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Afghanistan: Opium and Democracy

[1]

By Zidane Zeraoui (for Safe Democracy)

Zidane Zeraoui explains how the production of opium has converted itself into a way of life and a principal source of capital for the people of Afghanistan. The increase in the production of opium over the last years has transformed political negotiation, as the very imperfect and very fragile democracy in Afghanistan finds itself incapable to curb the drug cultivation. In Zeroui‘s opinion, the democracy itself has worked to consolidate local powers and warlords who finance themselves through drug trafficking in Europe and Asia.


[2] Zidane Zeraoui is a professor of International Relations and Coordinator of the Master’s program in International Studies at the Technological University of Monterrey, Mexico.

SINCE THE PRODUCTION OF OPIUM FIRST BECAME SIGNIFICANT IN AFGHANISTAN at the end of the Soviet invasion, it has never seen production highs like the ones currently being reached. In 1987 opium production was about 875 metric tons, incrementing drastically with the Civil War at the beginning of the 1990’s, and then again under the Taliban government: 3,400 tons in 1994, and 4,600 tons in 1999. But during the fundamentalist regime’s last year (2001) opium production dropped to only 200 tons.

With the installation of a formal democracy in Kabul, a new age has dawned for the production of the principal commodity of the country. One year after the fall of the Taliban, opium production had already recovered its past rate of 3,400 tons per year. And this past year of 2005 it hit 4,100 tons.

UNFULFILLED PROMISES
This year, Afghanistan will produce 6,400 tons of opium: a 50 percent increase in the harvest for 2005. The hectares of cultivated land will rise as well, from 130,000 hectares to 200,000.

The importance and increase of the cultivation of opium have various causes.

On one hand, the amount of help promised to Afghanistan has yet to come. While Kosovo received 814 dollars of international help per inhabitant, Palestine 219, and Rwanda 98; Kabul has only been granted the support of 60 dollars per inhabitant, an amount insufficient to pay off its running governmental spending, fight against fundamentalist guerrillas, or eradicate the cultivation of opium.

[3] PRINCIPAL SOURCE OF REVENUE
On the other hand, the production of opium has become a way of life and a principal source of revenue for the people of Afghanistan. 35 percent of the national revenue comes from the production of opium, converting itself into a pillar of survival for the Afghani people.

Yet, opium production also serves other ends. The warlords who fought against the Taliban, threw in their lot with the Americans not only to take down a fundamentalist regime. They were making a business move as well, eliminating one of their most serious competitors.

The increase in production over the last years clearly shows that Afghanistan’s imperfect, struggling democracy has helped consolidate local powers that finance themselves through drug trafficking in Europe and Asia.

[4] HAMID KARZAI, WEAKENED
The administration of Hamid Karzai, weakened by the insecurity in the country and the new rise of fundamentalist guerrillas, has not been able to combat these regional warlords, nor stamp out the production of the drug.

And so with a weak government, production has increased enormously throughout the entire country. Production is taking place both in the Southern Provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, and Oruzgan, where the new Taliban rebellion has begun, and in the Northern Badakhshan province, once home to the Northern Alliance.

POLITICAL NEGOTIATION
But it is in the south where opium cultivation has been supported most, especially by the chaos from the renewed Taliban Rebellion. With the absence of international forces, the drug trade can be carried forward without precaution.

Meanwhile, the generalized corruption of officials and members of government makes all attempts to curb criminal activity virtually impossible. Opium production, therefore, has become a huge factor in political negotiation.

Ex-Governor of the Helmand province, Sher Muhamad Akhund, financially favored the increase of cultivation by 160 percent in his region, and was rewarded with a post in the Highest Chamber of Parliament.

PRICE DECREASE
Opium in Afghanistan has today become the most important economic source of revenue for a majority of the population, a means of finance for warlords and Islamic guerrillas, and a means of pressure for local authorities with a central government that is incapable of stopping its cultivation.

The only piece of good news is that with a production of 6,400 tons, the world market for opium will find itself oversaturated by about 30 percent. Which means that, according to the laws of supply and demand, the price of opium will drop significantly

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