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A UN official said today that if nothing's done to stymie the rampant narcotics trade in Afghanistan, the country will "continue to evolve into a full-fledged narco-state."
The head of the UN's Office on Drugs and Crime, Yury Fedotov, warned that the stronghold the opium drug trade currently has on the war-torn country will only tighten when US-NATO troops withdraw from Afghanistan next year, reported Reuters.
Despite international efforts to eradicate drug labs throughout the state, opium production is increasing, according to the latest survey from the Drugs and Crime office, which will be published later this month.
It's "a very serious setback, but we need to take that as a warning shot," Fedotov told Reuters. He called for the international aid community to rally to provide support and help find alternative jobs for the many farmers whose livelihood depends on cultivating illegal drugs.
When Fedotov said Afghanistan will "continue to evolve" into a drug-run nation, he wasn’t mincing words. For all intents and purposes, Afghanistan is already a full-fledged narco-state.
The Middle Eastern country produces 90 percent of the world's opium, and, unsurprisingly, also has the world's highest addition rate, according to the UN's 2013 World Drug Report. Over a million people have died from Afghan heroin since the US waged its War on Terror in 2001. Last year, poppy production rose 18 percent. And a Russian drug watchdog reported last month that some 40,000 tons of opiates are now stockpiled in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile the country's economic stability, the US-backed regime, law enforcement, and terrorist insurgents like Al Qaeda and the Taliban are all tangled up in the illegal drug trade—which Fedotov called "fertile ground for corruption and other forms of transnational organized crime."
Last month the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said terrorist insurgents receive about $100 million a year from drug profits. Yet that's only a small percent of the roughly $3 billion coming in a year from opium sales. The rest finds its way into the pockets of the government, warlords supported by US and NATO, the police, and traffickers.
In a recent interview with VICE, Afghan activist and former member of Parliament Malalai Joya explained, "The government says to farmers, ‘Stop growing opium.’ But the provincial governors and the Minister of Counternarcotics are famous drug traffickers."
That political paradox is why US-NATO attempts to eradicate poppy fields have been, shall we say, less than aggressive over the years. Right or wrong, foreign troops looked the other way while poppy cultivation and heroin addiction skyrocketed.
Worse still, Afghanistan is so saturated with opium that attempting to eradicate the poppy fields and drug labs is like trying to sweep sand off a beach. The UN estimates that less than 10 percent of poppy fields are destroyed each year.
Still, when the troops finally withdraw from the country at the end of 2014, they’ll take with them the international pressure—and more importantly, resources—to eradicate opium crops, meaning poppy cultivation could go unchecked. Which is why Fedotov, the inspector general, and other officials are sounding the alarm, imploring the Western world not to ignore the drugged-up mess we're leaving behind in Afghanistan.