TALIBAN FUELLING, PROTECTING POPPY PRODUCTION FROM WESTERN BACKED ERADICATION PROGRAMS
"IF I ANSWER YOUR QUESTIONS I WILL BE DEAD WITHIN THREE DAYS"
3000 BRITISH TROOPS HEADING FOR MOST DANGEROUS REGION
From the UK Independent :Two hours' drive from the Afghan city of Kandahar, "the perfect storm" is about to break in the fields of Helmand province.
Here, in the place where British troops are to spend the next three years, a combination of factors have conspired to produce what is probably the biggest opium harvest in the history of a province that, last year, produced more than 20 per cent of the world's heroin on its own.
A law and order vacuum has allowed an increasingly well-organised drugs cartel, a corrupt local government and resurgent Taliban to structure the poppy cultivation of the province as never before. That has combined with fine growing conditions this year to produce what, if these were wine producers, might be considered a memorable vintage. And, country-wide it is now clear the poppy harvest will be close to record levels again. It is a dispiriting blow for the international counter-narcotics effort as 86 per cent of the world's heroin comes from Afghanistan.It is a stunning irony that, in the years before September 11, the Taliban was created by Pakistan, in part, to control and stamp out the production of heroin. Now they are running the show and they are using the profits to fund the Islamist insurgency.
When the British, Australian and American troops turn up in poverty-riddled regions of the country to help destroy crops, they are not welcomed. They are seen mostly as the enemy because the eradication of poppy crops takes away a major part of the local economy.
Aid programs were supposed to help Afghanistan farmers turn away from opium production to less harmful, and far less profitable, ventures. But the aid programs are not working for most Afghans, and in comparison to starting up factories, or learning how to make use of the so-called 'new economy', it is far easier, far more profitable to simply go back to what they know best - turning out some of the finest quality opium in the world.
Just under a hectare of poppies can produce a quanity or opium worth more than $US5000 a year. Considering that average monthly wages for those lucky enough to have full-time work can be as low as $50 a month for government employees and $10 a month for farmers, the incentive to farm poppies is massive. One hectare of poppies can provide income, food and protection for whole villages.
From the UK Independent : In his office in Kandahar, the province's director of drugs control, Gul Mohammad Shukran, shifted uncomfortably as The Independent ran through a list of well known millionaire drug smugglers in the province. "If I answer your questions I will be dead within three days," he said, showing us to the door.
Meanwhile, a campaign of Taliban intimidation and assassination is targeting government officials working across the south.
In Helmand it has been what one Western source called "a methodical slaughter". Four out of 12 district police chiefs have been killed in six months, further undermining the effort to establish some sort of order.
The smugglers and the Taliban were increasingly close, with the Islamic fighters suspending their operations during the poppy harvest to ensure it is safely out of the way before the Taliban's promised campaign of summer violence. The Taliban have a vested interest as they take a tax on opium produced in the region, which could be worth tens of millions of dollars this year.