Afghanistan’s Opium Trade: The Alternatives
For decades, the United States’ ‘War on Drugs’ has plagued our society; we now see prisons bursting at the seams, stretched for all resources as young men with minor possession charges face years inside. However, there has been an ignorance of the even wider implications of this war – one that sees a whole country faced with the dire consequences of the poor decision making of a select group of powerful individuals across the pond. Afghanistan has been forgotten in this war and the effects of policies ignored.
Terrorism and narcotics create an elaborate nexus which has helped Western powers justify their malicious attacks upon Afghanistan for years. I began researching this topic to prove just how devastating the ‘War on Drugs’ has been for Afghans, but once I began following this idea the scale of the situation became clear. The impact of war upon agriculture and the consequential rise in insurgent groups such as the Taliban, are all factors which have pushed many Afghans to opium cultivation. Opium is now one of the only crops able to survive in many parts of the regions and the only crop which can create enough profit to feed families.
This brings us to a potential solution- the resurrection of alternative livelihood developments; a bottom-up approach to reduce the cultivation of opium within Afghanistan and simultaneously create new employment opportunities and skills. An example includes Cash-for-Work schemes. These would include paying local people for the creation of new irrigation canals, which would simultaneously create economic opportunity for individuals and enable further agricultural opportunity allowing others to grow various crops.
However, when broadening this research, and as I neared the conclusion that alternative developments would be an effective solution to an issue of narcotics and recession, it became clear that this was far too easy a solution. The recent removal of funding from foreign powers into Afghanistan means the facilities needed to enable Cash-for-Work schemes simply does not exist. It is likely that the Taliban will continue to use opium cultivation to fund their governance as they have done in the past and thus it would be counterintuitive for them to fund this programme.
Furthermore, this raises the question of how important it really is for Afghanistan to stop cultivating opium. Surely some responsibility for various ‘opium crises’ across the globe can be traced to poor drug policies and the fundamental perspective that all drugs are bad. However, Afghanistan is a culture which has utilised the opium poppy for centuries and is currently relying upon its global popularity to stop the starvation of hundreds of thousands of families, to fund schools, and to support hospitals across the country. Therefore, it’s high time that Western governments halt their obsession with opium in Afghanistan and redirect their time and resources to aiding the humanitarian crisis unfolding before us.
by Rosie Cannon
Rosie studied Sociology and Criminology at Royal Holloway, University of London, working at our centre as a Research Assistant between October 2021 and April 2022. She created a research project outlining the socio-economic impacts of Covid-19 on Afghanistan and the Afghan refugee community living in the UK, looking at increased mental health vulnerabilities, gender inequalities, and housing inequalities.
Her dissertation focused on determining the effectiveness of the opium trade and alternative livelihood developments in Afghanistan. This study changed its course dramatically when the Taliban came back into power with the consequential economic instability, inability of women to work, and the consequential reliance upon agriculture as a source of income. This is a summary of her dissertation.