Iran Condemns Afghan Opium Trade

Iran’s Anti-Narcotics Headquarters for International Relations has issued a statement condemning the traffic of heroin through Iranian territory. Deputy General Mahmoud Bayat took advantage of a meeting with Sweden’s Foreign Ministry to underline Iranian discontent with the increasingly voluminous quantity of heroin trafficked both into Iranian drug markets and through Iran destined for markets in Europe and Northern Africa. Iranian discontent over the trafficking of the poppy derivative was coupled by accusations made by Russia’s drug czar, stating that the increase in poppy cultivation by over 4,000 percent has been carried out under the auspices of NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Although direct complicity is difficult to determine, opium production within Afghanistan has surged since US occupation began in 2001. Opium produced in Afghanistan now constitutes 75% of the world’s supply of the drug, and the United Nations has predicted further increases in poppy cultivation as international coalition forces begin to exit the region later this year. Despite a slight drop from 2011 to 2012, opium production in 2013 grew 36% from 2012, and efforts to curb the cultivation of poppy crops have been largely unsuccessful despite more than $6b in funds put forth by the American government and an array of subsidies granted to farmers that develop alternative crops. Heroin addiction in Afghanistan is rapidly increasing, and farmers cultivating poppy as an alternative to less-profitable crops such as wheat have spread from traditional meccas of poppy such as Helmand Province to northern Afghanistan, a historically poppy-free region of the country.

Additionally, the issue has spoiled a rare chance for Washington, Moscow and Tehran to cooperate on a matter of regional significance. Heroin addiction within Russia and Iran is rampant, and as the problem has grown more endemic, both Moscow and Tehran have adopted increasingly caustic tones towards Washington, which they view as negligent in addressing the problem, financial efforts notwithstanding. Blame, however, has been increasingly difficult to assign, as motivations for developing the crop transcend the simple drive to make profit. Afghan farmers have seen precipitous drops in prices for corn, cotton and potatoes, and the chances to export are slim to none. The majority of farmers polled by NPR stated that they grow opium poppies are aware of the harmful nature of opium derivatives and do not consume it, but harvest it in order to feed their families.

Eliminating poppy plantations has been further complicated by political considerations. The United States has ceased eradicating opium crops due to fears that those faced with no other recourse will side with the Taliban as it seeks to use opium profits to finance extremist efforts throughout Afghanistan. Reports of government complicity in the trafficking of narcotics have been approached in a similarly cautious fashion by the United States, as it seeks to preserve what is left of alliances with the fragile Afghan governmental structure. The future of Afghanistan’s opium cultivation is ultimately tied to its own political and economic structures; the success of the licit economy could provoke a drop in its illicit counterpart and provide motivations for Afghan farmers to reengage in the development of traditional crops.

News Briefs:

  • The Kyrgyz som declined steadily against the dollar yesterday, as part of a larger global trend where the dollar and the ruble reached a new historical low against world currencies. The som, closely tied to the ruble, is currently trading at 55 to the dollar. The Kyrgyz National Bank connected the increase to events in Ukraine, which saw both currencies decline dramatically on fears of a Russian intervention.
  • Chinese steel companies Baoshan and Minmetals are close to finalizing deals to buy half a million tons of coal per annum from Australian coal mining firm Celsius Coal located in Kyrgyzstan. Xinjiang province, which borders Kyrgyzstan, is the site of Baoshan’s newest steel plants. Problems abound, however – as reported on Monday, Kyrgyzstan’s coal industry, centered in the Kara-Keche valley, is run by organized crime and most Kyrgyz coal is source from abroad.
  • Qayum Karzai, brother of current president Hamid Karzai, is reportedly preparing to drop out of the race, according to rival candidate Zalmay Khalilizad, who reported that the two were planning an alliance. Qayum Karzai is widely seen as a frontrunner in the race, which has little more than a month to go until Election Day. Khalilizad and Karzai belong to the same majority Pashtun ethnic group, and an alliance between the two leading Pushtun candidates has been the source of much speculation throughout the election season. Another frontrunner, Abdullah Abdullah, said he was “unconcerned” with the news, as his support base is in the north of Afghanistan among the Tajik ethnic group.
  • Disagreements between Afghanistan and Pakistan have arisen on the TAPI pipeline project over which direct the pipe branches will take once out of Afghanistan. Afghan officials want the pipeline to be routed north towards Peshawar, and from there to New Delhi, but Pakistani officials want the pipeline routed towards Lahore, where it says demand for natural gas is greater. The disagreement has stalled approval of a feasibility study performed by the Azerbaijan Company ASPI Consulting Engineers, which is a member of the Consortium in charge of the project.
  • Tajikistan has reported over 38 border clashes with Afghan drug smugglers in the past three years, and Tajik officials have seized over 3.5 tonnes of drugs in 180 raids along the border during that time. The clashes correlate directly with an increased incidence of Afghan poppy cultivation, with 2013 reaching record numbers for opium production.
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