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Afghanistan Drug Distribution Networks

"The fight against drugs is actually the fight for Afghanistan," said Afghan President Hamid Karzai when he took office in 2002. "This is a source of income for the warlords and regional factions to pay their soldiers," warned former Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalili in a May 2005 interview with Reuters. "The terrorists are funding their operations through illicit drug trade, so they are all interlinked."

The Government of Afghanistan and the United Nations have both expressed fears that Afghanistan is at risk of becoming a narco-state as organized criminal groups linked to drug trafficking gain power or are able to overwhelm government officials. There is little data available on the number of organized crime groups operating in Afghanistan and even less data regarding the extent to which these groups are involved in producing, trafficking or selling drugs. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the processes of vertical integration and increasing organization may be occurring in Afghanistan. Vertical integration can be defined as the degree to which a criminal organisation (in this case, a trafficking group) owns its upstream suppliers and its downstream buyers. Networks of patronage-based organized crime groups operate on the basis of protection. However, it is worth noting that these groups do not resemble hierarchical organizations with a clearly defined leadership as seen with FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia for example.

There are several risk factors that magnify the threat of organized crime in Afghanistan including the lure of large profits available from the opium economy, the permissive environment created by a lack of effective government control, and in particular the lack of institutional transparency.

The large profits available from the Afghanistan opium economy provide a significant incentive for any group to organise and attempt to control part of it. It is estimated that the opium economy is worth $4 billion USD. Out of this amount, only a quarter is earned by farmers ($1 billion USD). Indeed, it is believed that a significant portion of the $3 billion USD that accrues ends up in the hands of warlords, organized criminal groups and insurgents.

The second risk factor is the permissive environment created by the lack of effective government control. The central government, even during the periods that it was in place, has rarely been able to exert effective control over the full scope of its territory and other power brokers have stepped in to fill in the vacuum. These power brokers have an interest in personal enrichment but also in maintaining their power base, which requires easy access to funds by controling parts of the opium economy.

By around 1990, in southwestern Afghanistan, most farmers sold their opium gum produce immediately after harvest to traders or agents of processors. Some: poorer fanners short-sell their standing crops for 60 to 70 percent of their postharvest value. Many fanners, particularly those from Qandahar and Helmand, took their produce to Sanguin, in Helmand, which is the largest opium market in southwestern Afghanistan. Still others had their own processing arrangements or sell their opium directly to processors who in most cases are located near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in Balochistan. Farmers in Nangafiar and eastern Afghanistan sold their product under similar arrangements. The processing was formerly done inside the Khyber Agency but is now done inc~asinglyin Afghanistan.

In the 1990s opium markets in southern Afghanistan were largely decentralized, basically operating like any other commodity market in Afghanistan. In economic terms, competition in southern Afghanistan could be characterized as being atomistic. There were a number of bazaars in the region where opium could be sold and where opium was purchased by Afghan traders as well as by traders from Pakistan, Iran and, less frequently, by traders from the Central Asian Republics. Each of these bazaars had a number of shops specialized in opium trading. In addition, during harvest time, other shops, which usually traded other goods, diversified to include small-scale opium trading. The largest bazaars in the 1990s were found to be in Sangin, with around 200 shops selling only opium, followed by Musa Qala. Smaller district bazaars, such as in Kajaki, Nowzad, or Maiwand, where traders from Iran and Pakistan regularly came to purchase opium, also played a role. Opium trade in southern Afghanistan was reported to be competitive at all levels, but not aggressive. In eastern Afghanistan, in contrast, the opium market was far more concentrated in one location, the bazaar of Ghani Khel in Shinwar district of Nangarhar province. Though some other district bazaars existed as well, Ghani Khel was generally regarded as the centre of opium trading in eastern Afghanistan. Ghani Khel was not only a market for opium but also for acetic anhydride, the main precursor chemical for heroin manufacture.

As of 1990 almost all the opium-producing farmers except those in Badakhshan were Afghan Pashtuns, as was the population in the opium-growing areas. Among the traders, processors' agents, and those who collect and transport opium to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in the southwest, there were a good number of Afghan Baloch. The traders in eastem Afghanistan and Badakhshan were also Pashtuns, Afghans, or from Pakistan's tribal mas such as Shinwari, Mohmands, and Afridi. The processos in the southwest were both Pashtun and Baloch, some originally from Iran. The Baloch probably shifted their operations to the region after the crackdown on narcotics by the Khomeini regime in 1979. Most of the procesors in Khyber were tribal area Pashtuns, though originally there were some "foreigners."

Large-scale trafficking by Afghan nationals is usually limited to the country's immediate neighbors. Interpol studies have repeatedly shown that hardly any Afghans were involved in trafficking activities in the EU and EFTA countries. This trade appears to be dominated by Turkish groups (often ethnic Kurds) and by Albanians and Yugoslavs (including ethnic Albanians).48 Similarly, Afghans are involved in shipping opiates to Tajikistan. However, hardly any reports exist that would suggest that the heroin, once arrived in Tajikistan, would be trafficked by Afghan groups to other Central Asian countries or the Russian Federation.

There have been reports of the involvement of traders from Pakistan, Iran and of some of the Central Asian countries in shipping opiates out of Afghanistan. In general, they are of the same ethnic origin as people living in Afghanistan (i.e. Pashtuns from Pakistan, Baluch from Iran or Pakistan, Tajiks from Tajikistan, etc.).

In the Pakistani border town of Chaman and in Quetta, the opium business was controlled for many years by members of border tribes of Achakzai and Noo~zai, many of whom belonged to the Hizb-e-Islami of Hekmatyar. Most of the growers and traders in Nangarhar, like everyone else there, ware associated with the Hizb-e-Islami of Khalis. It was well known that for many years before 1990 the Akhunzadas of Musa Qala controlled most of the opium business in southwestern Afghanistan.

Serving southwest Afghanistan, Balochistan has close to a 1200-km-long border with Afghanistan. For various reasons, as of 1990 there did not seem to be much heroin processing and trade activity to the north and east of Quetta. To the southwest until 1991 heroin laboratories existed on both sides of the border, most on the Pakistan side. All cunent indications are that since last year the factories have been moved to the Afghan side of the border because the Pakistan government had become more strict, seizing drugs and arresting people.

In the early 1990s, from Girdi Jungle, to the west of Quetta, the drugs were transported west toward Rabat along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and south toward the Makran coast along the deserts of Kharan and Makran. From Rabat, drugs enter Iranian Balochistan and then move on to other areas of Iran, finally reaching the Kurdish areas of Eastern Turkey. Southbound consignments reach Makran, from where some poxtion went to southern Iran, some portion was marketed in Makran itself, and the rest was transported by sea to Karachi or elsewhere. Most of the opium from Nangarhar and Badakhshan appeared to flow through the Khyber Agency of the Tribal Territories.

Although the farmers are drawn to poppy cultivation for a living, the majority of the profits go to the traffickers, warlords, militia leaders, and even the Taliban, al Qaeda, and Hizb-i-Islami (HIG). By 2004 the Taliban and Hizb-i-Islami militants were relying on drug profits for funding. According to the New York Times [Carlotta Gall, "Afghan Poppy Growing Reaches Record Level, U.N. Says," New York Times, November 19, 2004,] ten to fifteen percent of the opium trade goes to HIG warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who funds Islamic militants in Chechnya and Uzbekistan with $120 million per year. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency receives payoffs from traffickers and assists in trafficking the heroin once inside the country. Logically, because the ISI is the patron of the Taliban, it, too, must profit from the heroin trade.

By 2008 in Helmand Province, the Taleban demand one kilo of the poppy resin for every ten produced, telling the farmers it is a tax that they have to pay.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:32:10 ZULU