Opium War

Written by Madiha Rauf 11:47 am International Relations, Pakistan, Published Content, Research Papers

The Incessant Opium War in Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s relation to the illegal drug trade can be traced back to the 1980s. Since then, opium cultivation has become an integral part of Afghanistan’s economy and the livelihoods of its farmers. The author, Madiha Rauf, notes that although the US and the previous Afghan governments have introduced measures to reduce opium production and trade, the efforts have been half-hearted. In reality, Afghanistan’s opium trade has not only benefitted the warlords and the Taliban but also the previous regimes. Although the Taliban regime has made promises to eradicate the illegal drug trade, given the state’s dependency on it, it is unlikely to fulfill these promises and the opium war in Afghanistan might not see an end in the near future.
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About the Author(s)
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Madiha Rauf has a bachelor's degree in international relations from SZABIST, Islamabad. She has also obtained multiple foreign certificates and is currently pursuing an internship with the Center for Strategic and Contemporary Research, a research institute in Islamabad.


Afghanistan’s infamous rise to become the world’s top opiate supplier is linked to a lack of official control over internal matters, as well as heavily armed and influential regional group leaders inside the Golden Crescent, which includes Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The nature of the opium war in Afghanistan has considerably transformed. It took a long time for Afghanistan and international donors to see the drug economy as a real problem and relate it to regional instability.

The main purpose of this research is to identify the causes that were the driving force behind the failure of anti-narcotics measures in Afghanistan. The collected data was analyzed in order to find out the causes and effect of international efforts’ failure in combating poppy cultivation.

Unfortunately, many of the anti-narcotics strategies implemented not only failed to lower the scale and breadth of Afghanistan’s illicit economy, but also had substantial negative consequences for the country’s main goals of peace, state-building, and economic rehabilitation. Despite the fact that communities worldwide have spent billions of dollars since 2001 to combat the opium problem, the strategic framework has never met its objectives for numerous reasons.

Submissions 2023


Afghanistan remains a prime focus of the international community due to myriad threats emanating from it. Apart from the Taliban-perpetrated violence, political instability, weak institutions, war-driven economy, and rampant corruption, the issue of the drug trade and opium cultivation remains a serious concern of the international community.

Over the last five years, Afghanistan has accounted for nearly 85 percent of global opium production, and the illegal production has remained high in 2019 (UN, 2019). The illegal trade in Afghan opiates is a problem that affects every part of the globe. Pakistan shares a 2,250 kilometer frontier with Afghanistan, a war-torn region. The fact that Pakistan’s border is porous and badly controlled has led to a slew of issues.

A big cross-border drug trade involves huge amounts of money. Opioid trafficking from Afghan processing centers to global consumer markets necessitates a network of routes and facilitation by domestic and foreign criminal organizations. Three main trafficking routes have been identified for opiate smuggling from Afghanistan—the Balkan route (from Western Europe to Central Europe), the Southern route (from Pakistan to Iran), and the Northern route (Central Asia to Russia) (UNODC 2018).

Subsequently, Afghanistan has come to be globally known as a narco-state. Afghanistan’s opium trade dates back to the 1980s when drug traffickers were significantly involved in funding the resistance against the Soviet-backed Afghan communist regime in Kabul. After the withdrawal of the former Soviet troops and the eventual takeover of the country by the Taliban, opium production plummeted after the former issued an edict and banned its cultivation.

The UN acknowledged the Taliban’s effort saying that the opium production was down by 94 percent, from 3,300 tons in the year 2000, to 185 tons in 2001 (UNODC, 2003). However, after the US invasion of Afghanistan, Afghanistan relapsed into poppy cultivation. According to the UNODC report of 2020, opium production in Afghanistan had risen to almost 90 percent in the aftermath of the US invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001.

Afghanistan is a component of the Golden Crescent—an opium and heroin-producing region that includes Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the mountainous region of Iran. Apart from its health hazards, opium cultivation and trade seemed to benefit the Taliban insurgency in the war-ravaged Afghanistan.

The Taliban insurgents seemed to profit from the burgeoning opium cultivation by taxing the drugs and raising finances to fund their insurgency. According to a report, since 9/11 the Taliban raised 400 million USD per year from poppy alone (Wee Na, 2018). It is well known that insurgency and the drug trade are intertwined and cannot be dealt with separately.

The international community began steps to eradicate opium cultivation after realizing the impact of opium addiction among Afghans and beyond, as well as the monetary benefit obtained by insurgents in their war against the Afghan government and its international allies. According to a 2014 report by The Atlantic, the US invested 10 billion USD to eradicate poppy in Afghanistan and raise necessary anti-narcotics institutions like the Anti-narcotic Force (ANF) (Brown, 2014). However, all these efforts failed to bring the desired results. Subsequently, Afghanistan occupies the world stage as the biggest opium-producing country in the world.                                   

Research Methodology

The nature of this study is qualitative and descriptive in nature. The analysis is based on data collected from secondary sources. The paper also relies upon the primary data collected by Gretchen Peters, the Executive Director of the Center on Illicit Networks and Organized Crime (CINTOC). She spent five years traveling the border areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan to research and write her book “Seeds of Terror”.

Officials and CIA Involvement

The Afghan soil is considered rich in natural drug plants like opium and hashish and has seen their growth in the region for centuries. However, opium cultivation reached its full potential in the backdrop of the civil war within Afghanistan after the Soviet occupation. From 1979 through 1989, the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) ran the operation code-named Cyclone, which supplied guns and handled financial problems for the mujahideen in Afghanistan (Rouland, 2014).

Trucks and mules supplied by the CIA to convey arms and supplies to the mujahideen were also used to deliver opium to the refining facilities along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. During that time, the output supplied roughly half of all heroin entering the US market. The US officials admitted in 1990 that they had failed to take any sort of action against what they knew was a lucrative drug trade in the region because of a desire to not offend their Afghani and Pakistani allies (Haq, 1996).

In 1993, a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) officer called Afghanistan the new Colombia of the drug world (Schneider, 2003). The CIA has, since then, reiterated that at the time the goal was to remove the Soviet presence in Afghanistan and to achieve this goal by any means necessary. Income from the opium trade allowed the warlords to finance their military campaigns to fight the war against the Soviet Union; therefore, the CIA admitted to turning a blind eye (McCoy, 2018). The success of the rebels backed by drug money eventually led to the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan.

The post-9/11 period proved to play a destabilizing role both in corrupting the Afghan government, territory and also fueling the Taliban insurgency. Despite the international community pouring millions of dollars to eradicate poppies from Afghanistan, the entire effort has witnessed a failure. There are numerous reasons behind the rise of such massive cultivation of poppy but most importantly it is the market that demands it (Brown, 2018).

Growing poppy as compared to some other alternative crops is more profitable. That is why the Taliban soon lifted the ban on poppy in September 2001 and after 9/11, when the US initiated the War on Terror, they saw opium cultivation as a means to finance their terror (Perl, 2001). The post-war government in Afghanistan and the post-war economy in Afghanistan are now being labeled as a narco-state.

According to a 2014 investigation by The Atlantic, opium production is not only tolerated but also a source of revenue for the local administration (Brown, 2014). It also states that since the fall of the Taliban the United States has invested $10 billion to fight the opium war in Afghanistan. The US has made efforts to terminate poppy cultivation, stop the manufacturing of opium, establish rehabilitation centers, build a special vigorous anti-narcotics police force, and create criminal justice program. But in 2014, about 89 percent of total opium cultivation occurred in southern and western regions of Afghanistan, where the insurgents were active ( UNODC, 2014).

The lack of government and international measures to restrict the cultivation of crops is evident. Over the years, although the local Afghan and the international governments have pledged to combat drugs “when it comes to practice government makes secret deals behind the scenes to upgrade themselves’’ (Ahmed, 2016).  

The former Afghanistan president, Hamid Karzai, and his brother Ahmad Wali Karzai are some of the wealthiest officials in the country (Sorkin, 2012). As reported in the New York Times, Ahmad Karzai has been directly implicated in being connected with the CIA, even running a CIA-backed paramilitary group to counter the Taliban insurgency (Kelly, 2013).

Another report by the New York Times, that looked intensively into corruption and drug trafficking in Afghanistan, came to the conclusion that the Karzai family has benefitted greatly by being useful to the CIA and to the US officials and that the two are extensively linked (Filkins, Mazzetti & Risen, 2009). This should not be surprising when considering the fact that during the invasion, the CIA supported warlords and tribes in order to combat the Taliban.

The Karzai family was pivotal to this strategy. The report continues and states, ‘’Hundreds of millions of dollars are flowing into the country mainly in the southern region of Afghanistan and nothing happens without the official region leaders knowing about it’’ (Filkins, Mazzetti & Risen, 2009).

Mr. Karzai’s control over central bridges crossing the Helmand River, according to a former top Afghan interior minister, is a major source of his influence on the drug traffic. The areas like Garmsir, Nad Ali, and Marja are the opium-growing regions between Helmand province and Kandahar. As a result, he was able to charge drug traffickers exorbitant fees to allow their drug-laden vehicles to cross those bridges (Filkins, Mazzetti & Risen, 2009).

An opium poppy field in Helmand, Afghanistan
An opium poppy field in Helmand, Afghanistan

It is evident that the United States was involved in the narcotics trade to some extent. Opium production did not decline during the years of US occupation, and this was only possible because the US and other governments in the area turned a blind eye for one reason or another. In February 2020, five top police officials were arrested in charge of drug peddling. Ahmad Ahmadi, the head of the counter-narcotics force in Kabul and also the mafia king, was arrested while fleeing the country (Saif, 2020).

Why do Farmers Grow Poppies?

Farmers see the fragile security environment of Afghanistan as an opportunity to make up for the lost time. Poppy guarantees cash in hands and farmers make 10 times more with the drug than other crops. The money that farmers make isn’t huge. The driving force behind Afghanistan’s opium chain is the warlords and their militants and commanders who are in dire need to maintain profit to continue their armed struggle.

The farmers get a nominal share of profit; they borrow cash for seeds and in the end, they only get a few dollars per acre. Special privileges are given to farmers who grow opium. Landless farmers are forced to accept the crop selection of landlords who control the access to land and water.

There is another reason, such as household debts, that helps in the continuation of opium cultivation. Some farmers are rich in resources but the majority are resource-poor. Thus, opium cultivation requires sharecropping arrangements, so poor farmers have no other choice but to grow opium in those land.

The easy transport of opium and storage is what makes it more attractive than other crops. Opium is drought-resistant, easy to store, and well-suited for Afghanistan’s climate. It is the perfect plant to grow in the rubble of a broken country. So, the Taliban began to impose taxes across all of the profitable supply lines—from cultivation to trafficking (Jahangir & Javaid, 2018).

In Afghanistan, opium credit, known as salaam, is usually given to farmers through which they sell their crops before the harvest and that too at a price lower than the market price. Once the crops are harvested the lenders can resell them at a higher price in the market. it is the only means for farmers to obtaining credit during the winter. However, in international market groups, the individuals involved in the shipment and distribution of opium profit more than those involved in cultivation and production (Mansfield, 2018).

When in comparison to other legal markets, the opium market is heterogenous, high on social standing and friendship. Afghanistan’s fragile environment and frequent military intervention impose critical decisions based on trust and risk such as how to avoid discernment. Once it’s done, the next step is to maximize profit. Current control strategies such as crop eradication, crop replacements, have had obstructive consequences, serving interests in the armed conflict and favoring those who want the war in Afghanistan and the illegal opium trade to continue.

War disrupts social and economic order, allowing for the emergence of a new system of power, profit, and protection due to which the illicit opium economy in Afghanistan is still at large. A country where there’s a weakening of law and order, instability, insecurity, and uncertainty, provides opportunities for armed groups to benefits from the alternative illicit economies across borders.

The Afghan government has been trying to stamp out illegal crops for years but farmers are hooked. According to Mohammad Nadir, a farmer in the southern province of Kandahar, with two acres of opium-growing land, his annual production would provide more than $3,000 in revenue. In comparison, if he switched to producing wheat, it would earn him less than $1,000. Nadir is further required to divide its profit with the Taliban in exchange for their security and assistance in the search for smugglers to sell the produce (Sameem, 2018).

US Investment to Counter Opium Production in Afghanistan

Because farmers and armed organizations are economically interdependent, increasing opium production reduces security. Farmers want income, while armed individuals require earnings in order to purchase weapons, compensate their fighters, and ransom the government officials. In 2016, the US poured $5-8 billion in counternarcotics campaigns in Afghanistan but despite all that, 2016 set a new record for opium production, indicating a link between opium production and a decrease in security (TOLO, 2017).

According to the United Nations, despite years of efforts to eradicate opium, opium production rose up to 87 percent in 2017 as compared to 2016 (UNODC, 2017). In 2017, to encourage farmers to cultivate wheat, the government donated over 10,000 tonnes of seeds and 20,000 tonnes of urea, which is mostly used as a fertilizer (Sameem, 2018). Many farmers gathered wheat seeds but never planted them.

The US is working with local forces to choke off the revenue generated from opium by launching airstrikes against drug labs in several sections of the country but opium output continues to rise. The US military began using airstrikes and special raids to target the Taliban’s narcotics facilities in 2017—the year which set the highest record of opium production (Hennigan, 2019). The US has spent nearly $8.9 billion in counternarcotic efforts since 2001, yet the opium economy continues to prosper, accounting for 85 percent of the illicit opium trade in the world (Reuters, 2020). 

Opium molasses, made from Afghanistan’s cast field and refined into heroin and morphine, were transported into different countries for many years. They are now being processed at crude facilities all over Afghanistan. Unfortunately, it was found that the Taliban drug labs consist of a wood burner, barrels, and drug precursors, which are easy to build and take three days to be in function again.

Corruption and the Eroding the Rule of Law

Afghanistan has an opium economy that has only increased over the years despite the international efforts to minimize it. The state which once used to produce apricots and grapes now is heavily dependent on poppy growth. This has led to corruption at every possible level—from local policemen to government officials. Farmers are used to bribing anti-narcotic officers and police to turn a blind eye, protect and transport their packages.

Moreover, about 25% of the 295 elected parliament members of Afghanistan, before the Taliban takeover, were also accused of being involved in the drug trade. “Except for the minister of interior, all the working lower persons from heads of departments are somehow involved in drug trafficking,” stated Afghanistan labor minister, Syed Ikramuddin (Glaze, 2007). In sum, corruption at the political level is so widespread that it threatens the public institution, creating a region of violence and instability.

Opium: Bankrolling Insurgent Groups in Afghanistan

According to Gretchen Peters, “Different insurgent groups intersect with the opium trade in different ways, and some do not engage in the drug trade at all, or they profit off other types of organized crime, such as protection rackets, extortion or smuggling timber or gemstones.” She explains that while some Taliban leaders tax whatever illegal trade is prevalent in the areas they operate in, others have resorted to collaborating with local or regional exporters of opium products. The Taliban commanders either run opium-processing or heroin manufacturing labs or rent their fighters to protect drug shipments and caches.

The Executive Director of CINTOC reveals that the ruling Taliban leaders gain a percentage from the profit earned from the Taliban commanders through the drug trade and other crimes. She state, “The shura has, at times, also directed farm output quotas and coordinated the development of drug labs within Taliban control zones.”   

Implications of US Withdrawal

With the US withdrawal, the fate of the opium war and the illicit drug trade in Afghanistan seems unchanged. During uncertain times of economic collapse or war, dependence on opium and other drugs appears to be the only way out.

Voicing the implications of the US withdrawal, Gretchen Peter pointed out that in the duration of its war in Afghanistan, the US has failed to reduce the opium trade in the region, hence the withdrawal of the US will not reduce the opium output. However, keeping in view the Taliban takeover, she explains that it ‘’will likely spark an increase in drug output across Afghanistan, something the region should worry about.’’

International Efforts to Eradicate Narcotics

Opium and poppy cultivation is not something new but has characterized Afghanistan since World War II (Brown, 2020). According to international assessments, the drop in opiate output over the previous two decades was due to opium crop disease, global and local market saturation, unfavorable climatic circumstances such as a famine, or a brief state of coercion tactics in particular sections of Afghanistan that did not last and broke down.

Unfortunately, many anti-drug efforts implemented in the 2000s not only failed to reduce the scale and breadth of the illegal drug economy, but also had unintended implications for other goals—peace initiatives, economic rebuilding, and state-building. In December 2001, 25 prominent Afghan officials along with warlords and powerbrokers met in a UN meeting in Bonn, Germany to decide on a plan for building a new constitution, centralized security, safety of minorities, and women rights (CFC, 2012).

The concept of interim authority was established in the Bonn Agreement and it also supported the war against opium, organized crime, and terrorism. But unfortunately, the accord failed at delivering its objectives and was soon dissolved. It failed to tackle the underlying power uncertainties and escalated further violence by not providing political representation to Pashtuns. Thus, the opium war remains the least concerned area of international donors (Vendrell, 2012).

During 2002-2003, Britain pledged to compensate farmers with US$350 for each jerib of opium they destroyed. However, the strategy was dogged by corruption and moral hazard from the outset, and it was absorbed in less than a year. To combat narcotics trafficking, the Counter Narcotics Police (CNP) was founded in 2003 with help from the US Department of State’s International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) program and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) (Brown, 2020).

In 2004, Afghanistan adopted its first constitution in three decades, paving the way for the political and developmental foundations of a country (CFC, 2012). The anti-narcotics strategy during the Bush administration was built on five pillars—poppy eradication, drug interdiction, judicial reform, public awareness programs, and economic and agricultural development assistance (SIGAR, 2018).

Whereas in the period of Obama’s administration, the country faced a policy change. It shifted its focus to the creation of more agriculture sector jobs, encouraging alternative and livelihood programs. The policy also signified a change in attention away from local farmers and towards high-level drug dealers (Senate Narcotics Caucus, 2010). The interdiction measures used by the International Security Assistance Force for Afghanistan (ISAF), NATO, and the Resolute Support (RS) in 2008 did not bankrupt the Taliban, nor did they change the political and economic structure, corruption, or promote any regional company (Brown, 2020).

Another significant change occurred after the US Department of Defense (DOD) in 2008 enabled the US armed forces to directly get involved in counter-narcotic drug missions. Prior to this strategic shift, military authorities avoided drug-related programs for fear that they would divert attention away from counter-insurgency operations. James Fearon, a scholar, discovered that when insurgent organizations are sponsored by illegal narcotics, civil wars run 39 years longer.

Alternative livelihood schemes include the first-ever export of apples from Afghanistan to India in 2009, as well as the opening of a sophisticated fruit juice concrete plant in Kabul that would buy fruit from 50,000 Afghan farmers in the provinces of Kandahar, Helmand, Wardak, Ghazni, Paktya, Farah, and Kapisa, and the USAID funding for work projects such as canal restoration and infrastructure (Senate Narcotics Caucus, 2010).

In 2012, the Ministry of Counter Narcotics (MCN), with other key line ministries, established the National Alternative Livelihood Policy (2012-2024) to incorporate counter-narcotics into each of the National Priority Programs (NPPs) (Pain, Kerami & Nemat, 2021).

To combat drug trafficking, the former president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, adopted a four-year strategy (2015-2019)—the National Drug Action Plan—produced by the Ministry of Counter-Narcotics’ (MCN) units such as the Sensitive Investigative Unit (SIU) and the National Interdiction Unit (NIU), which are US-funded specialist units under CNP (SIGAR, 2018). In 2017, the SIU and the NIU collaborated on 84 combined operations, resulting in the seizure of narcotics.

The Ghani government did not assist or promote illicit drug manufacturing as a matter of policy, although there have been allegations that the government officials profited from the drug trade. The major UNODC donors of drug demand reduction programs are the US, the European Union (EU), Germany, Japan, Italy, Canada, and the UK. Capacity Building for Drug Demand Reduction in Afghanistan (Kabul, Balkh, Herat) is one of the UNODC’s projects that got an approval budget of $2,925,700 with a duration from 2003-2008 (UNODC, 2013).

Similarly, in 2005 drug reduction program in Badakhshan, Nangarhar, and Kandahar provinces approved a budget of $1,002,977 for a duration of three years. Another significant initiative was the Drug Demand Reduction Information, Advice, and Training Service for Afghan Communities in Refugee Camps in Baluchistan and the North West Frontier Province, which began in 2004 and ran for six years, costing $898,272 (UNODC, 2013).

Similarly, in 2019 Drug Demand Reduction Policy (2019-2023) was introduced which is the revised version of the 2012 policy but has not been implemented yet. In 2019, Ashraf Ghani abolished the MCN and absorbed it into the Ministry of Interior (Pain, Kerami & Nemat, 2021).

Causes of Failure of Eradication Strategy

The majority of anti-narcotics initiatives implemented after 2001 have been ineffective for a variety of reasons. Eradication and ban on opium have only affected poor farmers and socially marginalized communities. Alternative livelihood schemes have been poorly planned and inefficient in creating long-term income for people who rely on opium production.

Furthermore, many of these plans never materialized. Cash-for-work initiatives only touched a limited fraction of Nangarhar’s population, namely those who live in cities. International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) conducted thousands of interdiction raids with the purpose of damaging the Taliban’s finances, and substantial amounts of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and opium were confiscated.

However, the interdiction never changes the strategic picture of the opium war because of the Taliban’s diverse economic portfolio, as well as its adaptability and access to the drug market. The ISAF’s approach of targeting Taliban drug traffickers on a case-by-case basis convinced the Afghan drug traffickers that the best option to maintain their business is to work closely with the Afghan government. Even better, supply the US and other foreign troops with counter-insurgency intelligence, militias, and real estate assets.

Interdiction operations occasionally wiped away whole household finances, and interdiction and airpower were not sustained owing to humanitarian and political complications. Since the complexities and obscurity of Afghanistan’s economic and political landscapes, most international initiatives were found to be problematic, discriminating, and unscrupulous power brokers, further inflaming public animosity, exacerbating the country’s lack of accountability, and continuing the opium war (Brown, 2020).

According to SIGAR, the US-sponsored 3,400 interdiction operations in Afghanistan between 2008 and 2017, resulting in the recovery of 452,771 kg of opium, amounting to over 1% of opium produced in Afghanistan alone in 2016 (Pain, Kerami & Nemat, 2021). Afghanistan is a complex country, divided between various political actors, branches of government, and international levels where opium possesses different priorities, challenges to them.

In 2005, the British advocated for the dismissal of Governor of Helmand, Sher Muhammad Akhunzada, as an example of a lack of coherence. Then-president, Hamid Karzai, valued his close ties with the province and the Taliban. He was, nevertheless, tied to the opium trade. The British backed Mohammed Daud’s appointment in 2006, but he lacked local ties, and President Karzai removed him a year later, following pressure from past governors who wanted to be re-appointed to the office (Pain, Kerami & Nemat, 2021).

Counter-narcotics efforts lacked consistent implementation and coordination. the decision of Ashraf Ghani to disband the MCN in order to consolidate several ministries somehow represents that the struggle against the illegal drug economy does not seem to be a continued emphasis for the international community or the Afghan population.

According to SIGAR, in Afghanistan and South Asia, the policy prioritizes political resolution, which might help counter-narcotics operations. The strategy did not provide any methods, tactics, goals, and objectives related to counter-narcotics in Afghanistan (SEWELL, 2020). Since 2008, the United States has invested about $156.9 million in Afghanistan on drug treatment and rehabilitation initiatives (SIGAR, 2019).

Nasrullah Khan, the deputy counter-narcotics commander, said in an interview that he “does not blame farmers.” The actual culprits are the drug lords, including the Taliban. The drug mafia compelled peasants to produce illicit crops so that they could make a lot of money, and farmers continued to owe them money. He also admits that the amount of money provided to undertake raids is decreasing.

He explained that the police can win the opium war, but they will require government funding to do it. According to him, they “can win if they pay for the tractors, staff, and logistics, but that is not going to happen.” It is also seen that the Taliban trade drugs for weapons. The Ghani government was weak and the smugglers were strong. Warlords use poor, illiterate people to do their risky work and they are the ones that are caught, not the bigwigs.

The Taliban have tasted the profits so they will never let it go easily. The border is also porous; drugs take a number of routes out of the country, with handlers moving them through neighboring nations to destinations in Asia, Russia, Europe, and, increasingly, the USA. The drugs did not only profit the smugglers, drug lords, and the Taliban but also the former Afghan government officials as well.

There’s always an irony when officials talk about drugs. As stated by police officers stationed at Takhar, It was believed by the former officials that opium cultivated areas were the most insecure areas of Afghanistan because the government was weak and the areas fell under Taliban influence. But in Takhar province, there is a neighborhood with villas belonging to serious drug traffickers.

Takhar is considered a peaceful province under the control of the Afghan government (Gulabzoi, 2015). However, Wais Ahmad Barmak, the former minister of interior, revealed in 2018 that 1,906 persons detained on drug smuggling allegations were government personnel. A year ago, the Herat airport police commander was also arrested on drug trafficking accusations (Latifi, 2020).

Opium Addiction, Cultivation and Unemployment

Unemployment is another factor that attracts people towards opium cultivation. Opium is the country’s biggest cash crop and provides almost 600,000 full-time jobs (Rowlatt, 2019). Most of the drug users claim that the lack of jobs has forced them towards the drug business and opium addiction. 2,000 more rehab beds were created by the Ghani government during the epidemic (Wilczewska, 2020). However, the initiative may be insufficient when it comes to countering opium addiction.

Many of the patients diagnosed with opium or any other type of drug addiction, often relapse after leaving the hospital or treatment center, whether due to a lack of career possibilities, a terrible atmosphere, a lack of support, visibility and easy access to drugs, or peer pressure. The incompetence of the government to provide economic and social security, and justice for its citizens, automatically favors the role of extremism, drug traffickers, and criminals (Siddikoglu, 2015).

Opium Culture in Afghanistan

Although the Taliban regime has vowed to ban the opium trade, it is uncertain to happen. Amidst of humanitarian crisis after the Taliban takeover and the US decision to freeze Afghan assets, the citizens have been left with no choice but to turn to opium as a means of survival. Opium culture among youths, children, women, and men is so embedded in Afghan society that it is unlikely to be resolved.

Afghanistan’s dependency on opium not only contributes to its national GDP but also sustains its population. Any effort to eradicate this opium culture requires a regional strategy because, as stated by Gretchen Peters, “Afghanistan’s drug economy is not limited to Afghanistan. The drugs may be grown and processed in Afghanistan, but the traffickers almost all live in Pakistan and Iran and launder their money in the UAE.”

Exit Strategy

With the Taliban in power, Afghanistan needs support and assistance from the international community to step up coordination and take action against counter-narcotic issues. Afghanistan is going through a lot of transformational changes; in view of this, its neighboring countries can play a vital role by keeping a check on security checkpoints to seize drug shipments.  

Since India, Pakistan, and Iran are the hardest-hit states in the region when it comes to opium or drug addiction and trafficking, it is imperative that these states cooperate with Afghanistan to formulate a regional plan that focuses on drugs’ demand reduction, public education, interdiction of major traffickers and alternative livelihoods.


The purpose of this research was to explore the reasons for the failure of international efforts to eradicate poppy from Afghanistan. Warlords ruled over different parts of the country, utilizing opium profits to buy guns, expand militias, and tighten their grip. Poppy cultivation is also a lot more profitable than other crops, which makes it appealing to poor farmers.

The relationship between the war effort and anti-narcotics operations has been disregarded for many years. It has now been shown that the two efforts are identical. We must admit that the efficiency of the counter-narcotics policy in Afghanistan was critical to the war’s progression. Given Afghanistan’s changing security, economic, and political circumstances, there is no realistic possibility of significantly diminishing the Afghan opium poppy business, the country’s economic dependency on it for years, and ending the opium war in Afghanistan.

The Taliban, on the other hand, are not the only ones who profit from the illegal drug trade in a variety of ways. Various criminal gangs, many of which are related to the former Afghan government, Afghan police and other sectors of the Afghan security forces, tribal elites, and numerous ex-warlords who have worked as government officials at various levels of the Afghan government, are also engaged.                           


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