Opium smuggling into Punjab still soaring as Afghan poppy growth spikes

Opium cultivation in Afghanistan has the patronage of the Taliban, for whom it is a big source of easy money. 

Published: 14th October 2018 09:04 AM  |   Last Updated: 14th October 2018 09:04 AM   |  A+A-

Afghanistan is the world's top cultivator of the poppy, from which opium and heroin are produced.

CHANDIGARH: There is expected to be no let-up in smuggling of opium into Punjab despite a crackdown on smugglers and peddlers by the Special Task Force (STF) and Punjab Police, following a huge rise in opium production in Afghanistan, which reached 9,000 metric tonnes last year.

“As India falls on the southern route (the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean space, including Iran, Pakistan, India, and other South Asian countries), through which 25-35 per cent of the opiates are smuggled out of Afghanistan through the land and sea routes, it is one of the first countries to be directly impacted by the illicit trafficking of the opium crop in Afghanistan, and Punjab comes first,” said Waheed Akrami of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

“In 2017, opium production in Afghanistan was 9,000 metric tonnes. The total under opium poppy cultivation was estimated at 328,000 hectares in 2017, or 127,000 hectares more compared to the previous year. This level of opium poppy cultivation is a new high and exceeds the formerly highest value, recorded in 2014 (224,000 hectares)”, Akrami said. 

He added that in 2017, the average opium yield amounted to 27.3 kilograms per hectare, which was 15 per cent higher than in 2016. “Rule of law-related challenges, such as political instability, lack of government control and security, as well as corruption, have been found to be main drivers of illicit cultivation,” Akrami explained.

Opium cultivation in Afghanistan has the patronage of the Taliban, for whom it is a big source of easy money. 

Opium smuggled into Punjab from Afghanistan is known as ‘kaali naagini’ or ‘afeem’, and it is consumed in small quantities by a wide section of the population.

“As this time there was record production of the crop, the prices have gone down. The opium is either converted into heroin, used domestically or, in some cases, stored in case prices go down. Storage of opium might increase the price as it becomes dry,”Akrami said. 

Globally, opium smuggling is a $28 billion per year business. Anti-government elements, including the Taliban, the Haqqani network, and other armed groups tax around 60 per cent of the opium poppy produced in Afghanistan, he said. 

“The use of solar panels for powering irrigation pumps, and fertilizers and pesticides has made opium poppy cultivation increasingly profitable even in unfavourable natural conditions. Solar panels seem to have replaced diesel pumps in many areas. The panels require a sizable initial investment, but have lower running costs than diesel-powered pumps,” he said.

“The conversion of opium into heroin is likely to bring increased trafficking of precursor substances as tons of precursor chemicals will potentially be diverted from licit international markets and smuggled into Afghanistan to supply manufacturers of heroin,” Akrami said.

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