Afghanistan is the world's leading supplier of illegal opiates, trafficked as opium, morphine and heroin. Over 95% of the heroin on the UK's streets originates from Afghanistan.
There are clear links between the drugs trade and the occupation in Afghanistan. The drugs trade also fuels corruption, which undermines the development of any future state.
We are under no illusions – tackling the drugs trade takes time and it will not happen overnight. Factors, including poverty, insecurity, corruption and government complicity, all continue to play their bleak roles.
In 2010 military police investigated allegations that British troops returning from duty in Afghanistan are involved in drug trafficking, bringing heroin home with them on flights coming into RAF bases.
An MoD spokesman said: “We take any such reports very seriously and we have already tightened our existing procedures, both in Afghanistan and in the UK”
These revelations were, if anything, somewhat overdue as they come as little surprise from information known about the use of heroin and how it is peddled.
Opium growing is worth £2bn a year in Afghanistan, which produces 90 per cent of the world supply. Of that, more than half is grown in Helmand province. One Afghan drug dealer spoke to the Sunday Times. Identified only as A, he said: “Most of our other customers, apart from drug lords in foreign countries, are the military. The soldiers whose term of duty is about to finish, they give an order to our boss."
“As I have heard, they are carrying these drugs in the military airlines and they can be reached because they are military. They can take it to the USA or England.”
The government aims to reduce demand - something is clearly flawed here. According to the United Nations Drug Control Program (UNDCP), opium cultivation increased by 657% in 2002 after the US military invaded the country under the direction of President George W. Bush. In August 2003 NATO forces took control of security in Afghanistan. In 2006 opium production reached its highest level ever.
The United Nations has published this year’s forecast for the Afghan opium crop and the news is not good. The annual poppy harvest begins soon, and despite all the efforts to reduce cultivation, it looks likely to rise yet again. The harvest in nine of the growing provinces will probably increase and it is expected to remain steady. The nationwide trend now looks to be moving in the wrong direction. This year’s bumper crop means that Afghanistan’s heroin will continue to feed an exploding population of addicts within the country’s own borders as well as others.
Critics say this raises more questions about the Afghanistan invasion with the armed forces failure to stem the heroin production. It is important to highlight the widespread availability and easy access to heroin in our communities. The use of heroin has increased which is not only damaging health but is leading to family and social breakdown.
In terms of the work that we have been doing at CagePrisoners – there has been a completely disproportionate targeting of Muslim communities in the UK in relation to suspected terrorism compared to drug related offences. Those who work within these communities will tell you that the major problems that South Asian Muslim communities in the UK face, are less to do with radicalisation, and more to do with drug dealing.
If the UK government is truly serious about building better and more socially cohesive societies, it should spend its time ensuring that the drug flow from Afghanistan is stemmed, and that the money that is being spent on placing communities in the UK under suspicion, should instead be put toward dealing with distribution of illicit drugs.
Mohammed J Miah