If a narco-state can be defined as a nation where the production and export of illegal drugs comprises the equivalent of about 50 percent of that country’s legitimate gross domestic product, then Afghanistan is a narco-state.
The numbers are staggering. According to the U.N. World Drug Report for 2007, which was issued in July, Afghanistan is home to 82 percent of the area throughout the world that is devoted to the cultivation of opium. Because Afghan poppies generate better yields than can be found elsewhere, the country was responsible for 92 percent of the opium produced in the world last year. The U.N. estimates that “around 92 percent of the world’s heroin comes from poppies grown in Afghanistan.” The 2007 World Drug Report revealed that “[t]here are indications that a small but increasing proportion of opiates from Afghanistan are being trafficked to North America.” That means that Taliban-controlled areas in southern Afghanistan, where much of the recent increases in opium output have occurred, are effectively selling heroin to American addicts to finance their military operations against U.S. and allied forces.
In 2006, Afghan farmers produced 6,100 metric tons (a metric ton equals 2,200 pounds) of opium, while farmers throughout the rest of the world cumulatively harvested 510 metric tons. Ten years earlier, Afghanistan produced 2,248 metric tons of poppies, representing 52 percent of world output. As recently as 2001, when the then-governing Taliban had essentially eradicated opium production in Afghanistan, only 185 metric tons (11 percent of the world total) were produced there, according to the U.N. report. Since the U.S. military overthrew the Taliban during the fall of 2001 after Afghanistan-based al Qaeda attacked the United States on September 11, Afghan opium output, measured in metric tons, has increased to 3,400 (2002), 3,600 (2003), 4,200 (2004), 4,100 (2005) and 6,100 (2006).
As indicated above, opium production in Afghanistan increased 49 percent last year, rising from 4,100 metric tons in 2005 (when Afghan opium comprised 89 percent of the world’s total) to 6,100 metric tons in 2006. In other words, while opium production declined by 10 metric tons in the rest of the world between 2005 and 2006, it increased by 2,000 tons in Afghanistan. That means that Afghanistan accounted for more than 100 percent of the worldwide increase in opium last year. Whereas Afghanistan is now producing more than three times the 1,980 metric tons of opium it harvested 15 years earlier, Myanmar is now producing less than one-fifth (315 metric tons) of its output in 1991 (1,728 metric tons). If Afghan opium output last year were at its 1991 level, world opium output would have been about a third of its actual level.
The area devoted to opium production in Afghanistan increased by nearly 60 percent last year, rising from 104,000 hectares to 165,000 hectares, its highest level ever. (A hectare equals 2.47 acres.) From 1991 through 2000, the Afghan area devoted to opium cultivation averaged 63,600 hectares, more than 100,000 fewer than last year’s. Only six of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces were free of opium production in 2006. In recent years, opium output has especially increased in Helmand province, where many Taliban fighters, no longer interested in eradicating opium, are located.
While total Afghan opium output increased by nearly 50 percent last year, prices “at the farm gate” fell by only 17 percent. Thus, total revenues soared for the 2.9 million Afghans involved in growing poppies. Moreover, because “Afghan opium is increasingly being processed into morphine and heroin within Afghanistan,” the U.N. report estimates that the “total export value of opium to neighboring countries” totaled $3.1 billion last year, which was nearly half the size of Afghanistan’s legal economy ($6.7 billion). “Gross trafficking profits to Afghan traffickers” totaled $2.34 billion, which buys a lot of AK-47s and the increasingly sophisticated improvised explosive devices that Afghan insurgents have been using in much greater numbers in recent months.