Drugs from Afghanistan are a headache for the West

Politico has published an article describing how Afghan drug trafficking may become a problem after the U.S. fled the country

Drugs from Afghanistan are a headache for the West

According to the article, the opium trade is a vital part of Afghanistan’s GDP, while poppy cultivation provides life and livelihood to local people in most provinces. And while the Taliban (have pledged to end the scourge within the country, the West, and the UK in particular, should understand that no one will do their job for them.

The United Nations estimates that Afghan farmers produced around 2,300 tonnes of opium in 2020. It accounts for more than 90 per cent of the world’s illicit supply and 95 per cent of the UK market. Despite a Western presence that ended this month, and despite falling prices, recent estimates show that production is still holding at record levels. This time, the Taliban seem quite determined.

“Afghanistan will no longer be an opium-cultivating country”, –  Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said at his first press conference since the group took control of Kabul, while seeking help from the global community.

The risk of the narcotics business continuing to flourish has proven to be great. This possibility has led to fears that more heroin could be available in Europe, which would in turn lead to a sharp fall in the price of the dangerous drug and further exacerbate the UK’s health care spending crisis.

“This would be the most unintended of a long list of unintended consequences arising from this disastrous decision [to withdraw troops from Afghanistan]”, –  said Jeremy Hunt, former cabinet minister and chairman of the House of Commons Health Committee.

The possible surge in drug imports will be even harder to deal with after Brexit, as the UK has given up direct access to EU crime data resources.

“Opium cultivation in Afghanistan has been on an upward trajectory and the likely destabilisation of the country in the coming months and years following the withdrawal of Western troops is likely to affect production levels,” said a spokesman for the National Crime Agency. “Through our international liaison network we will continue to work with partners in the region to tackle organised crime, including those involved in the Class A drug trade.

As the author admits, all previous international attempts to fight drug trafficking in Afghanistan have failed. Western countries have tried to destroy opium crops and processing laboratories, but this has had little effect. The scale of change required to move the Afghan economy away from drugs to other forms of agriculture or industry is so great that observers believe only a nationwide relief plan involving land reform and massive infrastructure construction will help.

The British government, on the other hand, has so far said aid would be channelled through aid agencies, not the Taliban, unless the movement was prepared to defend human rights and fight drugs and terrorism.

“If these huge funds are eventually unfrozen for the use of the government and people of Afghanistan, we are saying that Afghanistan cannot become a hotbed of terror again”, –  Prime Minister Boris Johnson said after a G7 video conference last week, – “Afghanistan must not become a narco-state, women must have access to schooling and so on.”

At the same time, pro-aid conservatives acknowledge that cooperation with the Taliban will be inevitable, although they are not entirely sure whether they are prepared to do so. On the other hand, the drug problem in Afghanistan is of concern to China as well.

Responding to the Taliban’s promise to stop the drug trade, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi stated earlier this month, “The Taliban” mentioned that Afghanistan would cease to be a hub for opium cultivation and drug trafficking – this points to the right way forward.

And according to Western experts, it will be Beijing that will be the key game changer, incorporating Afghanistan into its “One Belt, One Road” geo-strategic project, using investments on a scale that no one in the West can afford.

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