December 20, 2011, 12:08 pm ET
Tuesday, January 3, 2012, at 10 p.m. ET on PBS
Afghanistan produces most of the world’s opium, fueling the global heroin trade, funding terrorist groups like the Taliban and bringing billions of dollars a year into the country’s economy. But the illegal harvest and government eradication efforts are also creating hidden victims: young Afghan girls who are kidnapped or traded to smugglers to meet the debts of impoverished opium farmers.
In Opium Brides, airing Tuesday, January 3, 2012, at 10 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings), award-winning Afghan journalist Najibullah Quraishi takes viewers deep into the remote Afghan countryside to reveal the deadly bargain local farm families have been forced to make with drug smugglers in order to survive. Through interviews with local villagers, Quraishi learns that drug smugglers have been paying local farmers to grow opium, which the smugglers then use to produce heroin. Now that the government has been destroying the farmers’ opium crops through the eradication program, the drug smugglers are returning and giving farmers a choice: Pay back the money, or give them one of the family’s young daughters as a “bride.” For most of the impoverished farmers, that leaves only one choice.
“The government came and destroyed the opium fields,” a local farmer named Sharif tells FRONTLINE. “The smugglers came after us to get their money back. We didn’t have any money. I had a girl. She was 8 years old. They took her with them – we don’t know where.”
FRONTLINE speaks with numerous farmers whose daughters – some as young as 5 or 6 years old – have been taken by drug smugglers as “payment” after the government destroyed their opium fields. Mina, 11, is currently in hiding with her family, which cannot afford to pay back the money the drug smugglers advanced them for the now-destroyed opium crops.
“When they take me, they’ll make me do the opium work,” she says. “One of these days, they will ask me to marry them. They’ll ask me to marry one of the smugglers.”
In Opium Brides, FRONTLINE speaks with officials from NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which provides security during the government’s poppy eradication operations. ISAF officials stress that the drug eradication program is an Afghan program.
“We do not eradicate poppy,” says ISAF official Tony Johnstone-Burt, noting that part of the eradication program includes helping farmers make the transition from growing opium to other crops, such as maize and wheat. “What we do is provide the secure environment, the stability to enable them to have an alternative livelihood.”
Yet given the huge profit disparity between growing wheat and growing opium – and the fact that the Taliban relies on drug smuggling as a primary source of its income – it’s unlikely that many farmers will be willing to risk incurring the Taliban’s wrath to grow a far less profitable crop. Farmer Morad Khan estimates that he will earn 20 times as much growing opium on his two-acre plot than he would growing wheat.
“No matter how much the government tries, we will not give up our poppy harvests,” he says. “We will die for it. We will never give it up.”
Meanwhile, some Afghan girls live in fear that one day the drug smugglers will come for them. :If they take me, I will kill myself,” says 9-year-old Farishta, who watched as her 14-year-old sister was dragged away screaming and crying by the smugglers. She has not returned. “What else can I do? Death is better than sorrow and sadness.”
Also in this hour: FRONTLINE correspondents Stephen Grey and Martin Smith investigate The Secret War waged across the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. They uncover secret support for elements of the Taliban by the Pakistani military and its intelligence service, the ISI, and report on a military campaign by NATO and its allies to eliminate insurgents operating inside Pakistan.
Opium Brides is a Clover Films production for WGBH/FRONTLINE. The producer is Jamie Doran. The correspondent is Najibullah Quraishi.
The Secret War is a FRONTLINE production with Mongoose Pictures/Quicksilver Media in association with CH 4. The writers and producers are Dan Edge and Stephen Grey. The director is Dan Edge. The correspondents are Stephen Grey and Martin Smith.
FRONTLINE is produced by WGBH Boston and is broadcast nationwide on PBS. Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Major funding for FRONTLINE is provided by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and by Reva and David Logan. Additional funding is provided by the Park Foundation and by the FRONTLINE Journalism Fund. FRONTLINE is closed-captioned for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers by the Media Access Group at WGBH. FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of the WGBH Educational Foundation.
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