Monday, February 20, 2012


Opium addict on the streets of Kabul--matches, cigarettes, and foil used to inhale opium paste vapors, strewn about---Photo by Larry Towell

Afghanistan suffers first in war, second in escalating opium drug trade, and now in the plague of epidemic opium addiction.  American media reports often depict the Taliban as the purveyors of war related opium profiteering.  History shows that it has been the other side--the U.S. {and before them the British}-- that have used opium as a weapon to achieve profit in the business of war.  [For an extensive interesting timeline featuring the British see from Opium: A History, by Martin Booth]
In 2001, Tony Blair said a significant reason for the West's invasion of Afghanistan was to curtail a flourishing heroin trade, yet opium production between 2001 and 2011 increased from 185 tonnes to 5,800 tonnes, according to UN figures.   From UK’s, 2-17-12 The Telegraph
Astounding but misleading figures.  In fact since the NATO [mostly U.S., and Brits have now left] invasion of Afghanistan, 1 month post the 911 attacks, the average production of opium in Afghanistan has roughly doubled.  Bad enough, though not a thirty-fold increase as reported.  The glitch lies in the 2001 figure which was skewed downward by a July 2000 edict of Mullah Omar, the Taliban’s leader that no opium should be planted or harvested.  [see 9-24-01 UK’s Guardian, “Taliban to lift ban on farmers growing opium if US attacks”
Mullah Omar -- Photo ABC News

This mandate led to the least opium produced there in modern times.  But the reduction was short-lived, some consider that it was just a geopolitical ploy.  It had been preceded by a thriving opium trade that had grown out of Russia’s war in Afghanistan [that left so many of their soldiers drug addicted--most to hashish, then more available].   At that time the Afghan tribal warlords, who’d been our covert allies in the Cold War fight against Russia, stimulated further opium war profits & production during their internecine battle for power, especially after the Soviets withdrew in 1990. 

10th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 8, patrol through a poppy field in the Kajaki Dam green zone, Helmand province, Afghanistan, April 19
Now we have entered the scene, been fighting ten years, and opium production continues to soar forever entwined with the spoils of war, and the further decimation of a country.   One line from a worthwhile scholarly study by Chouvy sums it up. Illicit opium production thrives on war economies and poverty.” [read study-- Afghanistan’s Opium Production in Perspective

With huge exports of illegal opium, bumper crops fueled by our prolonged war, comes increased addictive use by Afghans involved or close to its production.  Opium as a medical panacea has been in some use in Afghanistan since at least the B.C. times of Alexander the Great.  But widespread addiction is a modern phenomenon.
Afghans shoot up heroin in Kabul -- Photo by Larry Towell

A United Nations survey begun this month is widely expected to show that at least 1 in 12 people in Afghanistan abuses drugs — double the number in the last survey four years ago.  From NPR story, April 17, 2009.  This program, and its sequel, best typify how a drug trade in a poor war-torn country drags down its inhabitants, and we are now 4 years further into the pit.  Read and listen at

Some more sensational reports have implied that the explosion of opium abuse is encouraged by the Taliban, or due to an innate defect of character in the Afghan peoples.  Afghan infants fed pure opium” CNN, 1-24-11.  “Opium addiction ravages Afghan families--Scourge of remote villages leaves even babies hooked” MSNBC, 8-9-09.   [see links to videos below]  We should remember that opium tincture and paregoric are still given, though not drugs of choice, in the U.S. pharmacopeia for diarrhea, and off-label for colic, and to put baby to sleep.  Yet widespread use by younger and younger children, babies born addicted because of their moms’ and adults’ around them addiction, is certainly a scourge.
The Mullahs and Taliban for their part have maintained that opium production & addiction is amoral, non-Islamic.  However, like many religions, they have often looked the other way for purpose of political & financial gain.  The drugs are taxed by the Taliban, the police and corrupt government officials.  They are not producing or trafficking, but they, along with many others in the national government we support, skim a profit.

Drug addiction and guns addiction and war addiction are history’s three-headed monster, dominating countries and the people within them until they fail, losing their souls to the opioid of power. It can happen in Afghanistan, and it can happen in the USA, and all places in between—to rich and poor alike.  There is an important 1988 PBS documentary on how the paths of former U.S. presidents and bankers and drug runners intersect—Drugs Guns and the CIA.
’ve lost my video copy, and it doesn’t seem to be available anywhere, but the transcript can be accessed at the site immediately below .  Take the time to read.  It gives a perspective on how those in power have often, from Vietnam and contiguous "Golden Triangle'' to Nicaragua to present day Afghanistan, justified the evils of addiction and war, as the means to fight for, and fortify, our freedoms.  The addiction history of Afghanistan war should once again make Gospel clear that freedom, much less salvation, can never be reached by employing evil, in the supposed service of good.

Mainstream media videos

Illumination by Kathy Brahney

Addendum--further background reading--will follow later this week.

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