With the reestablishment of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in recent days, I thought this would be a useful reminder of one aspect of the wars in Afghanistan, an aspect that has had a far greater and direct impact on the populations and nation-states of the West than any amount of would-be Islamist terrorism. Namely, opium.
- It was during the 1950s that the production of opium became a significant phenomenon in what was then the Kingdom of Afghanistan, as entrepreneurs and criminals under the Barakzai dynasty worked with their counterparts in neighboring Pakistan to tap into the emerging global narcotics markets
- By the 1970s the short-lived Republic of Afghanistan was becoming a major player in the supply of opiates to Europe, despite or perhaps because of half-baked economic reforms by the autocratic Daoud regime
- The Soviet-backed (Democratic) Republic of Afghanistan saw a massive increase of opium production in the mid-1980s, partly through the machinations of the intelligence agencies of Pakistan and the United States of America, who were using the trade in illicit narcotics to undermine the communist government in Kabul and fund opposition Islamist and tribal groupings – some of which would emerge as the amorphous Mujahideen movement celebrated by US politicians and journalists during the last decade of the Cold War
- In the 1990s, the American-backed Islamic State of Afghanistan witnessed continued growth in the illegal drugs trade, often with the protection of rival factions in the government and allied regional warlords
- From 2000 to 2001 the authoritarian Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan witnessed the most successful anti-drugs campaign in the world. Under the brutal direction of the Taliban government there was a 99% drop in opium farming in the territories under its control; territories that had previously fed almost 75% of the world’s heroin supply
- Since 2010, the now collapsed Islamic Republic of Afghanistan supplied up to 90% of the world’s illegal opiates trade, with poppy fields flourishing under the sometimes benign presence of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)
- With the seizure of Kabul by the revived Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, pledges have been issued by the resurgent Taliban government, promising to destroy the opium fields and factories once again, though with some scepticism from their critics
For more, watch this interview on the YouTube politics channel Breaking Points.