The UN reports that last year the poppy fields in Afghanistan have expanded by 18%, which means that in 2013 the drug production, and respectively the drug trafficking originating from Afghanistan and heading to Central Asia, Russia and Europe will grow significantly. That said, a major concern also emerges from the frequent claims that in the Afghan drug trafficking, without the knowledge of the central command, there are lots of participants originating from the NATO contingent that's present in the country. As Russian foreign minister Lavrov said in an interview, "I have seen reports that Americans are illegally involved in these processes, unbeknown to their command. Not only do we always note all things of this kind, we also examine them in detail and work on them. In those situations when information about anyone's involvement in drug trafficking is confirmed, we tackle these issues fairly and squarely, without trying to 'sweep' them under the carpet."
In the meantime, he acknowledged that, while the international forces are still in Afghanistan and are trying to tackle this threat (without too much of a success, granted) on the other hand, things would've probably been much worse without their presence. If they weren't there, the drug trafficking would've been much bigger, and the terrorist wave would've spilled across the Afghan borders and into Central Asia, and from there, into Russia. Especially through North Caucasus. As we all know, NATO's presence in Afghanistan is only planned to last until 2014, and that's causing some dark predictions about what's to follow after the allies withdraw from there.
The world has entered the 21st century burdened with lots of unsolved problems of global magnitude. Of them, drug addiction and drug trafficking among the worst. The list of threats stemming from this problem can get pretty long: funding terrorism and fueling extremism, state corruption, money laundering, spreading of AIDS and other narcomania-related diseases. Meanwhile, during the 12 years of the US/NATO military presence in Afghanistan, the country has basically turned into the biggest drug producer in the world, accounting for 93% of all opiates in the world. What's worse, the prospects for the near future don't look optimistic at all, because the production of raw opium is constantly growing. Since the international military forces entered the country, the volume of this production has increased three-fold. In 2007 the poppy fields occupied 193 thousand hectares, producing 8200 metric tons of raw opium, worth 820 tons of heroin.
According to insiders to the drug market, in the last decade the drug production in Afghanistan has grown 40 times as a whole. Estimates show that every year 549 tons of opium equivalent is directed to the Russian market, and 711 tons to Europe. Afghanistan is rightly considered the world's monopolist on the heroin market. The decades of endless war have run the country to the ground. The devastated economy, the political chaos and the lack of normal jobs has turned poppy production into the only option for making ends meet for hundreds of thousands of Afghani people.
The enormous drug flow from Afghanistan creates a huge potential for destabilization in the neighboring regions - Central Asia, Russia and China, and indirectly, Europe. Besides, it has turned into a generator for various sources of instability and extremism even in places that are very distant from the epicenter of the drug production. For example, the income from drug trafficking is funding the separatist movements that resort to terrorist insurgence in the Xinjiang autonomous region in China. And in North Caucasus of course.
When the US-led anti-terrorist operation began in Afghanistan 12 years ago, there was hope that it would curb the expansion of drug production. But that hope soon evaporated. It was exactly after the Taliban fell that the production of poppy reached unprecedented proportions and spread throughout the whole territory of the country. Meanwhile, the news about drug storages and labs that have been discovered and destroyed across the country has diminished a lot lately.
The attempts by Kabul and various international organizations to stimulate the re-orientation of the Afghani farmers to start growing alternative crops, including through paying compensations for every hectare of destroyed poppy plantations, haven't met the expectations. Because the size of these compensations is pretty meager compared to the real income that opium production would generate - which is up to 10 times more profitable than growing wheat, and even more profitable compared to cotton. All attempts for forceful destruction of opium crops are being met with resistance from the farmers, often violent resistance.
The 12 years of de facto military occupation of Afghanistan by the allied forces hasn't helped even one bit in curbing the drug production and exportation. In result, only a year before the intended ultimate withdrawal of the international forces, the situation in that respect is worse than ever, and that especially reflects on Central Asia, but also Russia and Europe. The uncomfortable truth is that the international presence not only hasn't affected the drug trafficking in Afghanistan, but some participants in that mission are even involved in the traffic. So, according to mounting allegations, NATO soldiers who get back home on vacation, are being detected by the intelligence services to be smuggling drugs.
Meanwhile, the US command in Afghanistan has indicated that fighting drugs is not considered its "only" priority (probably coming short of stating that it's not one of their top priorities at all). Although many of the poppy fields are often located in close proximity to the NATO bases, and are spreading for tens of miles all around the place. According to the US strategists, the fear is that, if a mass campaign for erradicating the poppy plantations is undertaken, this would deprive the local farmers of all their income and that would lead to their mass defection to the side of the rebellious Taliban. In the meantime, the US military often prefers to stimulate their local allies by turning a blind eye to their participation in drug business. The results from this policy have become well visible. Nowadays, the drug production and trafficking is having an increasingly negative impact on all the countries in the region (and far beyond), creating conditions for further instability - but of course that's happening many thousands of miles away from the US shores. Due to the rampant poverty and unemployment, a large chunk of the local population is gradually being sucked into the drug business, and that income often goes straight into the coffers of various criminal elements and religious extremist groups, it further stimulates corruption in the state institutions, etc. And by the way, the Afghan drug expansion is already threatening the very gene pool of the adjacent countries, seriously undermining their economic development and additionally accelerating population decline.
But what about the drug traffic to Europe? For more than a decade a number of European experts and officials have been warning that the Western Balkans are witnessing the formation of some sort of a "golden triangle", including Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia. We're talking of raw opium deliveries from Afghanistan to the "triangle" (mostly Kosovo), where it's being processed and then transferred to the end consumers across Europe. Interpol has been going on and on about the vast amounts of heroin that's constantly being confiscated from Albanian dealers who hold the monopoly on the market and act in various parts of the continent, ultimately the bulk of that production originating from Afghanistan. According to British intel, the Kosovar drug mafia controls almost the entire European heroin market, and the European criminal groups have surrendered under their pressure. Stu Kellogg, a Canadian captain and former head of one of the UNMIK police departments in Pristina, has revealed a lot of facts about the Kosovar mafiosi spreading heroin all across Europe, while the US representatives in Kosovo are doing their best to deliberately impede the detection and capture of the most prominent Albanian drug dealers, arms dealers and sex-slave traffickers.
Serbian journalist Milovan Drecun has cited UNMIK reports from as far back as 2003 showing that one of the major drug channels starts from Afghanistan, then passes through Turkey, Macedonia, Kosovo and Albania, and ends up in Italy. This chain involves Al Qaeda and the Taliban itself. The most dangerous mafia clan in Albania is the Kula family, which controls all drug trafficking from Turkey, and smuggles arms and illegal immigrants to Italy. The drug and arms trafficking is also the main business of the Abazi family, the Boritsi clan, along with prostitution and funding various criminal groups inside Italy. The group controlled by the Brokai clan includes former politicians and secret services operatives from the communist times in Albania. Their activities include drug trafficking, illegal arms trade and prostitution. These families, all of them Albanian, have organized criminal networks throughout the lesser mafia networks of the Kosovar Albanians, among which the most powerful are Kelmende, Shabani, Luka and others. The dealers of the Albanian mafia families from Kosovo smuggle 4-6 tons of heroin monthly, and their business is worth 2 billion dollars annually. 2/3 of the entire heroin flow to the various world markets passes through this Kosovo hub, 90% of all European heroin being smuggled through there - not without the protection of powerful Western interests.
In conclusion, the international character of the Afghan drug trafficking is a very serious threat to the stability and security not only of the neighboring countries, but also that of the entire Europe, and ultimately, the US itself. This fact demands a coordinated effort of all affected sides to interrupt drug trafficking, and that would involve a good political will and coordination of all actions on all possible levels, starting from taking the political decision itself, up to the practical realization of these decisions. In the meantime, the available potential for cooperation in maximizing the border control and implementing measures for curbing the illegal transit flows of drugs, arms and money, is currently far from its optimal capacity. This obviously necessitates the adoption of much larger-scale cooperative actions aimed at breaking the current negative tendencies, and achieving a breakthrough in the fight against the drug production and trafficking. Now, whether the powerful Western interests that stand behind this hugely lucrative business would allow any of that to happen, is another question - and probably the most important one. Unfortunately, most indications don't allow me to be optimistic in this respect, and my suspicion is that things are only going to get worse before they could possibly get any better. And it might be worth asking ourselves who's benefiting the most from this situation.