Opium Can Be Described As Cancer in Afghanistan Term Paper

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Opium Can Be Described as "a Cancer" In Afghanistan

In 2014, an estimated 224,000 hectares (or between 200,000 and 250,500 hectares) of land in Afghanistan was utilized for cultivation of opium poppy -- a 7% increase from the previous year. Also, as per 2014 estimates, 98% of all opium farms in the country were found in Eastern (9%), Western (22%) and Southern (67%) Afghanistan. Southern Afghanistan's opium farms were concentrated in the provinces of Kandahar, Day Kundi, Zabul, Hilmand, and Uruzgan; Western Afghanistan's farms were concentrated in the provinces of Badghis, Nimroz, Farah, and Hirat; and Eastern Afghanistan's opium farms were concentrated in the provinces of Laghman, Kapisa, Nangarhar, and Kunar. The aforementioned provinces are the most vulnerable, with high to extreme security risk, according to the UNDSS (United Nations Department of Safety and Security). Furthermore, they are also largely inaccessible to non-government organizations and the UN. Day Kundi represents the only Southern province with generally good security, aside from the district of Kejran (UNODC, 2014).

Figure 1. Opium cultivation in Afghanistan, 1994-2014 (Hectares) (Adapted from UNODC, 2014)

Last year's estimates reveal that 183,000 hectares of land were utilized for opium poppy farming. Yearly opium production was projected to be about 3,300 metric tons. A poor harvest caused production to reduce from the 2014 level (6,400 metric tons), which was 17% higher than the quantity produced in 2013 (5,500 tons) (Buddenberg & Ruttig, 2016). The average yield of opium in 2014 was 28.7 kg/hectare -- an increase by 9% from the 2013 yield of 26.3 kg/hectare. Increased production was chiefly because of increased opium farming and yield. In particular, the 27% growth in yield witnesses in Southern Afghanistan led to an overall production increase. But, just like the past year, unfavorable climatic conditions in some areas of Southern and Western Afghanistan negatively impacted poppy plants, hence decreasing yield compared to the fairly unaffected yield of 2011 (44.5 kg/hectare). For instance, in Southern Afghanistan, a survey of the yield revealed a >39% reduction from the 2011 yield (UNODC, 2014).

In the poppy-rich Southwestern and Southern Afghanistan, there are known links existing between drug traffickers, operating along the Pakistani border and Taliban insurgents. Academic research, U.S. government statements, and media reports frequently mention that the Taliban terror outfit benefits from opium. Nevertheless, scant concrete details are available to lawmakers and members of the common public, regarding the mode of interaction between insurgents and drug dealers, as well as how they benefit from this trade. As long as NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) forces, aid organizations, and civilian officials operating within these areas have no data on this issue (or possess data but haven't analyzed it as yet), they are sadly functioning in relative vacuum. A grasp of how Taliban benefits from this trade in opium can aid in developing strategies for extending governance by weakening the insurgents (Peters, 2009).

The involvement of corrupt Afghan government officials, members of the ANP (Afghan National Police), and different provincial administrations in opium trafficking has been widely suspected, with latest media reports suggesting that there are a few senior officials who are themselves engaged in this illegal business. Many South Afghanistan citizens are of the view that governmental officials earn more profits than insurgents from this illicit trading of drugs. An equally important concern is corruption, as corruption and insurgency perhaps contribute equally to South Afghanistan's continued insecurity, through the generation of a wicked incentive for the corrupt people holding high-ranking official positions, to institute good governance (Peters, 2009). On the whole, in spite of sustained reduction in opium production, largely on account of agronomic and economic factors, opium continues to represent a structuring and structural factor imbedded in every dimension of the nation's society, politics, and economy.

Effects on Economy

A vast majority (i.e. 92%) of global illicit opium production occurs in Afghanistan -- an approximate 800 tons of heroin, nearly two times the reported world-wide demand. Much of opium farming is seen to be concentrated in Helmand and six other Southwest provinces. Helmand alone produces half the nation's overall opium yield (Felbab-Brown, 2009). Its export value is half the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP), i.e., roughly 3 billion U.S. dollars. To form a comparison, Colombian cocaine's export value is not even 1% of its GDP, and is still a serious economic and security challenge to Latin American stability. This comparison will help one in understanding the actual scale of Afghanistan's illicit drugs issue. Opium is an immense illicit economy, which sustains the legal ones, by driving a growing building sector as well as generating capital for Afghanistan's rural, informal credit system. In spite of earning a comparatively larger amount than with lawful, acceptable crops, the three million rural poppy cultivators in the country are suffering in dire circumstances of poverty, shackled to the traditional opium credit system. It must be borne in mind that Afghanistan is one among the poorest nations in the world. Citizens' poppy dependency is so great that, in the view of experts from the World Bank, an abrupt decline in poppy economy will lead to economic destruction all over Afghanistan. Beyond this directly-impacted group, which constitutes 15% of the overall population, about the same amount of people are indirectly benefited by opium-related activities and cash (Felbab-Brown, 2009).

Moreover, opium influences the nation's institutions of alternate livelihoods. Right from district to provincial to national organizations, opium-related corruption is omnipresent in Afghanistan, posing a very genuine threat to the creation of fair and functional institutions aimed at serving the common people of Afghanistan, and not just the powerful, greedy players. Press reports state that the country's governmental involvement in opium trafficking is a shocking 70%, with about 25% of its 249-strong Parliament involved directly or indirectly in this illicit trade. Police officers are also apparently a part of this trade, and play the roles of facilitator, consumer, and protector. A British report claims that nearly 60% of Helmand's police force relies on heroin or opium or both (Mansfield, 2008; Azami, 2013). Another factor to consider in this regard is poppy politics -- intense competition exists between local parties for opium industry share. Different areas' power-holders, which include members of local police forces and governmental institutions, manipulate opium eradication operations to serve their personal motives, including securing international funds and forcing bribes from the area's farmers. Lastly, opium generates fresh funds for South Afghanistan's Taliban insurgency; it is reported that 10% usher or tax is levied on smuggling and cultivation of opium. Perhaps more notably, by extending protection to facilitators and opium farmers, substantial political leverage has been achieved, by the Taliban, with local people against international and national governments. But if this relationship of the terror outfit with opium trading is opportunistic, scant evidence exists to indicate that restricting drug flow will have any significant effect in weakening the Taliban insurgency, which is guided by political aims and has multiple revenue sources (Felbab-Brown, 2009; Mansfield, 2008).

The fuel for this industry, which earns annual revenues amounting to several billion dollars, is the fundamental conflict economics law, against which conventional tools of stability and order have no much effect. Opium is the most feasible of economic resources for a number of rural communities; despite a majority of farmers only receiving a small share of its market value (

Sources Used in Document:


AHMED, A. (FEB. 15, 2016). Tasked with Combating Opium, Afghan Officials Profit from It. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/16/world/asia/afghanistan-opium-heroin-taliban-helmand.html?_r=0 on 5 March 2016

Azami, D. (26 February 2013). Why Afghanistan may never eradicate opium. BBC World Service. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-21548230 on 5 March 2016

Buddenberg, D. & Ruttig, T. (11 January 2016). On the Cultural History of Opium -- and how poppy came to Afghanistan, Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN). Retrieved from https://www.afghanistan-analysts.org/on-the-cultural-history-of-opium-and-how-poppy-came-to-afghanistan / on 5 March 2016

CHELALA, C. (MAR 1, 2013). Opinion: Afghanistan's legacy of child opium addiction. The Japan Times. Retrieved from http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2013/03/01/commentary/world-commentary/afghanistans-legacy-of-child-opium-addiction/#.VtsHc1R96M9 on 5 March 2016

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