In a bid to wean Afghan farmers away from opium cultivation and, thereby, dry up the “savings account” of the Taliban, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) had, according to a WikiLeaks cable, wanted the World Food Programme (WFP) to exercise the less economical option of sourcing wheat from Afghanistan instead of Pakistan.

That the Taliban was withholding huge stocks of opium from the market and treating them like “savings accounts” was revealed by the former UNODC Executive Director, Antonio Maria Costa, in a September 18, 2009, NATO briefing on last year's Afghanistan Opium Survey.

Details of that briefing have now come to light in a leaked U.S. cable released by WikiLeaks on Monday. According to that briefing, Afghanistan then had 12,400 tonnes of opium stocks because it produces more than the world consumes. The stocks, Mr. Costa added, posed a serious threat as it could be used to finance the insurgency.

Asked for details on which parts of the insurgency were gaining the most from narcotics profits, Mr. Costa said there was evidence of emerging narco-cartels along Afghanistan's southern border that are linked to the Taliban. He also refers to a political drug cartel in Afghanistan but does not provide the details, as per the cable.

Acknowledging that the quality of Afghan wheat was low because of diseases, high humidity and pest contamination, he argued that all this was addressable. Though buying wheat from Pakistan and transporting it into Afghanistan is 14 per cent cheaper than procuring it locally, Mr. Costa sought to highlight the spin-offs of such a venture as eradication mechanisms had minimal effects and accounted for only three-to-four per cent in cutting opium cultivation.

More In: International | News