Afghan villagers take a break after preparing the soil for their poppy seeds in fields in Cham Kalai village in Afghanistan's eastern Nangarhar province. File picture: Anja Niedringhaus/AP
Afghan villagers take a break after preparing the soil for their poppy seeds in fields in Cham Kalai village in Afghanistan's eastern Nangarhar province. File picture: Anja Niedringhaus/AP

Will the Taliban's takeover impact the regional drug trade?

By Sanjay Kapoor Time of article published Oct 14, 2021

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OPINION: India is a licit producer of opium, but UN agencies have alleged extensive leakage in the grey market. What needs to be seen is whether the Taliban takeover of Kabul impacts the drug trade in the region, writes Sanjay Kapoor.

India’s Narcotics Control Bureau personnel - mandated to target drug mafia - recently got into a cruise ship sailing to tourism destination Goa and picked up dozens of travelers for ostensibly consuming drugs. One of them, Aryan Khan, was the 23-year-old son of India’s most loved and successful film star, Shahrukh Khan. This raid on the cruise ship, which was meant to name and shame the well heeled alleged drug users, raised eyebrows over the importance it was getting over a gargantuan seizure of 3000 kg of heroin made a fortnight ago at a private Mundra port on the West coast of India.

Originating from Afghanistan, the consignment of 3000 kg of refined heroin, whose street price is US$2 billion is the biggest catch ever by any drug enforcement agency anywhere in the world. This should have been a reason for the government to gloat, but this has met with bizarre tepidity of response making many political observers wonder at its implications. Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram hinted at what this silence could mean when he said that such a big heroin consignment could not come to India without the involvement of people in high places. This is more so as India is a transit country from where the opiod derivative goes to other destinations in the west and elsewhere. Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, the agency that seized the heroin said,” High-quality heroin, a trademark of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, is being smuggled to Mozambique. From there, it goes to Johannesburg, Doha and then to Indian cities, and is further destined to Australia and other countries. They (smugglers) are avoiding South Africans and using other African nationals to avoid agencies in Johannesburg. While the Taliban is the source, the operation is done by African drug cartels. What is caught at the airports could be the tip of the iceberg. Seaports are the real concern.” The government agency has no answers about why heroin has to come to India from Africa to go to Europe and Australia.

This bland reiteration that suggests that India is a transit country flies in the face of the mountain of evidence that is piling up suggesting an increase of drug use in India. Other probe agencies have discovered many bogus shell companies that got this consignment from Afghanistan- much before the Taliban took over Kabul. Even the 3000 kg container was destined to a city in Southern India- thousands of Kilometers away from the port where this opium derivative landed. A lower court in the Gujarat city of Bhuj asked all the right questions from the law enforcement agency about the haul: “ how will Mundra benefit if the drug lands at their port?”: “ Why did the heroin consignment land in Mundra so far away from its southern destination?”

With the manner in which the nation’s attention is being diverted from this real haul to the one involving rich kids having a good time at a luxury liner, it is unlikely that the world will ever make an attempt to know who was really behind the shipment from Afghanistan. The reason is that Afghanistan’s soaring opium business has benefited from industrial obfuscation in which western media is majorly complicit. When the US led forces bombed their way to occupation of this land locked country, the total Opium production used to be around 180 tonnes. In just two years of US occupation, the opium production had unbelievably increased to 3200 tonnes. Before it was time for the US and its allies to leave Afghanistan then the production had reached 9400 tonnes. Much of it is trying to get into destinations like India and else where. If the world never raised its eyebrows over this it has something to do with the enormous power that media wields on the thinking world. Many of those areas that produced the highest quality opium were under thr United Kingdom’s control for more than a decade. Later, the US troops took over this opium producing state of Helmand.

A source embedded in Afghanistan’s Presidential Palace told this writer that unmarked flights carrying opium and its derivatives routinely took off from Kandahar airport. Even the Iranian government made similar allegations about NATO flights ferrying opium out of Afghanistan. If indeed there is merit in these claims then where did the US government spent $8 billion to eradicate narcotics in the land locked country. Detractors have called the US’s Afghanistan occupation as a “ponzi scheme” that allowed the military industrial complex to make money. Drug trade played a major role in generating cash to pay off insurgent groups and warlords. The Taliban is also accused of living off from drug proceeds, but UNODC is a bit ambivalent about how much money Afghan religious fighters made from this business.What is reminded again and again is that the Taliban banned opium production after they came to power in 1996.

Indian police sources claim that the drug use in India has increased many times over and it is possible that 3000 kg of heroin could find users here also. Earlier reports had suggested that raw poppy would come in containers to India and they would get refined in central Indian mobile laboratories and they would be shipped to Australia and South east Asia. India is a licit producer of opium, but UN agencies have alleged extensive leakage in the grey market. What needs to be seen is whether the Taliban takeover of Kabul impacts the drug trade in the region.

* Sanjay Kapoor is the Editor of Hardnews in Delhi.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.

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