The United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime came out with an interesting report this week, which found that Afghanistan-grown poppies fuel a $65 billion heroin and opium market that feeds 15 million addicts. The paper, entitled, Addiction, Crime & Insurgency – The Transnational Threat of Afghanistan’s Opium, reported that the country “produces 92 percent of the world’s opium, a thick paste from poppy used to make heroin, and the equivalent of 3,500 tons of opium is trafficked out of Afghanistan every year.” Two-thirds of this amount is turned into heroin, while the rest is trafficked as opium.
Some other interesting statistics – most of this heroin is trafficked out of Afghanistan through Pakistan (40%). According to the report, Most of the Afghan borders with Pakistan are wide open, enabling low-risk smuggling back and forth across the Durand Line, especially in Balochistan. Almost no drugs are seized in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) although thousands of tons transit the region.” UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa told reporters, “The Afghanistan/Pakistan border region has turned into the world’s largest free-trade zone in anything and everything that is illicit — drugs of course, but also weapons, bomb-making equipment, chemical precursors, drug money, even people and migrants.”
While none of this is very surprising – Afghanistan’s opium production and trade is infamous at this point – it was interesting to learn that “the value of heroin also increases with each border crossing – from about $3 a gram in Kabul to up to $100 on the streets in London, Milan or Moscow.” Moreover, Europe accounts for 19 percent opiate consumption, while Russia and Iran use 15 percent each. Given that opium is the major source of revenue for the Afghan Taliban, looks like Anna Moscow and Hans Berlin’s drug habits are helping fund militants. It’s not just those pesky “Islamic charities.” Problematic.
The report also noted, “Since 2005, there has been a conspicuous increase in the number of security incidents in Afghanistan in parallel with the sharp rise in opium production. The nexus of drugs, crime, and insurgency has become stronger, also spilling over into neighboring countries, particularly Pakistan.” From 2005-2008, the Afghan Taliban has made $450-600 million from taxing opium cultivation and trade. While the Pakistani military believes the Pakistan Taliban receive about $200 million from Afghan drug money, opium is not the militant organization’s only source of revenue.
Shahan Mufti over at Global Post cited Aftab Ahmed Sherpao, who noted the Pakistan Taliban follow a rule in which they “live off the land,” generating funds via a diverse range of sources, such as kidnapping ransoms, collecting donations from local people (though doing so with AK47’s probably dilutes the thrill of giving back – just a thought) and the sale of counterfeit cigarettes, which is said to make up 20 percent of their funds according to the Center for Public Integrity. Moreover, the Taliban in Pakistan are constantly coming up with new revenue streams. Mufti noted, “The environmental protection agencies in Pakistan are blaming the “timber mafia” — illegal loggers — for funding the militancy.”
Using Rehman Malik‘s all-time favorite metaphor, (I can just see him clapping with glee) then if the Taliban are “injured snakes,” food still allows it to survive, to regenerate. Traditionally, insurgent groups tend to have one major source of revenue that fuels their activities – such as the cocaine trade for FARC in Colombia, and, as mentioned earlier, the poppy cultivation and trade for the Afghan Taliban. What is challenging is that the Pakistani Taliban doesn’t necessarily follow the traditional pattern and has been relatively innovative in garnering revenue. In order starve the “snake,” then we have to be as innovative in our solutions, going beyond charging people guilty of terror financing under the Anti-Terrorism Act, [as Rehman Malik announced Thursday] and actually getting to the root of the problem.