When Afghanistan recently implemented a complete ban on the production of opium, we should have expected the USA to be grateful and supportive. They weren’t, instead, they were critical.
Most countries experience some problems with drugs, but only one country has such a massive problem it’s led to a near collapse of their social structure. The USA blames China for producing Fentanyl, a legitimately prescribed drug but which their doctors have historically over-prescribed. Heroin has also long been a problem in the USA with these two drugs causing tens of thousands of deaths a year. The sources of 95% of all heroin are three countries with Afghanistan being by far the largest.
Historically, as empires come to an end they are accompanied by societal collapse. High crime, degeneracy, increasing poverty, restrictions on human rights, and public safety become less important than government security, wars are fought as the empire attempts to maintain its position. Rome went through it, World Wars One and Two were examples, the Qing Dynasty in China experienced it and the US empire is going through it now.
One of the ways of escaping societal collapse and the individual pain it creates as people can’t find work, or feed themselves properly, is to seek solace through drugs and there is no question about it, even the USA’s CDC admits, the US is experiencing a drug epidemic with millions of addicts and over 100,000 deaths a year from overdoses.
So, a US report condemning the Taliban for their complete ban on the production of opium, the main ingredient of many of the illicit drugs causing America’s problems, was a surprise.
While the BBC reports that Afghanistan has a problem with drug abuse, other, global statistics suggest otherwise. Afghanistan is, for sure, the largest producer of opium, with as much as 80% of global production but they don’t rate in the top 10 of illicit drug users. The BBC report goes on to say the Taliban, which has regained control of the country is rounding up addicts and placing them in 45-day rehabilitation camps. The camps may, as BBC suggests, be squalid and the conditions may not lead to rehabilitation but at least the Taliban, on a very limited budget, is attempting to do something about a serious problem.
While the Taliban has banned the production of opium, according to the US Institute of Peace, they didn’t destroy the crop from last year as it would have created a massive revolt against the decision, meaning the crop has found its way to the market already.
But here’s the kicker: according to the report that’s ok, it’s the ban on future production of opium that is a bad thing. They say it will create more economic refugees; it will impoverish households; and reduce the economy of Afghanistan by about one billion USD a year meaning there will be less income to invest in future growth for the nation.
But, if the BBC is to be believed, one in 10 Afghans are addicts, and, as anyone knows a large number of addicts is detrimental to positive growth. A 10% addiction rate in an already impoverished country would reduce GDP more than the loss of this cash crop, especially as the cash crop is illegal and therefore does not add to the country’s tax revenue.
What would add to Afghanistan’s fortunes, would be the USA giving back the $7 billion USD they held in Afghanistan’s reserve account. But unfortunately, the Biden administration has now given that away!
The fact that a rich nation with such problems would be critical of an impoverished nation attempting to prevent the production and sale of an illegal substance is stunning. Surely, if the source of one of America’s problems is Afghan opium and if that source is going to dry up very quickly, the right thing for the US to do, would be to help them.
The loss of revenue for Afghan farmers is estimated as $1 billion USD, yet the cost of managing the addiction to heroin in the USA is many tens of, perhaps even hundreds of billions, some of that could be well used by helping Afghan farmers to transfer over to more suitable crops which, if the US really wanted to do, they could buy from them. The Taliban is encouraging farmers to grow wheat but the report says this is not a suitable alternative as it’s not worth as much to the farmer or the economy and, while this might be true, it can at least be eaten.
The report also criticises the Taliban for imposing, and failing in this ban back in 2001. And that’s absolutely true. When the Taliban ejected Russia and took over running the country, they immediately banned opium. The USA should have been very pleased then. They weren’t so opium production resumed in 2002 and expanded exponentially until 2021.
What the report unironically neglects to mention is that the Taliban were not in charge of Afghanistan during this period. In October 2001, the US invaded and deposed the Taliban. And, while the US claims it attempted to reduce the reliance on and production of opium, it is clear that had no success in doing so
There are stories that the CIA increased opium production in order to increase their own “black ops budget”. Whether they are true or not is a moot point. What is true is that in two years, the Taliban has eliminated a scourge that is destroying US society and for 20 years, the USA controlled the land that the source of that scourge came from. Not only did US occupiers fail to destroy it, it increased exponentially, and, 8,000 miles away, their citizens were dying in ever-increasing numbers. We can draw our own conclusions from that.
China, a neighbour of Afghanistan, knows very well what Afghanistan is going through having been impoverished itself only 70 years ago. The country also knows what US occupation is like; the USA was part of the Alliance which sacked the Summer Palace, brutally quelled the Boxer Rebellion, traded opium to enrich themselves, engaged in the Opium Wars, and created mini-colonies (concessions) in Chinese cities.
So, instead of being critical China has offered support. It has sent aid, engaged diplomatically, created opportunities for rebuilding and opened trade routes, and is buying Afghan products such as pine nuts and saffron, one of the world’s most expensive items. China’s people welcome this, they remember what it’s like to have an opium-addicted population mired in poverty and they have the experience that might help Afghanistan through this difficult time.
But of course, unsurprisingly, the Institute of Peace is critical of China too! But that’s another story.