Afghan opium crop soars to “frightening level” – UN

Opium production has soared to “frightening record levels” in Afghanistan the United Nations said on Monday.

Afghanistan produced 93 percent of the world’s opium in 2007, up from 92 percent last year, the annual United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report said.

“No other country has produced narcotics on such a deadly scale since China in the 19th century,” a UNODC statement said.

Most Afghan opium is processed to make heroin and smuggled out of the country to Europe and the Middle East where it fuels addiction and crime.

“Some 80 percent of opium poppies were grown in a handful of provinces along the border with Pakistan, where instability is greatest,” the UNODC said.

The southern province of Helmand, where mostly British troops are engaged in almost daily clashes with Taliban rebels, produced more than half of Afghanistan’s opium crop.

“Helmand has single-handedly become the world’s biggest source of illicit drugs, surpassing the output of entire countries like Colombia (coca), Morocco (cannabis), and Myanmar (opium) which have populations up to 20 times larger,” said the UNODC.

“The Afghan opium situation looks grim, but it is not yet hopeless,” said UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa.

Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar had had all but stopped opium production in Afghanistan during his last year in power, issuing a religious edict banning the crop and threatening harsh punishments in areas the movement held under its strict control.

However, since the US led invasion of Afghanistan production of opium has steadily grown to the point where it is now at record levels. This in turn has prompted some to ask whether the restoration of the drugs trade wasn’t the real reason behind the invasion of Afghanistan.

After all this is not without precedent. As the UNODC statement pointed out now other country has produced narcotics on such a scale since China in the 19th century. This was done after Britain fought the first Opium War in China to impose the trade and abuse of opium.

Then in 1856 they were joined by the French colonial powers who fought alongside the British in the Second Opium War to ensure the continued trade and abuse of opium.

It seems like history is repeating itself in Afghanistan and in more ways than one.

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