Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Another Bumper Crop

Five kilos of pure heroin for $90 US. That's the going price today in Helmand province in Southern Afghanistan where opium traffickers are expecting another record year.

Asia Times Online reporter Sayed Saleem Shahzad interviewed a British narcotics officer at the British forces' base in Helmand:

"'Undoubtedly, Afghanistan will produce its best bumper poppy crop ever this year, but there is no shortcut to control this monster,' said the official, who asked not to be named.

"'Five kilograms of heroin is sold for US$90 in Helmand province, and the district of Sangeen is the main hub of narcotic-processing labs,' the British official said. He estimated that there are no fewer than 150 such laboratories in the area. About 10 tonnes of opium produces approximately a tonne of heroin.

"'The finished produce of the Sangeen laboratories is sold on the British market for anywhere between $120 and $160 per gram,' the official said.

"'The international buyers sit at the border areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan [Gardi Jungle near Pakistan's Balochistan province] and send local buyers to Lashkar Gah. A full-blown mafia operation runs this business, which includes the Afghan National Police, the Afghan National Army and the local administration. Their connivance goes all the way to assisting the local buyers to get the consignment of heroin to the Gramsir district.'

"'From Gramsir, the Taliban's area starts and a new cartel then transports the consignment up to the Pak-Afghan border. From there they use many deserted coastal points in Balochistan to ship the consignments to the UAE, Europe and other international destinations. Nevertheless, from the Gramsir district nothing can pass through without the consent and connivance of the Taliban ... it is impossible,' the official said.

"The Afghan Eradication Force led by US and British forces simply does not have any idea how to tackle this unlikely joint venture between the Taliban and Afghan security forces and the local administration.

"And critically, in Sangeen district, where most of the processing labs are located, the Taliban and the ISAF have agreed to a ceasefire, in effect allowing the Taliban to go about their business - whether military or otherwise - unimpeded."

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