Without opium there is no Taliban. The 20-year Western mission in Afghanistan was not able to break down that vicious circle so easy to understand, according to which, the same fundamentalists who profit from the white gold poppy use the money to buy the guns and the explosives with which they perpetuate violence, which in turn generates poverty that forces citizens to work for them in the cultivation of drugs as the only option.
More than what the good-natured verbal fiction of these two decades has wanted to portray, the people trust that crazy regime that gives them the sustenance that the State cannot offer, something that has resulted in successive governments, all weak, without authority, Broth of anarchy, violence, poverty, more opium, more money, more weapons for the Taliban and so on over and over again. And start over with an eternal financial return that ten years ago the United Nations already estimated at 342 million euros each year.
To visualize the greater or lesser strength of these sons of Allah from 2001 to now, it would have been enough to document the extent of the land from a bird’s eye view.the poppy fields, wild since 2005, which is also when the insecurity in the extremely complex and stormy Afghan map began to get out of hand.
If in the year immediately prior to the North American incursion commanded by George Bush 82,000 hectares were counted dedicated to this purpose, in 2020 they had shot up to 224,000, although in 2017 it had broken the record of 328,000, according to the latest report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime released this April. The growth of the surface was detected in all the regions except those of the east and with particular power in the south. Like the Taliban. That in the midst of this opium boom – of which Afghanistan is number one in the world, with 90% of total production – what threatens to be another inexhaustible source of dollars has been taken from practically nothing: the extraction of ephedrine, present in a plant that grows wild in the mountains, from which it is obtained methamphetamine. In other words, the principle of the powerful and addictive crystal, also called ‘meth’ or ‘ice’. A synthetic drug of low price and high euphoria, which are the guarantee of its success.
The industry of shiny psychostimulant rocks has already emerged in the country and the Taliban are trying to penetrate the international market with them. This is stated in a special document of November 2020 published by the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), which confirms enormous concern about the potential of this new market even to compete with the opium economy in the area in the southwest and Nangarhar, east of Kabul.
His estimates suggest that the movement led by Mullah Omar has been collecting 3.5 million euros annually thanks to the taxes it collects from collectors, processors, traffickers linked to ephedrine. And that has been with the western military coalition within its borders, still guarding a presumed stability, an institutional order that in two days a fantasy has been revealed. Or a nightmare. The consummation of Afghanistan as the great narco-state is a matter of time.
Little time. The speed with which the infrastructure of obtaining the crystal has multiplied has surprised the European researchers of the EMCDDA, who through informants, documentary sources and the analysis of satellite images have detected an explosion of facilities since 2017. It was already known since 2013 of this production in the provinces of Nimroz and, possibly, to the west in Herat, under Spanish responsibility, but also that the raw material of the drug, ephedrine, was extracted from medicines such as cough syrups or decongestants imported in bottles, by tons, from pharmacies in other countries. Expensive and laborious to do, mission of skilled chemists.
But what they have now discovered is something else: those wild plants that grow in the Afghan heights, the ephedras, it is enough to collect them, dry them for 25 days and extract the precious ephedrine from them through a cheap method and available to anyone. They do it in the ‘kitchens’, which according to the EU researchers went from being 1 to 30 in three years only in Bakwa, a district of Faragh and the geographical epicenter of this whole shed. In November, 329 were already counted. They are easily identified from the air, because they have authentic open-air ponds where the considerable waste generated by the entire operation is dumped.
It is an “easy, anyone can learn” skill, they describe in the area. The plant, for example 450 kilos – for which 283.5 euros would be paid to those who climb the mountains in search of it – to soak in a radioactive-looking cocktail: water, gasoline, salt and soda caustic. Once filtered, another poisonous combination is added to the liquid obtained: more salt, battery acid and xylene, and the result is a “dry yogurt”. Specifically, 15 kilos of ephedrine, whose value is already 1,005 euros, and once converted into methamphetamine will give for ten kilos, whose initial price will rise to 2,590 euros.
This last step, that of obtaining the glass ready for consumption, is much more technical and the burning and dusty climate of Bakwa is not very suitable. The Drug Observatory estimates that the studied enclave has capacity to produce 98 tons of ephedrine per month, then 65.5 tons of stimulant, although much of the manufacturing is believed to take place in other parts of Afghanistan, in areas along the border with Pakistan or neighboring countries such as Iran.
The calculations indicate that the sector already employs 2,300 local employees, with salaries of between 63 and 101 euros for those who collect ephedra or extract the alkaloid substance from it and up to 2,049 for those who deal with final chemistry, which would mean a contribution of 46.8 million to the economy of the area only in salaries. And that’s without Bakwa manufacturing all the glass it could, since doing so would add at least 200 top-paid jobs and sell the finished product, which is believed to raise the amount of money left by the industry to 203 million. . Figures that the battered, when not corrupt State, has no way to match.
Half a century trafficking
The Taliban’s tax on everything that moves in this orbit is 15%. From the sale of natural herbs, from the ephedrine obtained from it, from the trafficking of methamphetamines … It is important not to lose sight of the fact that Islam, whose doctrine the purest representatives on Earth declare, something like the great spiritual reserve of the Koran, prohibits the consumption of drugs. The fact that they have made them their way of life justifies it, according to an analysis carried out for the Spanish Institute for Strategic Studies (IEEE) by Professor Alberto Priego, from the Comillas Pontifical University, arguing that, «thanks to opium it was possible to fight against western infidels flooding their countries with heroin. That is, it is considered a weapon of war.
Author of this theory of the vicious circle mentioned at the beginning that causes instability and poppy cultivation “inevitably attract”, the expert adds that they could not eliminate the plantations when they began to take over the country after the withdrawal of the Soviet invader in 1989. The peasants themselves who had brought them to power could overthrow them and also discovered that his survival depended on that business. Do not talk more.
In reality, the entire assembly of the Afghan narcouniverse is related to the struggle against the Russians and the anarchy that followed their departure.
Priego explains that the first opium traders in the country were the natives who took refuge on the Pakistani border fleeing from the onslaught of the Red Army and began to cultivate poppies, hard against extreme cold and heat, which at the end of the 70s they sold with great benefits to the Persians. They soon hired Afghan resistance soldiers to protect those shipments, task for which the mercenaries charged a commission of 10%, which has already been used to finance terrorist groups.
This war context illuminates the great smugglers, such as Mullah Nasim Akundzada – a fatwa of his in 1981 legalized the poppy -, Pashtun Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Mujahideen leader and ‘warlord’ … who opened the routes of opium and heroin to the West, to Turkey and the Persian Gulf. In the post-Soviet chaos, the expert locates the origin of ‘the Talib’, a group of madrassa students, who configured themselves as ‘The Taliban’ in a mosque controlled precisely by one of the largest large-scale drug traffickers in the region, Haji Bashir Noorzai, supporter of Mullah Omar and still imprisoned in the United States today.
For that matter, half a century of dedication to this business has served to open routes to Europe -Pakistan through the Persian Gulf and Turkey-, to the west through Iran and Turkmenistan and the north, which crosses all of Central Asia to Russia. And there they are, invented and operational for facilitate the market launch of rampant methamphetamine.
Now that the warriors of the worst Sharia have taken control of Afghanistan in an express action, it is worth wondering if there is something to be done to stop these productions, but also why it was not done during the long presence of the international coalition on the ground.
The IEEE examination found that the US policy based exclusively on the eradication of the opium poppy did not work, since the country “does not have a viable economy” regardless of offering other options to the population. Hence, the attempt to promote alternative crops was subsequently addressed, that is, sunflower for opium, corn for opium … a change that crashed with the comparative reality of ridiculous prices against stratospheric prices.
It also did not prosper, as did the successive laboratory bombing campaigns ordered by Washington, which in 2017 destroyed the heroin workshops of the Helmand province, in the center, within the so-called ‘Steel Tempest’ operation. Or so it was believed until the London School of Economics that, in addition to raising to 1,500 million dollars that spent by the United States in the war against this drug, It showed that, basically, in those attacks mud huts had been liquidated. In 2019, in the ephedrine heart of Bakwa, fighter jets obliterated 68 ‘kitchens’. But it was as easy as lifting others next to it, there are photographs where they can be seen.
The reliable fact is that 2020 closed with the verification that this industry is already underway and with opium figures among the four highest ever seen, which incidentally reveals that the furor over such profitable activities was not crushed by the Covid restrictions. Although, the UN warns, what can now be expected is that “the post-pandemic crisis in combination with rising food prices” fertilize an even bigger hatching of the white poppy in the next years. Probably also from ephedra and its substances. And with them, money, weapons, violence, more and more Taliban.