In December 2005, Afghan
President Hamid Karzai declared two possible fates for his country -- either Afghanistan
destroys opium or opium will destroy Afghanistan.
for many Afghans, decades of economic devastation have left them little choice
but to cultivate and trade poppies -- the plant used to make opium and its derivative,
"I know it's illegal to grow poppy, and I realize it's dangerous
for people, but there's no other way for us. We have a very small piece of land,
and we are 20 people in our family. Our land is too small to grow wheat. That's
why we grow poppy. Poppy gives us enough money to live on," an Afghani poppy farmer
told the NewsHour in 2004.
For Karzai, the battle against opium, terrorism
and a crumbling economy are intricately weaved.
"There are three hands responsible
for the insecurity in Afghanistan. The first is terrorism. The second is foreign
interference in support of terrorism. And the third is the money that comes from
the opium poppy trade. In the end, all three come together as one hand. And that
is the hand that is destroying Afghanistan," said Karzai, according to a Radio
Free Europe report.
However, since the United States-led invasion of Afghanistan
on Oct. 7, 2001 that ended with the ouster of the Taliban, Karzai and his newly
elected government are still struggling to rebuild the country's ruined infrastructure
and economy and battle the opium industry.
historically broken economy
According to the State Department, there are
few and unreliable historical records regarding the development of Afghanistan's
economy before 2001.
After the Soviet invasion in 1979, the Soviets took
advantage of Afghanistan's cache of natural resources, including natural gas,
petroleum, copper, iron and precious stones. At its peak, Afghanistan was generating
$300 million per year in export revenues -- most of which went to the Soviet Union.
However, when Soviet troops withdrew in 1989, gas production and other exports
plummeted, and left the country's economy, which had become dependent on the Soviet
Union, grasping for stability.
The violent conflict between the Soviets
and the Mujahadeen -- Afghan freedom fighters -- also left Afghanistan's already
limited infrastructure in shambles.
Following that, amid the chaos and tribal
conflicts that remained after the Soviet withdrawal, the Taliban seized control.
Under Taliban rule, Afghans exploited the porous borders with surrounding countries,
particularly Pakistan, further depleting Afghan resources by smuggling goods out
of the country.
An economy still under rubble
Between 2001 and 2006, the country's economy relied on foreign aid to stay afloat.
According to the World Bank, Afghanistan's operating budget for 2005 was $600
million, with half of that coming from taxes and the other half from international
Although the international community came together to raise $15
billion in aid for Afghanistan in the five years following the invasion, less
than half of the funds have reached Afghanistan and even less the hands of the
The United States, the largest donor with $3.64 billion
in aid, has touted the improvements made in Afghanistan's rebuilding. The U.S.
Agency for International Development -- largely responsible for U.S. rebuilding
projects in Afghanistan -- indicated in 2006 that more than 900 miles of roads
had been laid, more than 500,000 girls attended school when previously there were
none, and agricultural production nearly doubled since 2001.
At the same
time, the International Monetary Fund reported that the country's GDP had risen
to $8.87 billion, up from $2.71 billion in 2000.
Despite the growing amount
of aid, 80 percent of the rural population still lived in poverty in 2006 and
many of those involved in the rebuilding effort said not enough money was being
invested in improving Afghan lives.
"We need more in terms of investment
in Afghan infrastructure. We need more resources, for road building, counter-narcotics,
good governance, a justice system," U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Eikenberry told Newsweek
in September 2006.
The Afghan government estimates it will need $27.5 billion
through 2010 to continue rebuilding the rest of the country's infrastructure.
the opium tide
Historically, Afghans have relied on agriculture as their
main source of food and income. Despite the fact that only 12 percent of Afghanistan's
land area is arable and less that six percent of that land is cultivated, agriculture
in 2004 composed an estimated 52 percent of the nation's GDP.
to Karzai in a speech to the United Nations on Sept. 21, 2006, desperation after
decades of conflict and failed policies has forced farmers to shy away from growing
traditional agricultural products, such as wheat, corn, fruits and cotton, for
more profitable poppy plants.
In the annual Afghanistan Opium Survey, issued
by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime in September 2006, an estimated 2.9 million
people, or 12.6 percent of the population, were involved in the cultivation of
opium, up from 2 million in 2005.
from the report indicate that, despite efforts in the past, potential opium production
could reach 6,100 metric tons by the end of 2006, accounting for 92 percent of
the world's supply of opium, making Afghanistan not only a key target in the war
on terrorism but in the war on drugs as well.
"Revenue from the harvest
will be over $3 billion this year, making a handful of criminals and corrupt officials
extremely rich," said Antonio Maria Costa, director of the U.N. Office on Drugs
and Crime. "This money is also dragging the rest of Afghanistan into a bottomless
pit of destruction and despair." Opium revenues make up 35 percent of Afghanistan's
In response, the Afghan government spent the months between January
2005 and September 2006 using aerial spraying and other methods to try
to eradicate poppy fields. But according to the UNODC, the government's efforts
have largely been unsuccessful. Opium cultivation in Afghanistan rose 59 percent
to 165,000 hectares in 2006, particularly in southern areas of the country. The
increase is blamed on the spread of Taliban insurgents in the area, the increasing
power of warlords, and the pervasive corruption of government officials. NATO's
top commander, Marine Gen. Jim Jones told Congress that Afghanistan is on the
path to becoming a "narco-state."
"[Afghans] have been disaffected with
the Afghan government, because not much has been done by way of national reconstruction,
and economic development, and nation-building. And that is why people are beginning
to look up to Taliban for redress of their economic problems," Touqir Hussain,
a former Pakistani diplomat, told the NewsHour in September 2006.
2006 U.N. report, Costa outlined several measures to counteract the spread of
opium among farmers. Recommendations included a crackdown on the Taliban insurgency
and drug-traffickers in the south, better border relations with neighboring countries,
anti-drug campaigns in Afghanistan, where 3.8 percent of Afghans use opium and
other drugs, and a "carrot" (development assistance) and "stick" (crop eradication)
program to persuade farmers to switch crops.
But officials in the Kabul
government are wary of resorting to drastic measures in order to control opium
production, arguing that farmers require viable alternative crops to survive.
Currently, there is little to no incentive for farmers to abandon the lucrative
poppy plants for more traditional food and textile crops. On average, opium producers
earn five times the Afghan per-capita income, and "cash for work" programs have
been unable to replace the opium trade income.
"We need to assist them.
We need a greater amount of development assistance," Costa said at a U.N. press
conference in New York in September 2006. "Farmers have to be assisted under the
condition that they abstain from cultivating opium."
projections about the elimination of poppy cultivation, Karzai has said the war
on opium will take much longer than expected. Curbing the flourishing opium trade
industry, "will take more than two or three or five years," he told the Council
of Foreign Relations in New York in September 2006. "In Afghanistan, we should
give it at least 10 to 15 years of very dedicated work."