Three weeks after the September 11 attacks, UK Prime Minister at the time Tony Blair, announced that ‘the arms the Taliban are buying today are paid for by the lives of young British people buying their drugs on British streets. This is another part of their regime we should seek to destroy.’
What Blair was referring to was the highly lucrative poppy industry in Afghanistan. Poppies consist of about 12% morphine, which is processed to produce heroin for sale worldwide. The effects of heroin throughout the last 50 years has been devastating and governments across the globe have struggled to tackle the problem effectively.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban had overseen a significant fall in heroin production in the months before the invasion. Mullah Mohammed Omar, then leader of the Taliban, collaborated with the UN and decreed that growing poppies was un-Islamic. This resulted in an extremely successful anti-drug campaign in the country that had a huge impact on the supply of heroin to the rest of the world. However, the US instigated overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan signaled a green light for poppy farmers and there has been a boom in production which resulted in poppy cultivation increasing by 330% in the five years after the invasion.
United Nations Secretary General – Ban Ki Moon, stated that ‘drug trafficking and transnational organised crime undermine the health of fragile states, (and) weaken the rule of law,’. He said that ‘Above all, the Afghan government must prioritise the issue of narcotics.’ The rule of law in Afghanistan doesnt extend throughout the country however. According to UN reports, roughly 78% of cultivation was concentrated in southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban continue to rule. Another 17% per cent was produced in southwest Afghanistan, another one of the most lawless regions in the country.
US officials claim that stemming the production of the poppy trade could lead to reprisals and see an increased number of attacks on US troops. The forces within the region are too thinly stretched to focus on the destruction of a crop that is being produced on such a vast scale. Although there have been poppy eradication programs implemented in Afghanistan, these have proved ineffective for the most part and have focused more on convincing farmers to grow other crops instead of the far more lucrative flower.
Heroin in Ireland
In 2012 the Irish Times reported that, in Ireland ‘the existing heroin problem has been on the increase from about the mid-noughties onwards. Heroin became a major problem in Ireland in the 1970’s and 80’s in many working class areas in Dublin. The majority of users were aged 16-25. That current increase in heroin use that we are experiencing now is far more widespread. The drug is reaching more rural areas and the age group has expanded. In 2007, 11,392 cases were treated for opiate use (mainly heroin). Three of every five drug users entering treatment programs were addicted to opiates.
The war in Afghanistan may not grab the headlines as much as it did a decade ago, but the impact that this war is having on our country has never been more prevalent. The floodgates have opened and heroin is constantly flowing in. The source of the problem cannot be attacked, and with plans for the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan looking imminent, we can expect the drug to continue to grow in popularity in Ireland. The effectiveness of expensive UN supported eradication programs remains to be seen.