unusual move in late October, U.S.
and Russian forces jointly took out an Afghan drug production facility. They
succeeded in destroying 40 million Euros worth of heroin in the border area
The raid came as though in response to misgivings voiced by the director of Russia's
Federal Service for the Control of Narcotics, Viktor Ivanov. Just one week
earlier, in an interview with Foreign
Policy, Ivanov had once again complained about the discrepancies in the
stance against drugs espoused by Washington
and Moscow. He
had stressed that U.S.
troops had unfortunately abandoned poppy eradication programs in favor of
hunting down traffickers and interfering with the trade's financial flows (Foreign
Heroin production in Afghanistan generates an estimated $100 million in income for Taliban drug traffickers annually. According to a report by the Russian-led UNODC, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the 2010 crop is the most lucrative ever. The price per kilogram stands at $169, compared to $64 only a year ago. Opium is currently so expensive because of an unknown blight that destroyed nearly half of the harvest. Experts fear that the blight-related scarcity will continue to drive up prices and encourage farmers to plant more poppy (Focus). According to rumors circulating in southern Afghanistan, NATO has infected poppy plants with an aggressive fungus. That notion was rejected by UNODC (Deutsche Welle).
While Moscow was content with the drug raid, Kabul was not amused. Afghan President Hamid Karzai heavily criticized the joint Russian-American venture. He claimed that his government had not granted permission for Russian soldiers to engage on its territory. Nor had Afghan authorities been consulted by NATO in its decision on whether or not to involve the Russians. In President Karzai's words, the operation constituted a violation of his country's territorial integrity. The issue is a thorny one for both Moscow and Kabul, ever since the Russians were forced to withdraw from Afghanistan in 1989 in the wake of a decade-long war (FAZ).
Today the heritage of that war is still causing trouble for all those involved, as the German business daily Handelsblatt had reported in a detailed background story already this summer. That heritage is closely linked to the heroin trade, as over 90% of the world's opium originates in the war-ravaged country at the Hindu Kush. Initially, opium sales had helped finance weapons purchases for the Mujahedeen. Once the Russians were defeated, U.S. subsidies disappeared, too, and Afghans began to look for other lucrative sources of income. In the following years, given poppy plants' resilience in the rough climate of Afghanistan and the high returns on investments generated by the opium trade, heroin production along with drug abuse skyrocketed (Handelsblatt).
In Afghanistan today, heroin addiction has reached epic proportions. According to estimates, eight percent of the population are afflicted (Deutsche Welle). The situation is even direr in Russia, where over 30,000 deaths annually are attributed to substance abuse (Stimme Russlands). Not surprisingly, the Russian media celebrated the participation of four Russian counternarcotics agents in the October raid as a major success. Russia regards the Afghan drug trade as a direct threat to its national security, as some voices in Germany acknowledge (Telepolis).
The dangers are set to increase, as the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS, a follow-up organization loosely connecting Soviet Union successor countries) is planning to introduce a free trade zone in July 2011. Given the rising instability in Central Asia and the porous borders in the region, Russian security experts fear a rise in drug trafficking directed not only toward Russia, but toward Europe as well. They are determined to stop the flow of drugs from Afghanistan "at any price" (Rianovosti). In Europe, a new generation of synthetic drugs is currently attracting greater public attention than the opium problem (Die Presse). The new drugs have emerged in previously unseen variety on the substance market, according to the EU drug agency's annual report 2010. Nevertheless, heroin still counts approximately 1.35 million addicts in the EU plus Norway, and is responsible for the majority of drug-related deaths.
In Germany, the number of drug addicts who died in 2009 was eight percent lower than the previous year. Nonetheless, heroin remained the leading cause of drug-related deaths. While, according to the Federal Government Commissioner on Narcotic Drugs, Mechthild Dyckmans, drug-substitution programs have proven successful on the demand side, law enforcement officials fear that unless more action is taken on the supply side, the current positive statistics will prove deceptive. Afghan drugs currently reach Germany mainly via the Balkan route through Bulgaria and Turkey (Deutsche Welle).
The German Government is hence actively promoting the Afghan Government's peace and reintegration program. After some hesitation, Germany is financing an opt-out scheme for Taliban fighters. The U.S. also participates in the project, although Washington has thus far refused to transfer its share of the installments. The Americans are dissatisfied with details of the program, as worked out by the Afghan side. NATO has recently created a "force integration cell" to assist the Afghans in the matter. Nevertheless, there is much apprehension as to the effectiveness of similar measures, given the pervasive corruption in the country (Spiegel).
The doubts surrounding corruption and drugs in Afghanistan, and in particular the conflicting attitudes of Russians and Americans toward poppy eradication, are reminiscent of the debate within Germany during the past years. According to the mandate of the Bundeswehr in Afghanistan, German soldiers are not allowed to interfere with poppy cultivation. A request by an Afghan general for support in this realm had been rejected by the leading CDU foreign policy expert and chairman of the Bundestag Committee on Foreign Affairs, Ruprecht Polenz. In contrast to other ISAF troop contributors such as the U.S., Polenz had stressed that fighting illegal drugs was not an option for German soldiers. Germany would instead promote the development of alternative sources of income for farmers. There are fears in Germany that the soldiers' involvement in poppy eradication would lead to higher casualty numbers for German troops (Berliner Zeitung), which might further undermine support for an already unpopular mission.
Meanwhile the neo-socialist Left Party, which holds 76 out of 622 Bundestag mandates, insists that the lack of progress in the fight against the drug trade is yet another reason for withdrawing from Afghanistan. The corrupt nature of the Karzai regime would render assistance projects futile, and progress in terms of human rights and democracy illusionary (Linke). The drug expert of the Left Party, Monika Knoche, advocates licensing limited poppy cultivation in Afghanistan. Only by decriminalizing the production process could the strangle hold of warlords and drug barons over farmers be broken (Linke).
The chairman of the Bundestag Committee on Human Rights, Tom Koenigs of the Green Party, also argues that the war on drugs can never be won by military means. He advocates legalizing drug use in order to end the costly and largely ineffective war on drugs. By following the example of Portugal - an EU country that had legalized the possession of drugs in 2001 - Germany could reduce drug-related crime and deaths. Producer nations such as Afghanistan would also benefit, since this move would eliminate an important source of income for terrorist groups (Frankfurter Rundschau).
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