Agencies brace for rise in drugs trafficking

‘Taliban will rely heavily on drugs money to maintain control over their cadres’

August 16, 2021 09:56 pm | Updated 09:56 pm IST - NEW DELHI

The anti-drug law enforcement agencies are suspecting a steep surge in cross-border trafficking of heroin and crystal methamphetamine with the rapid Taliban takeover in Afghanistan.

“Drugs have been a major source of revenue for the Taliban. With the collapse of Afghanistan’s economy, the Taliban will rely heavily on drugs money to maintain control over their cadres. In the recent past, we have already noticed an increase in drug trafficking in the region, mostly through maritime routes,” said a senior Customs official.

According to the latest World Drug Report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Afghanistan reported a 37% increase in the extent of land used for illicit cultivation of opium poppy during 2020 compared to the previous year. Heroin is manufactured using the morphine extracted from opium. The country accounted for 85% of the global total opium production last year. Despite the improved capabilities of Afghan specialised units over the years, drug seizures and arrests had minimal impact on the country’s opium-poppy cultivation and production. “The economic crisis brought on by the pandemic will only increase the appeal of illicit crop cultivation,” said the report.

This apart, Afghanistan is also turning out to be a major source for methamphetamine. In the neighbouring Iran, the proportion of Afghan-origin methamphetamine seizure increased from less than 10% in 2015 to over 90% in 2019, while seizures in Afghanistan increased almost sevenfold that year compared to 2018. The drug is prepared using ephedrine extracted from Ephedra plants in Afghanistan.

The report stated that going by the best estimate, illicit cultivation of opium poppy in 2009 was spread across 1.23 lakh hectare, which increased to 2.24 lakh hectare in 2020. Based on the findings, it said the potential production of over-dry opium was 6,300 tonnes last year compared to 4,000 tonnes in 2009.

Afghanistan’s southwestern region (Helmand, Kandahar, Nimroz, Uruzgan, and Zabul Provinces) continued to dominate opium-poppy cultivation and accounted for 68% of the national total in 2020, it said.

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