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Drug trafficking: geography of death

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Drug trafficking means high death and crime rates, and, ultimately, the destruction of the genetic fund. Even the most liberal nations acknowledge the need to fight drugs, or at least to control drug trafficking because of the horrendous damage it causes.

To address this challenge, in 1987 the UN General Assembly decided to observe June 26 as International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Drug Trafficking.

Action against drugs has been effective in several directions, but the general trend remains frightening. It is enough to mention that since the start of a "counter-terrorist operation" in Afghanistan in 2001, the production of raw opium in that country has gone up almost a hundred times. Today, the bulk of heroine and morphine in Europe and the CIS is produced from Afghan opium.

Reports by the UN and other international anti-drug organizations reveal "global distribution of labor." Herbal drugs - cannabis and its resin (or marijuana and hashish), as well as drugs derived from opium poppy (morphine and heroin) travel from the poorest countries in Latin America, South and South-East Asia and the Middle East to the prosperous West. More expensive synthetic drugs (derivatives of amphetamine, such as ecstasy, and various hallucinogens like LSD) are moved in the opposite direction.

Every region has its own preferences. Marijuana and hashish are very popular in Europe. According to the UN data, 44% of Czech school students abuse cannabis or its resin. The figures for Ireland, the United Kingdom, France, and Switzerland are similar. The situation is better in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Slovakia, and Slovenia - a quarter of students there are regular cannabis users.

Latin American cocaine and Afghan heroin are widely used by European drug addicts. Poland, the Netherlands, and Belgium are known for domestically produced amphetamines, which are consumed at home or exported to Australia, Canada, Japan and South Africa. Cannabis is grown in Albania and the Netherlands mostly for the domestic use.

The situation is different in the United States. The number of marijuana and hashish smokers is going down, although cannabis is still the most popular drug. But the abuse of psychotropic drugs (tranquilizers, stimulators, and sedatives) and methamphetamine is growing. Nearly all the heroin, cannabis, and methamphetamine in the U.S. are smuggled from Mexico.

Central and South America are a major supplier of cocaine and cannabis. It is grown in Brazil and Paraguay, and on Jamaica. The coca plant is mostly cultivated in Bolivia, Columbia, and Peru. This plant as well as cocaine and crack produced from it are sent to the U.S. and Europe. Opium poppy also grows in Central America, but it is far behind the Golden Crescent (Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran), and the Golden Triangle (Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos) in the production of opium.

In East and South-East Asian countries, opium has been traditionally produced and consumed on a large scale. Recently, however, they have been exposed to "progress" as well. The production of amphetamine is increasing in China and Myanmar, and that of methamphetamine in the Republic of Korea. Ecstasy is very popular in more developed areas like Hong Kong, Macao, and Japan.

The start of the anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan has dealt a serious blow to the Asian drug lords - since 2001 it has virtually monopolized the market of opiates.

Heroine for the Unfaithful

Indicatively, up to the middle of the 1970s, opium poppy was mostly used for household purposes in Afghanistan. Dry grass was fed to the cattle, seeds were made into soap, and stems into herbal colorants. The communities strictly controlled the consumption of opium as a mind-altering drug. The situation changed in 1970 when a number of political events upset the fragile balance which had existed in Afghanistan since 1929.

The country became the world's leader in the production and supply of opium and heroin to the world market after the Soviet troop withdrawal in the 1990s. This change was brought about by the advent to power of the Taliban, which controlled 90% of the nation's territory by the end of 1996. During this period, the Talibs gave a legal seal to large-scale cultivation of opium poppy, production of heroin, and smuggling of opiates. The proceeds replenished their budget.

The Taliban's contacts with al-Qaeda largely contributed to the expansion of heroin production. Al-Qaeda became a bridge that linked heroin-producers and drug addicts, who lived far away from each other. A pattern used for international opium trafficking proved to be very similar to that of a global terrorist network. "Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri have built a single system for the cultivation of opium poppy, production of raw poppy and heroin, and distribution of drugs in the remote markets of Europe, Asia, and America, as well as the financial and transportation infrastructures for the failsafe operation of the whole network, in much the same way as they later united the scattered units of Islamic extremists and terrorists into a world organization," said Igor Khokhlov, a researcher from the Institute of World Economy and International Relations at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Prominent Pakistani public figure Akhmed Rashid, who has been a key player in Afghan-Pakistani relations since the late 1970s, recalled that during talks with Taliban military leaders in Kandahar in 1998, he was told openly that opium poppy cultivation and heroin production were admissible because the drugs were consumed by the Kafirs (or infidels) rather than by Muslims.

The start of U.S. and British intervention in Afghanistan on October 7, 2001 ruined the hopes for victory in the drive against opiates. Today, Afghanistan produces more heroin than in its entire history. The country is a scene of continuous civil war, and Kabul does not control its entire territory. Under the circumstances, the funds earmarked by international organizations for the replacement of opium with other crops are being used for the opposite ends, said Igor Khokhlov.

Enormous growth of heroin production is being closely watched by the coalition troops. "The U.S. does not want to destabilize the Karzai government by denying the only source of income to the field commanders who have real power in the provinces," said Khokhlov. "But the same funds are going to the accounts of the al-Qaeda al-Sulbah international terrorist network, which continues to control the main routes of raw opium and heroin delivery up to now."

Terror at One's Own Expense

Donald Rumsfeld has repeatedly emphasized that the united contingent should be used strictly against the terrorists rather than drug trafficking. On his instructions, U.S. military released the captured war and drug lords in exchange for their consent to cooperate with the new Kabul authorities in suppressing terrorists, primarily the Afghan al-Qaeda group. In effect, this decision gave them carte-blanch for massive cultivation of opium poppy and heroin production, believes Igor Khohklov.

"It is most unlikely that the U.S. and British security services are unaware that the cultivation of opium poppy, extraction of raw poppy and production of heroin are the main source of income for the al-Qaeda led Islamic terrorists," the expert said. "Raphael Perl, chief analyst on international terrorism and drugs with the U.S. Congressional Research Service said in his report to the Senate that terrorist organizations could not survive without drug trafficking proceeds. He referred to this as a kind of a drug addiction. But neither the U.S. administration, nor its British allies in the coalition see a drive against drug trafficking as a priority."

He explains the reasons for such inconsistency in the following way: "On the one hand, the continuous tensions in Afghanistan are making Central Asian countries more pliable. Drug trafficking is a fertile soil for corruption, extremism, and terrorism in the entire region of Central Asia. As a result, the power of Tashkent, Dushanbe, and Bishkek is growing weaker."

"On the other hand, Iran, which has been zealously suppressing drug trafficking since the victory of the Islamic revolution in 1979, and which George W. Bush termed as an 'axis of evil', is under permanent pressure of drug trafficking near its borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan. This compels Tehran to divert efforts and funds from other tasks."

Igor Khokhlov concludes that "a sizeable growth in the fields of opium poppy, which has become Afghanistan's number one crop during the years of the 'counterterrorist operation' of 2001-2006... is taking place with indirect support from the U.S. and British leaders."

The Americans need not bother too much about the health of the nation - the bulk of Afghan heroin is smuggled into Europe and Russia.

Drug Addiction - Disease or Crime

It is obvious today that each dose consumed by drug addicts somewhere in London or Moscow feeds more money into acts of terror against their compatriots.

Even social damage from drug trafficking pales into insignificance compared with such cynicism. Even the relatively harmless cannabis (not to mention the opiates), which is smuggled into Europe from Central Asia, acquired a sinister tinge in this context. A craving for a substance leads to growing expenses on combating drugs, and creates a mess in transit countries. For Russia, these are its closest neighbors - Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. In turn, instability and the growing crime rate in these countries are a convenient excuse for expanding what is called "international presence."

Drug addicts should by all means receive medical treatment and help to return to normal life. But now that drug trafficking is becoming the main source of finance for terrorists, it is important to realize that drug addiction is not merely a human tragedy but also a crime against the state.

There is no international anti-terrorism day, and it would be redundant anyway. Why have another Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Drug Trafficking?

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