The thriving Afghan opium trade–which has grown dramatically during the ongoing U.S.-led occupation, reaching record highs–may turn Afghanistan into a criminal state if left unabated, experts warn.
Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 8, Nasir Shansab, an expert on Afghanistan issues, said, “The phenomenal growth of poppy cultivation and opium trade took place under the very noses of 100, 000 very well armed and very well trained international forces.”
The “tragedy of the story” is that opium production has increased since 2001 when U.S.-NATO forces invaded Afghanistan in response to the Sept. 11 attacks.
Afghanistan produces more opium than any other country in the world.
“The opium business is part of the corrupt [government] system in Afghanistan, I think it has partly criminalized business and life in Afghanistan,” Shansab told Breitbart News, “and i think once the international community leaves Afghanistan, it will complete probably criminalize life in Afghanistan. It’s an enormous danger for the country.”
Shansab echoed recent comments by Jean-Luc Lemahieu, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) representative in Afghanistan, published in a Jan. 5 article by The Guardian.
“If no appropriate action is taken, then Afghanistan runs the risk of becoming a fragmented criminal state, ruled by an illicit economy,” Lemahieu told The Guardian, adding that “it is not too late, but we need to act decisively.”
The poppy production problem in Afghanistan is not publicly mentioned in the context of security negotiations between Kabul and Washington for a post-2014 relationship. According to the 2013 UN Afghanistan Opium Survey, poppy cultivation and production has increased since 2001 when the Afghanistan war started.
The area of cultivation has increased to a record of almost 800 square miles in 2013, more than 11 times the size of the U.S. capital.
That marks an estimated 26-fold increase over course of the Afghanistan war, now in its 12th year.
Production has increased from 185 tons in 2001 to 5,500 tons last year. Profits from the illicit trade reached almost $1 billion last year.
“For the international military, counter-narcotics went against their aim of winning hearts and minds,” the UNODC official told The Guardian.
The Taliban benefits from opium business proceeds in Afghanistan.
A March 2013 military report by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) noted that “the ability of the Taliban and other terrorist groups to fund their operations by participating in the $300 billion-plus annual global market for illicit narcotics is an obvious threat.”
The opium problem in Afghanistan may hit closer to home than most Americans may realize.
An Afghan Taliban cell member was convicted for trying to ship heroin to the U.S. and use the profits to fund the Taliban, according to the DoD report.
Furthermore, Mexican Newspaper El Universal has reported that Mexican cartels are buying heroin from Afghanistan drug dealers. Heroin trafficking by Mexican cartels across the southwest border is also increasing.