Surging Heroin Flow Could Fund Afghans' War Effort

Surging Heroin Flow Could Fund Afghans' War Effort
Posted by FoM on October 02, 2001 at 07:39:22 PT
By Juan O. Tamayo
Source: Miami Herald
Khyber policeman Sheerdill says it's not true that fears of a U.S. attack on Afghanistan have caused heroin and opium prices to plunge along this wild corner of the Pakistani-Afghan border. At least not for the drugs he sells.``Just rumors,'' a smiling Sheerdill said over the weekend as he sold a four-square-inch sheet of opium and a lollipop-sized dab of hashish to a visitor for 600 rupees, or $10.
Sheerdill, who like many people here uses only one name, is a good businessman, trying to get the highest possible prices for his goods.But he's also a liar.According to U.S. and Pakistani drug authorities, prices nose-dived after the Sept. 11 attacks on America, as thousands of Afghan opium poppy farmers fleeing threatened U.S. strikes arrived in this border region with whatever valuable goods they could carry, especially drugs.And the Taliban government, which earlier had issued decrees against growing opium poppies, now may be trying to develop a temporary buyer's market. Some analysts here believe Afghanistan's Islamic fundamentalist Taliban rulers may be ``dumping'' huge stockpiles of opium and refined heroin, apparently to top off their war coffers in advance of any conflict.Taliban supreme ruler Mullah Mohammed Omar has threatened to lift his 14-month-old ban on poppy cultivation if the United States attacks, said Bernard Frahi, head of the U.N. Drug Control Program, the UNDCP, in Islamabad.Heroin, selling here for about $6,000 per kilogram -- 2.2 pounds -- before the terror attacks, which have been blamed on Taliban ally Osama bin Laden, today goes for $3,000 a kilo. And opium, selling for $700 before, dropped to $80 per kilo.Whatever the reasons behind the price drops, it is clear that the latest Afghan crisis has scrambled the pieces of the narcotics puzzle in a country that in recent years has exported opium that accounted for 70 percent of the world's heroin.Lower prices could mean rising consumption, especially among the young and the unemployed, said a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration official in Washington, ``a reversal of the worldwide trend toward less consumption.'' Decline In Pakistan Pakistan's estimated annual opium production dropped from 150 metric tons a few years ago to just five metric tons last year under an aggressive government plan to develop alternative crops for poor peasants and punish traffickers. Trafficking is a hanging offense here.Until last year, Afghanistan had presented the opposite picture, booming from 950 to 3,700 metric tons of opium since 1994, when the Taliban began seizing control of a country ruined by the Soviet invasion in 1979 and the ensuing civil war.``For the past decade heroin has been the largest cash crop for Afghan farmers, and indirectly the Taliban,'' said one Western counter-narcotics official in the region who requested anonymity.Most analysts say the Afghan boom was helped by lawlessness and two decades of almost continuous violence, in which up to one million people died. Many say the Taliban also encouraged poppy farming so they could tax the trade.Nangarhar and Helmand provinces became thriving opium centers, the first usually shipping refined heroin directly to Europe, the second sending its semi-processed morphine to refineries in Pakistan and Turkey.Taliban government officials regularly charged a legal 10 percent tax on narcotics shipments and sales and unofficially pocketed a few more percentage points in bribes. Sometimes, the bribe was paid in drugs. Scope Of Taliban Role ``The Taliban had more than a parasitic role in the business,'' said the Western counter-narcotics official.By the first half of last year, the glut of poppy fields had driven down the price of Afghan heroin to its lowest level in years -- $1,000 per kilo sold wholesale on the Afghan-Pakistani border.But in July 2000, supreme Taliban leader Omar issued a decree banning poppy cultivation -- though no other link in the narcotics chain -- as violating Islam's moral precepts.`It's unclear whether they did that . . . based on a religious aversion to drugs or the fact that there is about a three-year supply of heroin in warehouses . . . and they just decided to hold back for a period of time and let their inventories run down,'' Florida Sen. Bob Graham, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told The Herald.Under the threat of the Taliban's terrifying brand of justice, where thieves' hands are cut off and women are stoned to death for adultery, most farmers quickly burned their poppy fields or let them go fallow. But because possession of opium wasn't banned, they continued to hold onto stockpiles of the drug.According to a UNDCP survey this spring, poppy production had dropped from 202,000 acres just the year before to a stunning 17,000 acres.But then came the attacks that killed some 6,500 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. Already suffering from a 2-year-old drought and now panicked by the prospect of U.S. retaliatory strikes, up to 1.5 million Afghans fled their homes, some heading for the safer countryside, some for the Pakistani border.``Several hundred are slipping across the border every day carrying what few valuables they can carry,'' a U.N. refugee official said. ``Opium is part of an Afghan peasant's savings, and easy to carry.''Many of the refugees have wound up in the Khyber Agency, 125 miles west of Islamabad, a so-called tribal area on a barren slice of land wedged between Pakistan and Afghanistan where most Pakistani laws do not apply.Dozens of shops along the dusty main road sell automatic weapons, no questions asked -- $83 for a new, locally-made AK-47, $50 for a used one, $250 for a used Chinese version and $300 for the real thing, a Russian-made AK.And then there are the drugs.Sheerdill, a 30-something tribal policeman with an AK-47 slung over his gray calf-length shirt, gave a hearty laugh when a group of foreign journalists asked him about the narcotics.``All come from Afghanistan,'' he said, turning partly away before saying, ``If you want some opium or hashish I can get you something.'' Direction Of Prices Sheerdill first asked for 200 rupees, or $3.33, for one ounce each of opium and hashish. Then he ``remembered'' that the price of opium had just gone up, so the price rose to 600 rupees.In fact, prices may be headed even lower. Poppy cultivation and heroin production inside Afghanistan are likely to boom again as a result of the crisis. Poppy-planting season starts in mid-October, shortly after the first winter rains.``We fully expect a resurgence of cultivation in Afghanistan this coming year, whether or not there is [U.S.] military action,'' said the Western official.Added Frahi: ``Afghanistan will have again now all the ingredients for cultivation of illicit drugs, meaning a war situation, absence of law, and disorder in terms of governance, in terms of poverty -- people will be poorer than ever -- and in terms of total absence of any alternatives for the farmer.''Sudarsan Raghavan and Mark McDonald of Knight Ridder News Service contributed to this report.Khyber Agency, Pakistan Source: Miami Herald (FL)Author: Juan O. TamayoPublished: Monday, October 1, 2001 Copyright: 2001 The Miami HeraldContact: heralded herald.comWebsite: Articles:Heroin a Major Source of Revenue for Taliban Stockpiles Moved Will Target Drugs Stockpile Rely on Drug Money, says DEA Chief 
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Comment #1 posted by lookinside on October 03, 2001 at 04:26:37 PT:
tony blair...
about 10pm pdt last night my wife and i got a big giggle from a cnn news story...a taliban spokesman asked that diplomatic channels be pursued...when bush stated that he was going to go after the taliban, they spoke of retribution if the U.S. invaded...they apparently take tony blair FAR more interpretation of the taliban statement reads:(a somewhat frightened) "can't we talk about this?"
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