How America Can Win the Drug War in Afghanistan

    M. Ashraf Haidari

    Security, Middle East

    An Afghan policeman destroys poppies during a campaign against narcotics in Jalalabad province, Afghanistan

    Regional cooperation is needed to curb the flow of precursor chemicals into Afghanistan and export of narcotic products out of the country to other states.

    This past November, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released its annual survey of opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan for 2017. As ever, the survey’s findings are hardly surprising. They reflect the periodic fluctuations in the amount of opium poppy cultivated and produced in the country. Last year, cultivation increased to 328,000 hectares and production to nine thousand metric tons—a 87 percent increase over 2016.

    Indeed, drug production and other challenges currently facing Afghanistan, the United States, and their common allies are cumulative. They did not spring up overnight. They have been evolving since the Taliban were driven from power in late 2001. In the case of narcotics trafficking, failure to properly assess the problem’s causes and effects is encouraging misperceptions.

    The narcotics problem in Afghanistan has been cultivated by the past four decades of war, destruction and human suffering. We know from international experience that global demand for narcotics finds supply in environments where state institutions are weak, where general instability is high, and where poverty is rife.

    Although Afghanistan is coping with such dire conditions today, the number of drug-free provinces in the country has increased from six in 2006 to ten in 2017, according to the UNODC. This progress has been achieved in provinces where the government is in firm control, delivering alternative assistance to farmers and prosecuting drug traffickers.

    However, where the writ of the government is weak or has grown weaker, poppies have bloomed, despite the presence of U.S. and NATO forces. In fact, 95 percent of all of Afghanistan’s opium is grown in just eight provinces in the southwest, east, and northeast (Helmand, Kandahar, Farah, Nimroz, Uruzgan, Nangarhar, Balkh, and Badakhshan). In these areas, there has been a growing Taliban presence, and organized criminal groups remain strong.

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