive the price up to more profitable levels, and it did. In 2001, the total farm-gate value of opium production was $56 million. In 2002, after the ban was lifted, it shot up to $1,200 million.43

The ban on opium cultivation couldn’t be sustained for four reasons. First, there were no serious economic alternatives for the 1.6 million Afghans who work all along the poppy chain. Second, the Taliban would have faced open revolt. Mohammad Hassan Akhund, the governor of Kandahar, admitted that continuing the ban would require that “many people would have to be killed and others face starvation.”44 Third, the Taliban depended on the profits from opium to fund their regime. Fourth, their political rivals, the Northern Alliance, continued to cultivate opium. During the ban, the only source of opium production was territory held by the Northern Alliance. It tripled its production. In the high valleys of Badakhshan, an area controlled by troops loyal to the former president Burhanuddin Rabbani,―the number of hectares planted jumped from 2,458 to 6,342. The Northern Alliance fields accounted for 83 percent of total Afghan production of 185 tons of opium during the ban.45

The yearlong ban on opium cultivation led to huge profits for the Taliban and drug traffickers at one end of the poppy chain but impoverished the majority of Afghan opium farmers at the other end. Malnutrition and starvation deaths were reported. And the ban pushed poor farmers into yet more debt, forcing some to flee the country in fear of their lives because they couldn’t repay loans.46 No national banking or credit infrastructure exists in Afghanistan, so opium traders fill the role and make loans, known as salaam, to farmers at usurious rates. An opium futures market operates in the country. Typically the price paid as an advance is only 50 percent of the market price of opium on the day the agreement is finalized. The loan is an advance payment for a fixed amount of opium to be delivered at the end of the harvest season. If farmers don’t produce the agreed upon amount of opium—as they often don’t because of adverse weather conditions, the ongoing war that disrupts production, and eradication programs—they still have to repay salaam, or take more. Or they sell their daughters, known as “opium brides.”

Angiza Afridi interviewed more than 100 families about opium weddings in Nangarhar province. In two districts she studied, approximately half the new brides were given in marriage to repay opium debts. The new brides included children as young as 5 years old; they work as household servants for in-laws until they are old enough to consummate the marriage.47 Khalida Shah was 10 years old when her father Sayed Shah was forced to sell her to a 45-year-old drug trafficker because he was unable to repay a $2,000 loan. Later, he sold his 16-year-old daughter to a lender’s 15-year-old son to pay off another opium debt. “Until the end of my life I will feel shame because of what I did to my daughter. I still can’t look her in the eye.”48

Pashtun rural tradition called Pashtunwali, poppy prohibition, and the salaam system, combined with the War on Drugs strategy of eradication without compensation, maintain and reinforce the oppression of women and girls in Afghanistan. However, in yet another contradiction, poppy cultivation liberates some women. Women workers play a central role in many aspects of poppy production, from planting to the processing of by-products like soap and oil.49 The practice of purdah enforces the strict separation of women from men, and working outside the home is rare, but it doesn’t apply to poppy cultivation. Men and women work side by side in the poppy fields, and women don’t wear the burqa. Dr. Anis Aghdar, former head of the Women’s Affairs Department in Badakshan province said, “When a woman grows poppy she has a chance to earn an income and become a breadwinner like a man.”50 A woman poppy farmer in Kandahar explained, “In general, it is the only means of survival for thousands of women-headed households, women and children in our village whose men are either jobless or were killed during the war.”51

The ban on poppy was rescinded on September 2, 2001, nine days before 9/11. The next month, the United States invaded Afghanistan, toppled the Taliban regime with the help of the Northern Alliance, and installed Hamid Karzai. One of his first decrees was the banning of growing, trafficking, and consumption of opium and heroin. But the lucrative business of opium continued despite the decree, and with the Taliban decamping to Quetta in Pakistan, drug dealers aligned with the United States and the Karzai government took their place.

The United States has played its historical role as supporters and funders of murderous allies while conveniently ignoring their involvement in the illicit drug trade. The CIA gave $70 million in $100 bills to drug warlords Abdul Rashid Dostum, Ismail Khan, and Ustad Atta Mohammed.52 The Bush administration had no interest in launching an all-out war on drugs in Afghanistan for fear of alienating their drug-trafficking Northern Alliance partners. US and NATO troops ignored poppy cultivation, open-air drug bazaars, and heroin labs. One military commander said, “I don’t want my soldiers to die for the sake of a drug addict."53 It was only later that narcotics and terror were linked and the war in Afghanistan became a war against “narco-terrorists.”

British troops were initially tasked with drug eradication. British Special Forces handed out millions in cash to Afghan officials, village elders, and to farmers to not grow poppy, and, for a limited time, destroyed poppy fields.54 Neither the carrot nor the stick worked to decrease poppy production. The US State Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) then stepped in and escalated the war on poppy farmers. DynCorp, the notorious American mercenary corporation, provided training and security for Afghan eradication teams. DynCorp received $1 billion for their failed efforts.55

Eradication teams were met with fierce resistance in some areas: snipers, roadside bombs, rockets, and farmers ready to fight. In 2002, poppy farmers in Helmand province marched on Lashkar Gah to protest eradication, and in the ensuing clash with police, thirty-five farmers were killed and eight wounded.56 When the Afghan Special Narcotics Force moved in with tractors to plow over poppy fields in the Maiwand district of Kandahar, farmers set the tractors on fire, patrolled their fields with AK-47s, and blocked the highway with burning tires. Two protesters were killed, and four police were injured.57 The biggest protest was in Nangarhar province. Up to 10,000 farmers blocked roads and attacked eradication teams.58 In Farah province, three members of an eradication team were killed when an IED exploded.59 Public protests and confrontations with authorities were vital to maintaining the livelihoods of Afghan farmers and their families. Hassan Khan, a poppy farmer said, “The government can’t destroy poppy fields as it has not done a single thing for us. We will defend our poppy fields with our lives.”60

The Obama administration suspended poppy eradication programs in 2009 at the urging of Richard Holbrooke, the former US envoy to Afghanistan, who stated, “The United States alone is spending over $800 million a year on counternarcotics. We have gotten nothing out of it. It is the most wasteful and ineffective program I have seen in 40 years.”61 And they finally figured out that poppy eradication forced Afghans to seek the Taliban’s protection and convinced them to join the insurgency.

But the war on drugs in Afghanistan is far from over. It continues under the Karzai government with the increased involvement of the DEA. Governor-led eradication teams (GLEs) destroy poppy fields, and DEA agents target drug labs and traffickers. US counternarcotics programs have become increasingly militarized under the Obama administration. For all intents and purposes, the DEA operates as a division of the US military. DEA agents train with US Navy SEAL and special operations units, and they share intelligence and conduct joint operations.62The goals of the DEA and the US military bleed into one another: Capture or kill high-value drug traffickers suspected of supporting and financing the Taliban. DEA teams called Foreign-Deployed Assistance and Support Teams (FAST), largely funded by the Department of Defense, carry out drug raids.63 The FAST partner with Navy SEALS and the Counternarcotics Police of Afghanistan (CNPA) to carry out these raids, which are similar to the “night raids” conducted by US and NATO forces.

Bombs are dropped on land where counternarcotics agencies suspect that drugs are buried, and compounds are destroyed in the search for drugs and weapons. In 2008, FAST teams were deployed to Spin Boldak and burned bricks of hashish in areas under Taliban control. In 2009, US troops engaged in direct support of a forced eradication mission as part of a security detachment for Afghan counternarcotics forces in the Nadi-Ali district in Helmand province.64 During drug raids, Afghans are routinely beaten, humiliated, killed, and imprisoned.

The DEA doesn’t plan on leaving Afghanistan anytime soon. Michelle Leonhart, head administrator of the DEA, bragged, “We don’t get bogged down with the question of how long we’re going to be there. Someone has to go after the biggest and the baddest, someone has to put these traffickers in jail, someone has to stop the flow of terrorist financing and it’ll be the DEA.”65

Corruption and the drug-terror nexus
For years, Afghan and US officials promised compensation for eradication of poppy and consistently reneged or provided insufficient payment to farmers. Rebuilding an economic infrastructure with agriculture wasn’t a priority or even a part of the government’s “Afghan Stabilization Program.” It defined key infrastructure as: police barracks, a prison, a post office, and a mosque.66 A collection of NGOs led by USAID promised reconstruction projects, alternative agricultural development, and work opportunities, but failed to deliver for a raft of reasons. Over $35.4 billion in aid has been pumped into Afghanistan since 2002, yet the nation still ranks as the second poorest on the planet.67 Where did all the money go?

Staggering levels of corruption exist in Afghanistan. Thousands of officials in the Karzai government, from Kabul to Kandahar, engage in extortion, stealing, and embezzlement of public money and humanitarian assistance. Billions earmarked for economic development have disappeared into the pockets and foreign bank accounts of warlords and drug lords, now legitimate government representatives, while the vast majority of Afghans continue to live in abject poverty.

Corruption in the Afghan drug trade follows a predictable pattern with baksheesh, bribery, deeply entrenched and accepted as business as usual. Drugs and bribes are estimated to be the two largest income generators in Afghanistan, accounting for $2.8 billion and $2.5 billion per year, respectively.68 It was an open secret that President Hamid Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai (known by his initials, AWK), was centrally involved in the drug trade in southern Afghanistan. He ruled like a Mafia don, and much of his wealth and power derived from the opium trade. The “King of Kandahar,” as he was dubbed, was assassinated in July of this year. Numerous WikiLeaks documents corroborate AWKs role. In one communiqué, US ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry stated Ahmed Karzai is “widely understood to be corrupt and a narcotics trafficker.”69 Prior to WikiLeaks, German intelligence provided information to the Americans in 2005 that AWK headed a drug smuggling ring. He was also a valuable CIA asset and worked both as a paid informant and a go-between.70 The CIA and U.S special military forces contracted his private paramilitary, the Kandahar Strike Force, to hunt down suspected Taliban cells, and Strike Force soldiers regularly operated outside the law.71

Other WikiLeaks cables reveal that the CIA believed Muhammad Fahim, the former Defense Minister and current First Vice President, is involved in the drug trade. His predecessor, Ahmed Zia Massoud, was. On a “capital flight,” he flew into Dubai with $52 million in cash.72 General Mohammed Daud Daud, the former deputy minister of the interior and the head of the Counternarcotics Police of Afghanistan (CNPA), provided protection for drug smugglers and accepted bribes.73 General Daud was killed in a suicide bombing attack in May of this year. Not to be outdone, President Karzai has pardoned and placed in positions of power dozens of accused and convicted drug traffickers.

The Bush administration, seeing the need to further demonize the Taliban to justify an increasingly unpopular war, began to whip up the notion of “narco-terrorism.” In 2005, Congress passed the Narco-Terrorism Enforcement Act as an amendment to the USA PATRIOT Act. The law permits criminal prosecution against any person in any country that traffics in illicit drugs and uses the proceeds to fund “terrorist” activities. US lawyers are concerned the law can be interpreted so broadly that it could ensnare anyone the government wants.74 The law has been used almost exclusively against Afghan drug traffickers accused of supporting the Taliban. Khan Mohammed was the first person charged and convicted under the new law. Prosecutors argued he was “closely aligned with the Taliban” and had “supported the Taliban’s efforts to forcibly remove the United States and its allies from Afghanistan.”75 He is serving a life sentence.

The DEA set up Afghan drug traffickers Hajji Bashar and Hajji Juma. Bashar was lured to the United States under false pretenses, and Juma was extradited from Indonesia. The men were informants for the CIA and the DEA and had provided intelligence on Taliban and drug smuggling activity. At clandestine meetings with American officials, they received large amounts of cash in exchange for information.76 The formerly fêted and well financed drug kingpins were now cast as “narco-terrorists,” the dangerous heads of “narco-cartels.” Both were accused of supporting and funding the Taliban. In 2009, Bashar was sentenced to life in prison.77

But trafficking in opium isn’t a terrorist activity—it’s agribusiness, no different than the trade in tobacco or grapes, save for its illegality. Opium is a crucial commodity that keeps the Afghan economy financially solvent, and the crop makes up an estimated 35 percent of Afghanistan’s GDP.78 If Juma and Bashar were the CEOs of tobacco or alcoholic beverage businesses—legal drugs that addict, disable, and kill far more people—they wouldn’t be rotting in prison. They’d be free to sell their products worldwide.79

In Afghanistan, the United States is reprising a role it has played before: backing one group of drug traffickers against another for its own political gain. Currently, it’s the Karzai government against the Taliban. Counter-terrorism officials consistently link terrorism and narcotics with the Taliban. The reality is the “drug-terror nexus” includes other armed insurgent groups and the Karzai government. They all profit from the drug trade, which by Washington’s definition makes them all “narco-terrorists.” And the Taliban aren’t funded exclusively from the sale of opium but from a variety of sources including the taxing of wheat and other crops, Muslim charities, and religious institutions outside the country.80

The solution: licensing and legalization of narcotics
The solution to the so-called poppy problem is to license poppy production. Afghan farmers should be licensed to grow and manufacture poppy into morphine for domestic use and to sell to the international community just as farmers in seven other countries are. Overnight, the most productive opium cultivators in the world would become legal producers of much-needed pain-relieving drugs. The need for opiates is great; 80 percent of the world’s population faces an acute shortage of opiate-based medicines.81 The World Health Organization (WHO) maintains a list of essential medications: morphine is number one (in combination with medications used in anesthesia) and number two.82 Narcotics are vital to human health and are used to manage chronic pain, pain in childbirth, end-of-life care, and during surgery. The average person in the United States has seven surgeries.83

Incredibly, in Afghanistan, a country saturated with opium, there is a shortage of opiate-based medicine. The burn unit in Herat Hospital offers only cream, bandages, and IV saline to patients.84 Bost Hospital’s pediatric unit in Lashkar Gah has no narcotics. Patients with extensive burns are given acetaminophen for pain, though morphine is the gold standard to control the pain from burn wounds. Similarly, Mirwais Hospital in Kandahar lacks access to medication needed for sedation and pain control.85 In 2010, NATO opened a $40 million state-of-the-art hospital at Kandahar Airfield with a pharmacy well-stocked with narcotics. And in theaters of war all over Afghanistan, Army medics carry morphine and fentanyl lollipops to administer to wounded soldiers.86

Poppy cultivation in Afghanistan is not the problem, the prohibition of poppy cultivation is. The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) licenses countries to legally supply narcotics raw material to the pharmaceutical industry to process into a variety of pain medications. The countries include: Australia, France, Hungary, India, Poland, Spain, and Turkey. The contradictions in current global drug policy mean the same drug that generates income for farmers and workers and profits for the pharmaceutical industry in rich countries, criminalizes poor people in Afghanistan who cultivate poppy for an illegal market in order to survive. Afghanistan should be allowed to join these nations and provide raw materials to the legal market.

There will always be a market for morphine. An Afghan pharmaceutical industry anchored by the production of morphine for domestic use and for international export retains the profits that accrue to a minority and spreads them further down the poppy chain to the farmers, seasonal laborers, and workers in laboratories. Licensing the cultivation of poppy would end the salaam system that keeps farmers in a perpetual cycle of debt and crucially, the sexual slavery of women and girls sold as opium brides. Licensing farmers to grow poppy recognizes the obvious reality that a thriving narcotics industry exists, and with legal status, the expertise of Afghans involved in the poppy chain from cultivation to the manufacture of morphine is turned into a positive instead of a negative.

Legalization of narcotics for personal use has to accompany the licensing of poppy production in Afghanistan. It is the only way to control prices and undercut the development and diversion of narcotics to the black market. Harm-reduction policies can simultaneously be put into place to help those with addiction: syringe exchange, safe injection sites, and heroin prescription.87

The International Council on Security and Development (ICOS), a policy think tank based in London, has developed Poppy for Medicine (P4M), a project that offers an alternative to poppy prohibition in Afghanistan.88 It has been roundly criticized as unworkable given the dysfunctional dynamics on the ground. P4M proposes to legally manufacture poppy into morphine tablets in factories located in poppy-farming communities and sell it to countries under special licensing agreements.89 P4M’s pilot project is modest in scope and embedded at the village and district level to test the waters. ICOS recognizes the enormous challenges that exist but argues, “We simply cannot put on hold economic development projects because we feel that Afghan institutions lack the necessary capacity to carry them out.”90

Unfortunately, the politics of ICOS are right-wing and undermine the viability of P4M. ICOS is an NGO that doesn’t believe in conflict-neutrality or the right of nations to self-determination.91ICOS wholeheartedly supports US imperialism, endorsed the troop surge, and opposed the US drawdown in troops. ICOS recommends maintaining the surge for another year.92 That puts the NGO in direct opposition to what the majority of Afghans want: foreign troops out. Their support of the occupation actually jeopardizes the implementation of P4M by setting up Afghan communities involved in the project as targets for the Taliban, the very people ICOS purports to help.

If Afghanistan licensed poppy cultivation, it wouldn’t be the first country to do it. In 1974, Turkey made the transition. Although there are key differences between Turkey and Afghanistan, it provides important lessons for how a country can move from illegal production of poppy to legal production.93 The United States transitioned from 13 years of alcohol prohibition back to legalization and regulation of the drug with the repeal of the Volstead Act in 1933. The rich and powerful booze barons, bootleggers, and the massive corruption of organized crime syndicates determined to stay in business had to be confronted and put out of business. And over time, they were.94 If the United States was truly interested in a solution, American pharmaceutical companies could import poppy raw materials from Afghanistan as they do from India and Turkey for manufacture into legal narcotics.95 Another solution is to buy the entire poppy crop. In 2002, MI6, Britain’s secret service, asked for permission to do exactly that. The idea was rejected by the government for reasons of cost and appearance.96

Licensing narcotics production and legalizing consumption in Afghanistan confronts huge challenges and powerful entrenched interests. Key state actors in the Karzai government, provincial drug kingpins, and counterinsurgent forces benefit from the illegal drug trade. These three groups have the power to sabotage reforms to retain their profits. But it’s also true that a layer of them would benefit from the creation of a legal pharmaceutical infrastructure which would create profits, confer legitimacy in the international community, and end Afghanistan’s designation as a “narco-state.” The outlaw Afghan drug dealers of today could be transformed into “respectable” CEOs of legal narcotics manufacturing businesses. There’s no doubt there would still be corruption, but it’s better and easier to deal with the problems of corruption under conditions of legality than the conditions of violent illegality. Poppy farmers have consistently fought to grow and sell poppy. Thousands of farmers have demonstrated their power for years by halting the eradication of their fields by both the Karzai government and the Taliban when they held power. Poppy farmers play a crucial role in the illegal drug trade and if they took up the fight for licensing and legalization it could be a game changer. Afghan poppy farmers have everything to gain from transitioning from criminals with no rights, into legal growers with rights who are viewed as rebuilding Afghanistan’s economy, not destroying it.

It’s not possible to predict with complete certainty the future of Afghanistan except for one thing: As long as poppy cultivation and narcotics consumption is illegal, the drug trade will continue to reward and enrich a minority of drug lords and punish and impoverish the majority of poppy farmers, low-level drug trade workers, and the drug addicted.

I dedicate this article to the people of Afghanistan, who are as tenacious as Papaver somniferum. Props to the following people for assistance in writing this article: Jorrit Kamminga, Director of Policy Research at ICOS for debate and discussion about Poppies for Medicine (P4M); David Whitehouse for critical comments; Anand Gopal for consultation; John Shuler & Anne Armstrong, UIC librarians extraordinaire, for finding the sources when I couldn’t.

  1. USAID Afghanistan. 2011,
  2. Mohammed Osman Tariq, Najla Ayoubi, Faxel Rabi Haqbeen. Afghanistan in 2010: A Survey of the Afghan People. The Asia Foundation, 155.  The survey is extensive, but some of the key findings are dubious. The survey polled Afghans across all 34 provinces on issues ranging from the economy, to corruption, to women’s issues. In-person interviews were conducted in Dari and Pashto with 6,467 men and women from different social, economic, and ethnic communities (Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara, Turkmen, Baloch) in rural and urban parts of the country. However, there were problems with sampling due to the high levels of violence and insecurity in areas outside of Kabul. Interviewers weren’t able to get into twenty-one districts. The reason referred to in the survey was, “The district is under control of Taliban.” This skewed the results. Also, the study shows the Taliban control all major opium producing provinces. Among them: Helmand, Kandahar, Nirmroz, Farah, Balkh, and Sari-i-Pul. See Appendix 2: Methodology, 161-181.
  3. Ibid, 153.
  4. “Afghanistan electricity: After years of rebuilding, most Afghans lack power,” Huffington Post, July 19, 2010,
  5. World Health Organization (WHO). Afghanistan: health profile, 2008,
  6. Citha D. Maass, “Afghanistan’s drug career: Evolution from a war economy to a drug economy,” Afghanistan Analysts Network, March 31, 2011, 1,—FINAL.pdf.
  7. Letizia Paoli, Victoria A. Greenfield & Peter Reuter, The World Heroin Market: Can Supply Be Cut?(New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 118-119. I’ve combined 309,000, the number of estimated households involved in opium growing with 480,000, the number of itinerant workers engaged in various aspects of poppy cultivation. Estimating the numbers of people involved at each level of the drug trade is notoriously difficult because it is illegal. If all the workers engaged in all the aspects of the drug trade are added together, the number rises to 1.6 million. These statistics are from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC.) They are imprecise and rough estimates only.
  8. Paoli, Greenfield & Reuter, 33. China continues to execute people involved at all levels of the drug trade.
  9. Wei Hao, Shuiyuan Xiao, Teiqiao Liu, Derson Young, Shanmei Chen, Diran Zhang, Chao Li, et al., “The second national epidemiological survey on illicit drug use at six high-prevalence areas in China: prevalence rates and use patterns, Addiction,” V. 97, 10, September 20, 2002.
  10. Paoli, Greenfield & Reuter, 111. See also, “Myanmar: UN reports ‘worrisome’ rise in opium cultivation,” UN News Center, December 14, 2009.
  11. Matthew Brzezinski, “Heroin: The sleek new business model for the ultimate global product,” New York Times Magazine, June 23, 2002, 26. The vast majority of people put in prison for drug crimes are “low-level” workers and earn small amounts of money. The women in this article were each paid about $20 for transporting a kilo of heroin that is worth between $4500-$9500.
  12. UN News Centre, “New UN survey reveals surge in Myanmar’s opium production,” October 10, 2007,
  13. Paoli, Greenfield & Reuter. 144. The Central Bureau of Narcotics (CBN) negotiates with licensed farmers to determine how much opium they’ll grow each year using a system called minimum qualifying yield (MQY.) Disagreements over MQY led poppy farmers to strike. In 1997, 30,000 cultivators went out on strike demanding reductions in MQY. The CBN replaced most of the striking farmers but the harvest in 1998 was one of the smallest ever recorded.
  14. Alfred W. McCoy, The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, Afghanistan, Southeast Asia, Central America, Colombia (Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 2003, Revised Edition), 483. McCoy’s seminal work exhaustively and conclusively documents in 680 pages the CIA’s sinister role in the world drug trade.
  15. FATA and Balochistan are populated and essentially governed by fiercely independent tribes that have engaged in consistent armed conflicts with the Pakistani army. In 2002, after Pakistan and the United States sent forces into the region to hunt down Osama bin Laden but instead killed civilians, an insurgency erupted in Waziristan. Balochs have repeatedly fought for independence from Pakistan and have been brutally crushed. As a result, the Pakistani government can’t easily intervene in the cross-border drug trade.
  16. Kathy Evans, The Tribal Trail, Newsline (Karachi), December 1989, 24.
  17. “Illicit drug trends in Pakistan.” United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, (UNODC) Country Office, Pakistan, April 2008, 6.
  18. Iqbal Khattak, “Increase in poppy cultivation in Pakistan in 2003,” See also David Macdonald, Drugs in Afghanistan: Opium, Outlaws and Scorpion Tales (London: Pluto Press, 2007), 78.
  19. Garland H. Williams, “Opium Addiction in Iran,” report to H. J. Anslinger, Commissioner of Narcotics, February 1, 1949, 1-12. (Historical Collections and Labor Archives, Pennsylvania State University.) It’s important to note that many writers on the drug war refer to all drug use as addiction when in fact there is a continuum of drug use, and the vast majority use drugs recreationally and are not addicted.
  20. “Epidemiology of drug use in Iran,” United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), February 6, 2011, The opiate maintenance program was restricted to users 60 years and older. Users were given “opium tablets” or methadone, a synthetic opiate.
  21. “Iran, Pakistan on frontline in war on drugs,” Tehran Times, November 27, 2010. Over 100,000 Iranians have been injured in the War on Drugs.
  22. Matthew Cardinale, “Iran executing hundreds in war on drugs,” IPS, June 27, 2011, In 2010, Iran executed 590 people for drug offences.
  23. Ibid.
  24. Macdonald, 61.
  25. International Campaign to Ban Landmines. “Afghanistan: Landmine Fact Sheet,”
  26. UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “In-depth: Bitter-sweet harvest: Afghanistan’s new war, opium and ­alternative livelihoods, August 2, 2004,
  27. McCoy, 484-485.
  28. Vanda Felbab-Brown, Shooting Up: Counterinsurgency and the War on Drugs (Washington, DC: Brookings Institute Press, 2010), 116.
  29. Barnett R. Rubin, The Fragmentation of Afghanistan: State Formation and Collapse in the International System (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), 183.
  30. Amir Zada Asad & Robert Harris, The Politics and Economics of Drug Production on the Pakistan-Afghanistan Border (Surrey: Ashgate, 2003), 147.
  31. Macdonald, 89.
  32. Felbab-Brown, 120. The CIA continued to fund Massoud through the 1990s. See Steve Coll, Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (New York: Penguin Press, 2004).
  33. Malalai Joya, A Woman Among Warlords (New York: Scribner, 2009), 26.
  34. Felbab-Brown, 125.
  35. Michael Griffin, Reaping the Whirlwind: The Taliban Movement in Afghanistan (London: Pluto Press, 2001), p. 153.
  36. Quoted in Ahmed Rashid, Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation-Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia, (New York: Viking, 2008), 317. This isn’t true. Thousands of Afghans of all ages use opium. It’s used medicinally to treat a range of health problems and to treat pain, especially in rural areas where there is no health care or access to non-narcotic pain medication. Afghans also smoke opium recreationally and inject heroin. In Kabul, the World Health Organization estimates there are 150,000 heroin injectors. There is a dearth of drug treatment programs across the country.
  37. Sonali Kolhatkar & James Ingalls, Bleeding Afghanistan, (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2006,) 32-33.
  38. James Bovard, “Bush’s opium boom,” Future of Freedom, May 28, 2003,
  39. Ibid.
  40. Dexter Filkins, “Afghan tribe vowing to fight Taliban to get U.S. aid in return,” New York Times, January 27, 2010.
  41. Macdonald, 79.
  42. Christian Caryl, “The new ‘silk road’ of death,” Newsweek, September 17, 2001,
  43. “Summary findings of opium trends in Afghanistan,” UNODC
  44. Quoted in Felbab-Brown, 131.
  45. Paul Harris, “Victorious warlords set to open the opium floodgates,” Observer, November 25, 2001.
  46. David Mansfield, “The impact of the Taliban prohibition on opium cultivation in Afghanistan,” May 25 2001,
  47. Sami Yousafzai, “The opium brides of Afghanistan,” Newsweek, March 29, 2008.
  48. Ibid. See also, Elaheh Rostami-Povey, Afghan Women: Identity & Invasion (London: Zed Books, 2007), 55-59.
  49. David Mansfield, “The economic superiority of illicit drug production: Myth and reality. Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan,” August, 2001,
  50. “In-depth: Bitter-sweet harvest: Afghanistan’s new war. Afghan women and opium,” 2004,
  51. Ibid.
  52. John Pilger, “Breaking the silence: Truth and lies in the war on terror, a special report,” 2003,
  53. James A. Nathan, “Poppy blues: The collapse of poppy eradication and the road ahead in Afghanistan,” Defense & Security Analysis, Vol. 25, Issue 4, 2009, 334.
  54. Ibid, 332.
  55. Ibid, 333.
  56. Joel Hafvenstein, Opium Season: A Year on the Afghan Frontier, (Connecticut: Lyons Press, 2007), 211. The title of the book is a misnomer. It’s not about opium, it’s about the challenges and dangers of an inexperienced project manager/missionary in rural Afghanistan who works for Chemonics, an international development consulting firm. Hafvenstein is no expert on opium in Afghanistan although he portrays himself as such.
  57. Ibid, 257.
  58. Felbab-Brown, 140.
  59. Arman-e-Milli, “The people of Nangarhar oppose the campaign against poppy,” Afghanwire, February 20, 2007,
  60. Arman-e-Milli, “People clash with security officials,” Afghanwire, April 3, 2007,
  61. David Charter and Tom Baldwin, “Obama changes tactics in ‘disastrous’ war against Afghanistan’s heroin producers,” Sunday Times, March 23, 2009.
  62. Chuck Holton, “DEA agents target Afghanistan’s ‘narco-insurgency’,” CBN News, April 27, 2010,
  63. Richard P. Kaufman, “America’s opium war: How the wrong approach to counternarcotics is undermining state-building in Afghanistan,” June 9, 2008,
  64. Ibid.
  65. Holton.
  66. Seth G. Jones, In the Graveyard of Empires: America’s War in Afghanistan (New York: Norton, 2009), 173.
  67. “Afghans wealthier, remain among the poorest,” Killid Correspondents, Asia Times Online, January 29 2010,
  68. “Corruption widespread in Afghanistan, UNODC survey says,” January 19, 2010,
  69. Ryan Harvey, “The Afghan war: spreading democracy (and heroin),” December 10, 2010,,
  70. Peter Goodspeed, “Ahmed Wali Karzai: From waiter to ‘King of Kandahar’,” National Post, May 28, 2010,
  71. Anand Gopal, “When personalities trump institutions: Two assassinations in Afghanistan,” Foreign Policy, July 18, 2011.
  72. Jonathan Steele and Jon Boone, “Wikileaks: Afghan vice-president landed in Dubai with $52m in cash,” Guardian, December 2, 2010, Ahmed Zia Massoud is the son of deceased Northern Alliance warlord Ahmed Shah Massoud, who was also involved in the drug trade.
  73. Graeme Smith, “Afghan officials in drug trade cut deals across enemy lines,” Globe and Mail, March 11, 2009,
  74. John E. Thomas, Jr., “Narco-terrorism: Could the legislative and prosecutorial responses threaten our civil liberties?” Washington and Lee Law Review, 2009,
  75. Ibid.
  76. James Risen, “Propping up a drug lord, then arresting him,” New York Times, December 11, 2010,
  77. Benjamin Weiser, “Afghan linked to Taliban sentenced to life in drug trafficking case,” New York Times, May 1, 2009. Bashar’s arrest was a classic DEA set-up. Agents promised he wouldn’t be detained if he came to the United States. They lied. After 11 days of meetings with federal agents, Bashar was arrested. Juma was arrested in Jakarta and extradited to New York under the 2005 international narco-terrorism law.
  78. William Byrd, “Afghanistan: State building, sustaining growth and reducing poverty,” 2005,
  79. Hajji Bashar was given a life sentence. Hajji Khan is awaiting trial.
  80. Peter Kenyon, “Exploring the Taliban’s complex, shadowy finances,” National Public Radio, March 19, 2010,
  81. “Availability of internationally controlled drugs: Ensuring adequate access for medical and scientific purposes,” International Narcotics Control Board, 2010, See also, International Council on Security and Development, Poppies for Medicine Project,
  82. “WHO model list of essential medications,” 16th list, March 2009,
  83. Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2009), 31.
  84. “Army request for burn unit & maternity ward in Herat,” June 2007, Spirit of America,
  85. Case study: “War zone hospitals in Afghanistan: A symbol of willful neglect,” The International Council on Security and Development, February, 2007,
  86. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 100 times more potent than morphine. The fentanyl lollipop is put under the tongue which is super vascular, and the opiate is absorbed rapidly into the bloodstream. Pain is relieved within minutes. Fentanyl lollipops are given to wounded soldiers in the battlefield to treat acute pain and to cancer patients.
  87. See the Drug Policy Alliances’ website on harm reduction interventions around the world, including heroin-assisted treatment,
  88. “Poppy For Medicine: Licensing poppy cultivation for the production of essential medicines: on an integrated counter-narcotics, development, and counter-insurgency model for Afghanistan,” 2007,
  89. P4M proposes to sell finished poppy-based medicines to less developed countries that lack access under a two-tier system. According to P4M, “A second tier system of product supply is most useful where a significant sector of consumers are disconnected from the overall market for that product having been priced out, or ignored altogether.” This is a nice way of saying the drug companies have no interest in selling medicine to poor people in poor countries. There’s no profit in that. The international HIV/AIDS crisis put a spotlight on the criminal and monopolistic pricing practices of the pharmaceutical industry. See Elizabeth Terzakis’s article, “The global AIDS crisis,” International Socialist Review 25, September–October 2002.
  90. Romesh Bhattacharji & Jorrit E.M. Kamminga, “Poppy for medicine: An essential part of a balanced economic development solution for Afghanistan’s illegal opium economy,” Journal of Drug Policy Analysis, Vol. 3, Issue 1, Article 3, 2010, 7.
  91. Ashley Jackson, “Nowhere to turn: The failure to protect civilians in Afghanistan,” A joint briefing paper by 29 aid organizations working in Afghanistan for the NATO heads of government summit, Lisbon, November 19, 2010, Oxfam International, Afghanistan. The guidelines for the Interaction of Civilian and Military Actors in Afghanistan state, “Maintaining a clear distinction between the role and function of humanitarian actors from that of the military is a determining factor in creating an operating environment in which humanitarian organizations can discharge their responsibilities both effectively and safely.” ICOS is not a signatory to the Joint Briefing Paper.
  92. Noreen MacDonald, Alan Jackson, & Jorrit E.M. Kamminga, “Afghanistan transition: Dangers of a summer drawdown,” January, 2011, 31, Despite all evidence to the contrary, ICOS stubbornly believes that the surge worked and write in their report, “It is clear that the additional US forces in southern Afghanistan are making progress.”
  93. Jorrit E. M. Kamminga, “Opium poppy licensing in Turkey: A model to solve Afghanistan’s illegal opium economy?, International Council on Security and Development, January 2011,
  94. Ethan A. Nadelmann, “Thinking seriously about alternatives to drug prohibition,” Daedalus, Vol. 121:3, 1992, 114.
  95. Paoli, Greenfield & Reuter, 260. The United States is the largest importer of opiates. In 1981, the DEA began enforcement of a policy that the pharmaceutical industry could only import narcotics raw materials from an approved list of source countries. It’s called the 80/20 rule. It dictates that India and Turkey must be the source of at least 80 percent­­­ of all opiates.
  96. Nathan, 331-332.


Issue #103

Winter 2016-17

"A sense of hope and the possibility for solidarity"

Interview with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
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