Afghanistan: Drugs overview

17 November 2005

Afghanistan is the world's largest producer of opium, the raw material for heroin. In 2000, the Taleban regime enforced an opium ban that led to the virtual disappearance of opium poppy cultivation in areas under their control. In drug control terms, this is often referred to as an unprecedented success, yet the ban caused a major humanitarian disaster for hundreds of thousands dependent on the illicit economy.

With September 11, the military intervention and the downfall of the Taleban, Afghanistan became an arena for merging the War on Drugs and the War on Terror. Opium production, meanwhile, has reached record new levels, triggering heated debates among the donor community and within drug control agencies around the world. It is our view that longer term and broader reconstruction objectives need to be prioritised over short-term drug elimination goals for the devastated country. While military-supported eradication operations have started in some provinces and international pressure on the Karzai government is mounting by the day to eliminate opium production by reproducing the "success" of the Taleban anti-drugs efforts, what the country really needs are innovative approaches rather than hard-and-fast but unsustainable "solutions". Reconstruction of the country and prevention of recurring armed conflict will have to be accompanied by considered policy approaches towards the reality of the opium economy as an essential component of impoverished people's livelihood strategies.

TNI on Drugs and Conflict in Afghanistan

  • Crop spraying: a déjà vu debate
    From the Andean strategy to the Afghan strategy
    Drug Policy Briefing No 25, December 2007 The United States is putting strong pressure on the Afghan government to officially adopt the strategy of eradicating the opium poppy through aerial spraying of the crops with the herbicide glyphosate. Given that this practice has been widely applied in Colombia, it is worth taking a look at other experiences of spraying and a more general look at the practice of eradicating crops as an anti-drugs measure.
  • Missing Targets
    Counterproductive drug control efforts in Afghanistan
    Drug Policy Briefing No 24, September 2007 Despite efforts by the Afghan government and the international community to reduce poppy cultivation, opium production in Afghanistan has once again reached record levels in 2007. The main policy instruments to bring down these figures - eradication of opium poppy fields and implementing alternative livelihoods projects - are missing their targets.
  • Opium jihad Martin Jelsma and Tom Kramer, Red Pepper, June 2007 With Afghanistan now responsible for more than 90 per cent of the world's opium production, there is massive international pressure for repressive policies. But quick-fix solutions like opium bans and eradication don't work, write Martin Jelsma and Tom Kramer, who report back from Afghanistan on the rising anger of poor farmers on the front line.
  • Opiumbestrijding in Afghanistan: Uncle Sam maait papavers Tom Kramer & Martin Jelsma, 8 June 2007 (In Dutch only)
  • Losing Ground: Drug Control and War in Afghanistan Drugs and Conflict Debate paper 15, December 2006 This Drugs & Conflict briefing focuses on opium elimination efforts and the controversy about involving military forces in anti-drugs operations in Afghanistan. It also provides background on the Afghan drug control strategy, its new counter-narcotics law, and the role of Afghanistan within the global opiates market.
  • Press Statement: Destroying Poppies Counterproductive in Uruzgan, May 2, 2007 Persbericht: Papaververnietiging Uruzgan contraproductief, May 2, 2007 (in Dutch)
  • TNI Press Release Eradication could undermine Afghanistan reconstruction, new study warns, December 5, 2006 International pressure for 'quick fix' repressive drug control programmes risks further destabilising Afghanistan and could lead to a worsening of the current conflict, according to Losing Ground: Drug Control and War in Afghanistan, a new report from the Amsterdam-based Transnational Institute (TNI).
  • Downward Spiral: Banning Opium in Afghanistan and Birma TNI Drugs & Conflict Debate Paper 12, June 2005 Opium farmers in Afghanistan and Burma are coming under huge pressure as local authorities implement bans on the cultivation of poppy. Banning opium has an immediate and profound impact on the livelihoods of more than 4 million people. These bans are a response to pressure from the international community. Afghan and Burmese authorities alike are urging the international community to accompany their pressure with substantial aid. Opium growing regions in both countries will enter a downward spiral of poverty because of the ban. The reversed sequencing of first forcing farmers out of poppy cultivation before ensuring other income opportunities is a grave mistake. Aggressive drug control efforts against farmers and small-scale opium traders, and forced eradication operations in particular, also have a negative impact on prospects for peace and democracy in both countries.
  • TNI/BCN Press Release Opium Bans Will Cause Human Misery in Afghanistan and Burma June 25, 2005 In Afghanistan, the opium ban issued by President Hamid Karzai in 2002 will be enforced more rigorously. These bans are in response to pressure from the international community. Banning opium has an immediate and profound impact on the livelihoods people. Many more are indirectly dependent on income generated on the illicit market. The consequence will be a downward spiral of poverty in the opium growing regions.
  • Martin Jelsma Learning Lessons from the Taliban Opium Ban International Journal on Drug Policy, Volume 16, Issue 2, March 2005
  • Plan Afghanistan TNI Drug Policy Briefing 10, February 2005 In November 2004 an unknown mystery plane sprayed opium poppy fields in eastern Afghanistan. Although the US denied any involvement, the US State Department is pressing for aggressive aerial eradiction campaigns to counter the booming opium economy. Due to policy controversies the State Department had to back off. At least for the time being.
  • Merging Wars: Afghanistan, Drugs and Terrorism TNI Drugs & Conflict Debate Paper 3, November 2001 The connection between terrorism and the illicit drug trade has made the headlines after the terrorist attack of September 11. With the new international context of the war against terrorism, the war on drugs moves cantre stage as well. While drugs and terrorism are now shoved together to demonise the "evil" enemy, reality is the victim. Merging the two wars to one seriously endangers the advances made to find a solution to the drug problem. Today, the two major producers of opium poppy and coca, Afghanistan and Colombia, are in the midst of shifting counterdrug strategies.