Counter-Terrorism: Heroin and Bling

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March 21,2008: Afghanistan's drug business, and the Taliban Islamic terrorists that live off it, is developing just like similar situations in Burma (Myanmar) and South America have in the past. In these earlier cases, heavily armed groups in remote regions, kept the government out, so poppies could be grown and heroin produced. Same situation developed in Afghanistan. The reason you hear so many reports of battles with the Taliban in Afghanistans Helmand province, is because that one area (south of Kandahar and on the Pakistani border), currently produces over 40 percent of the worlds heroin (and about 70 percent of Afghan production). With less than a million people, Helmand has long been a Taliban stronghold. The Taliban are basically a coalition of Pushtun tribes from southern Afghanistan. The Taliban were unpopular in most of Afghanistan because non-Pustuns (about 60 percent of Afghans), and many Pushtuns, did not like having the Taliban lifestyle and customs crammed down their throats.

Helmand became a source of heroin during Taliban rule. The farmers of Helmand paid a share of their profits to the Taliban, and shipped the drugs out through Pakistan, or west via Iran. A lot of the Helmand opium and heroin stayed in Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan, and the addiction problem in those three countries has been growing for over a decade. Helmand heroin "taxes" are still a major source of income for the Taliban. But NATO military operations in Helmand over the last three years has forced the Taliban to stand and fight. If the Taliban lose control of Helmand, and the Afghan government shuts down a lot of the heroin production, the Taliban will suffer some serious damage. While the Taliban is a political and religious organization, it's most active members expect to be paid. Without the drug cash, the Taliban payroll shrinks. The government has already been successful in shutting down heroin production in other parts of the country.

Most of the poppy growing takes place along the Helmand river, which runs through the desert-like province. The farmers don't want to lose their highly profitable poppy crops, and the drug gangs don't want to see their labs (which convert the poppies into opium and heroin) destroyed. Heroin is big business in Afghanistan, which now accounts for over 90 percent of the worlds production. The worldwide heroin supply has grown nearly fifty percent in the last eight years. Almost all the growth has come from Afghanistan, where the drug can be smuggled out through Central Asian nations (to Russia and Western Europe), through Iran (to the Persian Gulf) and Pakistan (to India and East Asia). The drug gangs have lots of government officials on the payroll, but depend on the Taliban for muscle. Attempts have been made to bribe NATO commanders, with very little success. So the Taliban see their battle with NATO in Helmand of supreme importance.

The farmers in Helmand were doing well before poppy production became popular in the 1980s. Helmand has long been a major source of grain for the region. But the Taliban insist the farmers grow poppies, despite qualms many Afghans have about producing narcotics. The Helmand farmers have done well financially, but many are religious conservatives, and would not be as upset as you might think if the government shut down poppy growing throughout the province.

 


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