On Monday I went online to see how important opium production (poppy growing) is in Afghanistan. Sometime last week it suddenly dawned on me that Afghanistan is as much a drug-using and drug running country as Mexico ever was. Afghanistan has probably provided the surrounding countries with opium ever since the days of caravans and the Silk Road. We know the Chinese have a long history of opium use. It is very possible that silk was traded for opium. Wikipedia says that “Afghanistan has been the greatest illicit opium producer since 1992, excluding the year 2001. Afghanistan is the main producer of opium in the “Golden Crescent”. Opium production has been on the rise since U.S. occupation started in 2001. Based on UNODC data, there has been more opium poppy cultivation in each of the past four growing seasons (2004-2007) than in any one year under Taliban rule. Also, more land is now used for opium in Afghanistan than for coca cultivation in Latin America. In 2007, 92% of the non-pharmaceutical-grade opiates on the world market originated in Afghanistan.” “In addition to opiates, Afghanistan is also the largest producer of hashish in the world.”
There may be, among certain users and drug lords, a strong desire to see Afghanistan remain what it is, a supplier of opiates to a number of countries around the world.
This Wednesday, September 19, 2012, on CNN there was a story about opium and Afghanistan and it talked about the large numbers of Afghans who are addicted to opium. This is not only a terrible waste of human possibility but it also explains why Afghanistan might fight to remain an agrarian culture. There is a book Opium Nation: Child Brides, Drug Lords, and One Woman’s Journey Through Afghanistan by Fariba Nawa published in 2011 which talks about the toll opium use has taken on Afghan families. For a while, CNN said, methadone programs were made available to addicted Afghans, but, apparently, these programs have been discontinued.
I know the Taliban was atavistic and extreme but when the Taliban was in charge they did not allow farmers to grow opium poppies. Our American troops are not in Afghanistan to fight opium wars, and when we chased out the Taliban, opium production soared. When we leave opium will most likely continue to be the main product of the Afghanistan economy.
Is opium production and use creating a prosperous society in Afghanistan? It doesn’t seem so. Is a nation of people addicted to opium use ever likely to reach its full potential? Probably not. Is it our responsibility to “save” the Afghans. I don’t think we can and I don’t think they would thank us for it. Will we be able to stand by and watch a once proud culture drug itself to death? We will probably have to but it will be a grievous thing to see. Hopefully the Afghan people will find a safer way to make a living, one that isn’t wrought with self-sabotage, but it is difficult to imagine what business would thrive in such a harsh environment and provide the kind of income that poppy growing seems to offer. If Afghan could use their talent with poppy growing to grow opiates for the pharmaceutical industry perhaps Afghanistan could thrive. However, they would have to stop using the opium they produce. It is also very possible that without all that opium the Afghan people could invent a prosperous economy and take their place among modern nations.