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2 Apr, 2014 11:52

Afghan H-bomb: Record opium harvest, billions burn in 'war on drugs'

Finding a solution to the thriving heroin production in Afghanistan has been on the back burner ever since the Americans occupied the country. The new Afghan president who will be elected next weekend will have to battle record opium harvests.

Since the US came down on the Taliban and occupied Afghanistan in 2001, heroin production in the country has surged almost 40-fold. One year ago the estimated number of heroin addicts dying due to Afghan heroin in the preceding decade surpassed well over one million deaths worldwide.

Last year, Afghanistan harvested a record quantity of opium. The annual report of the International Narcotics Control Board maintains that Afghan poppy fields now occupy a record 209,000 hectares, a 36 percent increase from 2013.

Today more than half of the provinces in Afghanistan are growing opium poppies. Reports say Afghanistan is responsible for production of around 80 percent of the world's opium and heroin.

US soldiers from 4th platoon Alpha company 5/2 ID Stryker Brigade Combat Team (SBCT) 1-17 infantry batallion patrol near a poppy field in Shahwali Kot district Kandahar on May 11, 2010. (AFP Photo / Tauseef Mustafa)

Heroin takes toll on Afghan society

Yet the country’s probably most disastrous problem is that the Afghan people not only produce record amounts of opiates, they are actively consuming them, with a heroin vortex sucking in more Afghanis every year.

According to the UN, 1 in 30 Afghani is a drug addict – that’s over a million people in a 30-million population. This makes Afghanistan not just the main producer, but at the same time one of the world’s leading drug consumers.

Afghan drug addicts smoke heroin on a street in Jalalabad on February 7, 2014. (AFP Photo / Noorullah Shirzada)

The new Afghan president will have to find ways to save his people from domestically produced drugs, which also form the backbone of the national economy.

Paraphernalia on sale beneath the bridge. Only 1 in 10 addicts receives drug treatment - programs often underfunded. pic.twitter.com/ggdmGNU4rJ

— Lucy Kafanov (@LucyKafanov) April 2, 2014

Despite declaring war on drugs in Afghanistan, all efforts to disrupt the production of heroin have not helped to solve the problem in the slightest, with more drugs flowing out of the country every year. Earnings from the trade are clearly considered worth the risks. And Afghan heroin is spreading in all directions, and in particular – Russia.

An #Afghan police officer surveys area under a bridge where #Kabul's growing number of heroin addicts often gather pic.twitter.com/rJGwKCS5dY

— Lucy Kafanov (@LucyKafanov) April 2, 2014

Because the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) headed by the US remains the dominant power in Afghanistan for the second decade now, Russia has been repeatedly asking Washington to curb heroin production in the Afghan mountains, albeit with poor results.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin blamed the ISF for doing almost nothing to eradicate drug production in the occupied country. At the same time the US maintains that since 2002 it has spent $7 billion on fighting drug production in Afghanistan, and allocated $3 billion on agricultural programs trying to encourage Afghan nationals to grow other crops in place of the opium poppy.

An Afghan government official (L) and two Afghan National Army soldiers (C and R) cut down opium poppies in Bihsood district, some 25 kms north of Jalalabad , 08 April 2004. (AFP Photo / Shah Marai)

In 2014 things deteriorated with the escalation of the political crisis in Ukraine and the Russia-US row over Crimea separating from Ukraine to reunite with Russia.

The US introduced sanctions against Russia and a number of its officials, thus breaking many contacts established over the years.

The new blacklist included the head of the Russian Federal Drug Control Service, Viktor Ivanov, who also co-chairs the Russia-US Presidential Commission workgroup on countering the illegal drug trade. Russia’s anti-drug tsar accused Washington of attempting to hide its responsibility for the drug crisis in Afghanistan.

NATO has also announced that it is suspending all military and civilian cooperation with Russia over the Ukrainian crisis.

On Wednesday news came that NATO is giving up its joint program with Russia, which is currently teaching Afghan helicopter pilots. Washington also intends not to buy original spare parts for Russian-made helicopters used by the Afghan army.

Although NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced that the alliance will continue cooperating with Russia in countering drugs in Afghanistan, the real future for such cooperation looks grim, particularly after the US President’s deputy drug czar, Michael Botticelli, refused an invitation by his Russian colleague to come to Moscow, citing Russia’s actions in Crimea as the major reason.

The lack of international dialogue could allow this business to grow even further, Dr. Bidit Dey, an expert on Afghanistan from the University of Northumbria told RT.

“The West, and of course the US in particular, have to set aside all geopolitical interests when it comes to global security,” Bidit Dey said, stressing that “There is a lack of cooperation between Russia and the West and that would be a huge threat to Europe’s security and also to overall social stability.”

While Washington is trying to avoid shouldering the responsibility for allowing heroin production in Afghanistan to burgeon, there is growing agreement that this deadly business simply can't go on forever.

With the presidential election set in Afghanistan for April 5 and the American troops expected to leave the country by the end of 2014, does the world stand a chance for a real change?

An Afghan official sets fire to seized drugs, including more than 2,5 tons of opium, more than 4 tons of hasish, and some 169 kilos of heroin, outside Kabul, 23 September 2004. (AFP Photo / Shah Marai)