Drug Traffic 

Opium poppy was already being cultivated in the eastern Mediterranean in 5000-6000 BC, and opium has been used as a drug at least since the Neolithic period. In the Bronze Age it became an important commodity which was exported from Cyprus to Egypt. Arab merchants brought it to Persia, India and China. In the Middle Ages, opium use was common in Europe also.

From the beginning, opium was used not only for medical purposes, but for its mind-expanding qualities as well. In the 19th century, opium trade was one of the most profitable businesses of the English empire. Opium was exported from India to China where it had been used for recreational purposes since the 7th century. China abolished opium trade with westerners in 1729, a year when 1, 5 tons of opium found its way to the country. Despite the death penalty being introduced in 1820 for the use of opium, the amount of opium brought to China annually had risen to 750 tons in that same year, and twenty years later to 2000 tons. As a last desperate measure to protect its economy, China abolished trade with the outside world, which led to the first Opium War against England (1839-1842).

At the beginning of the 19th century, first morphine, and later, in the 1870’s, heroin, were derived from opium. These new substances were thought to be less harmful, and even suitable for treating those hooked on opium! In China, heroin was called “the opium of Christ”, and for a long time it was a popular product brought to the market by the Bauer medicine factory. In the wars of the19th and 20th centuries, morphine was widely used as a painkiller in treating the wounded. The new substances were injected straight to the bloodstream whereas earlier they had been either smoked or ingested.

Opium Cultivation in Afghanistan

Opium and its effects have been known in Afghanistan for centuries. Opium was used as a cough and flu medicine, and thus small scale cultivation to meet personal, family and friends’ needs had been common.

Since there were no doctors or medicines available in the rural areas, in case of illness people were accustomed to take a little opium with milk before going to sleep. After sleeping peacefully through the night they thought they had come up with an exceptional overall remedy. However, they left it at that and used opium only when ill, and thus never developed an addiction to the drug. In some areas carpet weaving was a primary means of livelihood, and since the work required full concentration, mothers of small children were known to give a little opium to the kids, thus tranquilizing them and getting an opportunity to work without being distracted.

Traffic Begins in the 1960’s

In the 1960’s opium traffic was expanded to Pakistan and Iran, and this development did not go unnoticed by the Afghans, who started selling their produce to their neighbors for small fees. Little by little dealers, or middlemen, developed a chain of commerce where they bought the produce from the farmers, and then sold it forward to Pakistan and Iran where it was refined and taken to the world market. The Pakistanis and Iranians reaped the biggest profits from a system which enabled them to buy cheap raw material, refining and selling it with huge profits. At this point Afghanistan was not yet a factor on the international level except as a supplier of raw material for Pakistan and Iran.

Civil War and the Increase in Cultivation

In the 1980’s, a civil war broke out in Afghanistan between the government and the Islamic Mujahedins who opposed the increasing presence of the Soviet Union in the country. The government was backed by the Soviets, and the Mujahedins, in order to finance the war against a super-power, resorted to drug trafficking as a solution. In addition, day-to-day survival in the Mujahedin-controlled regions of the country was dependent on drug traffic, a fact that the neighboring countries ruthlessly exploited.

By 1992, the whole country was under the Mujahedins’ control. The leaders of the various groups wanted to get rich, and thus never voiced any objection to drug cultivation. The group that came to be known as the Taleban emerged in 1994, and by 1998 they controlled roughly 85% of the whole country. The drugs continued to flow from both the Taleban region, as well as the region controlled by their opponent, the Northern Alliance, with thousands of tons of opium annually flooding the neighboring countries. Opium traffic has benefited all the neighboring countries, where leading politicians and businessmen have been able to collect vast profits at Afghanistan’s expense.

Funds and Education Needed

According to media statistics, approximately 4600 tons of opium was cultivated in Afghanistan in 2000, thus earning Afghanistan the dubious honor of being the number one opium producer in the world. For a month’s work, an opium farmer nets roughly 1 per cent of the retail price of his product, but even that is enough to support him and his family.

The Afghans should have a wider range of options as how to earn their living: if given aid and education on alternative crops and farming methods, the mostly illiterate farmers could return to the traditional, diverse agriculture which was the norm before the wars.

According to the resolutions reached in Bonn, the UN and its peacekeepers should oversee disarmament and help establish a coalition government in Afghanistan. Most pressing issues for this government are: putting an end to opium cultivation, reconstructing the presently non-existent infrastructure, and carrying out a population count and registration.

In addition to the immediate need for roads, water, electricity etc., the health and education systems have to be re-established. All levels of education, including the universities, must be reinstated. An enormous amount of funds, as well as education, will be needed in order to improve people’s standard of living.

UN help is still badly needed both in creating jobs and providing overall security. Right now the situation is very problematic since the country has been basically razed to the ground, is still full of minefields, and its economy is in shambles.

At the Tokyo conference in 2002, various countries committed themselves to giving Afghanistan approximately five billion dollars worth of aid during the next five years. This aid, among other things, is aimed at creating jobs so that the opium farmers could give up their present livelihood. The countries committed to the aid program should also guarantee to see it through.

In addition, Afghanistan possesses many natural resources, namely oil and natural gas. Mining, livestock herding, agriculture and other enterprises could be carried out in a more efficient manner. To solve the difficult situation, and in order to exist as an independent country, Afghanistan should take advantage of its own natural resources as well as develop its industry.

This chapter was written by Guldad Khan, an Afghan refugee who has been living in Finland since 2000.