The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has just released its 2007 report on the state of Afghanistan's opium industry and - surprise, surprise - it's growing!
According to the UNODC, "..opium is now equivalent to more than half (53%) of the country's licit GDP."
The report notes that the opium price in Afghanistan is about one-tenth of the wholesale or trade price in Europe and a mere one percent of the street price in Europe. It's always those damned middlemen, isn't it?
Of the $4-billion in opium money that actually reaches Afghanistan, barely a quarter of that actually goes to the peasant farmers. "District officials take a percentage through a tax on crops (known as "ushr"). Insurgents and warlords control the business of producing and distributing the drugs. The rest is made by drug traffickers."
Let's face it - opium is the growth industry in Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries on the planet. We've hummed and hawed and debated what to do about it. We've tried this and that and still haven't got the faintest idea of how to tackle the problem.
Maybe if we set aside a billion dollars to compensate the peasant farmers and then began slinging everyone else who gorges at the opium trough into prisons, we'd be able to slowly get it under control. Wait, that won't work. Why not? Because we'd have to start by incarcerating the Afghan government and then the warlords and their militias. Then we'd be fighting everyone in that miserable country.
We're propping up a government that, as it stands today six years after the Taliban were run out, is not worth saving, one that is financially, culturally and tribally integrated with the warlords and the insurgents. We think we're fighting the Taliban but, in reality, we're just nibbling away at the edges of a much-larger organization, none of it any damned good.