By John J. Metzler
UNITED NATIONS — The time is ticking as American and NATO forces begin the countdown to military withdrawal from Afghanistan by year’s end. But as Taliban militants watch the clock and the calendar, eagerly awaiting the foreign troop pullouts, thus hoping to topple the country’s still teetering government, still another threat as dangerous as the Islamic militants lurks in the shadows. Over the past year, opium production surged 17 percent to hit a record high according to the United Nations. Despite concerted international efforts to stop illicit narcotics production, the opium production in 2013 reached 6,400 tons compared with the previous year’s total of 5,500 tons. And the scourge is getting worse. Despite serious American anti-narco efforts of US$7.5 billion since 2001 to stop Afghanistan’s endemic drug trade, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reports near futile progress. UNODC’s Director Yury Fedotov warned that Afghanistan’s narcotics problem remains a major global challenge; ��The illicit opium economy and related criminality and corruption continue to undermine security, the rule of law, health and development in the region and beyond.�� Besides local warlords involved in narcotics, there’s a direct link to the Taliban Islamic militants opposing the fragile central government in Kabul.
According to the U.N., ��Afghanistan produces some 90 percent of the world’s illicit opiates. Hilmand province, in the south, remains the country’s major opium cultivating area, followed by Kandahar. �� Helmand province was the site of some of the bloodiest encounters between largely British forces and Taliban fighters.
UNODC’s Fedotov stressed that illicit narcotics had a ��disastrous�� impact on the already embattled country. The U.N. agency adds that ��Afghanistan suffers one of the world’s highest prevalence rates for opiate use and HIV and hepatitis are widespread among injecting drug users.�� More than a million Afghans are drug dependent. Tragically in Afghanistan, drug trafficking is part of a larger web of government corruption, money laundering, and terrorism. Both the Taliban terrorists and sectors of the central government are mired in the narcotics trade. Afghanistan accounts for 90 percent of the global heroin supply. Thus the drug scourge has serious implications far beyond this South Asian country.