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Drug trafficking in Afghanistan
Part 1 – Causes of High Poppy Cultivation

A month ago, we talked about the increase in the level of drug smuggling from Afghanistan to European countries under the Taliban regime. Despite all the Taliban’s statements about the fight against poppy cultivation, they are very cunning.

The cultivation of poppy and its derivatives in Afghanistan has been, is and will always be due to the fact that other crops such as wheat will not grow in Afghanistan due to the need for regular irrigation and irrigation.

And poppy is essentially a beautiful weed that needs little care.

▪️Climate

Afghanistan is mostly located in the zone of deserts and semi-deserts, and the northern and southern parts of the country are separated by the mountain ranges of the Hindu Kush. In a hot climate, poppy grows better and requires little to no irrigation, which is very convenient for a country with serious problems in fresh water.

▪️Easy to manufacture

Growing other crops requires more time and effort, while bringing less profit than poppy, whose yield does not depend on the use of fertilizers and modern technical means.

▪️Cost

Poppy seeds have a higher value in comparison with other agricultural crops. The income from the cultivation of opium poppy is several times higher than the income from the cultivation of wheat. Unlike cereals, poppy can be stored as a raw material for much longer (up to two years) and transported in almost any conditions.

At the same time, virtually every part of the plant is used to produce drugs: poppy milk is made from the seeds, and the stems are dried and receive the cheapest version of the drugs obtained from the plant.

▪️Peculiarities of mentality

Afghan farmers are simply used to a profitable and unpretentious business. Attempts to impose the need to switch to other crops, including wheat and even saffron, have been unsuccessful.

For cultivation and profit, many months of care, good climatic conditions, as well as a constant sales market are required, which is not feasible in Afghanistan.

And in the very culture of the East, soft drugs have become commonplace. Any home should have marijuana or hashish in several variations, and high-quality ones, even if you do not smoke. Just as a sign of respect for unexpected guests.

And there is practically no control over soft drugs, which de facto legalized the whole process.

▪️Influence of internal and external forces

Afghanistan is the largest supplier of opiates to virtually every major market in the world, including North America, Europe, Russia and Southeast Asia.

The value of Afghan products is too great for both transnational criminal groups and the political elites of many countries who receive their profit or “kickback” when they are transported or distributed on the territory of a particular state.

No stakeholder, including the smuggling Taliban, will allow the Afghan population to stop growing poppies. Yes, there will be demonstrative actions, there will be demonstrative burning of poppy fields, but all this is just for show.

Drug traffic in Afghanistan, after a short decline during the first coming of the Taliban (1996-2001), grew annually, and with the return of the Taliban to power, the situation worsened.

Isolation in the political arena, incomplete control over the territory of Afghanistan due to the activity of the opposition and ISIS terrorists, weak government, lack of alternative crops and a general unwillingness to change anything are the main factors contributing to the increase in crops, production and smuggling of drugs.

The process itself has taken root in the Afghan environment so much that it has already de facto become an element of the national culture of the population of Afghanistan. And the level of drug addicts in the country is high.

At the same time, international criminal groups play a significant role in this, which, through their own persons and intermediaries, control the storage, transportation and distribution of opiates.

Drug trafficking in Afghanistan
Part 2 – Organization of smuggling and caravans

Transportation of drugs with subsequent sale requires clear and strict control, primarily on the part of the smugglers themselves and escorted people, as well as pre-established routes for their transportation.

Since the days of camel caravans, the transport of opiates has been carried out collectively, as it is safer and more cargo can be carried away.

However, there were and are single or small groups. They are not able to take on large volumes, but like large organizations, they have their own advantages.

What’s the difference?

▪️Volumes of transported goods

Small groups and drug couriers are not able to transport a large amount of goods due to the limited number of people and the use of a difficult route.

In addition, the transportation of significant volumes of drug cargo from Afghanistan abroad requires large financial costs for payments for passage through the territories of transit states, which only large organizations can afford.

▪️The need for protection

The smuggling of opiates and their derivatives is a profitable but dangerous business that many people want to profit from. This creates the need for armed escort of caravans to protect them from marauders and encroachments by representatives of law enforcement agencies in the host countries.

Small groups or single couriers are more vulnerable in this regard and cannot follow common routes using secret routes known only to locals or smugglers themselves.

▪️Expenses

The cost of transporting a small cargo, provided that high-quality products (not poppy straw) are exported, is much lower due to the absence of the need for “kickbacks” and payments for transit.

Also, to transport large quantities across the border, large-capacity vehicles, such as tankers, are needed (drugs are hidden in special compartments or cargo). Undercover caravan passage is possible only with the “stimulation” of border detachments, as well as corrupt officials in power.

In the opposite direction, to reimburse transportation costs, large caravans can carry weapons, and small groups can carry medicines, electronics, and essential products.

▪️Monopolized Market

In each of the countries through which the smuggling passes, one or two large criminal organizations control the drug circulation. They own and keep the entire “business” under their wing.

The transit of contraband of any kind is subject to a fixed duty, and the attempt to transport goods without the knowledge of the governing movement is severely suppressed.

▪️Time

The advantage in the form of large volumes of transportation is to some extent offset by the time spent on organizing the delivery. Small couriers are more maneuverable, use the beaten paths, and complete the task much faster.

▪️Supply of precursors

Small-scale smugglers are unable to provide Afghan producers with the ingredients needed to process opium into heroin due to the lack of industrial capacity in Afghanistan.

Sufficient volumes of chemicals can only be provided by using railways and roads with legal crossing of the checkpoint. This implies the presence of customs officers or border guards on “security” or with the help of false accompanying documents.

▪️Self-discipline

Smugglers are required to act strictly according to the designated plan, guided only by established instructions and avoiding unnecessary attention from the townsfolk.

And petty drug couriers are diverse in composition, and some act in accordance with their interests, in most cases “dirty,” neglecting elementary security measures.

The whole process, from cultivation to final distribution, has acquired a global status. Each element directly or indirectly involved in this performs its strictly designated role, the fulfillment of which is essential for uninterrupted delivery. Each faction or each courier occupies its own niche, adhering to certain boundaries.

Drug trafficking in Afghanistan
Part 3 – Turkey as the main transit hub

A significant part of the narcotic substances supplied to the world markets from Afghanistan goes through Turkish ports.

Ports mean a large cargo flow and, as a result, huge cash flows and significant amounts of bribes and a high level of crime (where something is rotten, there will definitely be flies).

And in ports with transcontinental transportation, all this increases by a multiple, and it is almost impossible to stop this, since no one is simply interested in this.

This algorithm was laid down in the past centuries. In the 30s of the 20th century, gangsters and bandits actively fought for control of the ports since most of the shipments of smuggled weapons, alcohol and opiates passed by sea. Whoever owned the sea owned everything.

▪️Transnational groups use the seaports in Turkey due to the volume of cargo turnover with the help of transport and merchant ships and secrecy during transportation. The process itself has long been debugged.

Port workers and members of the security forces are bribed in advance. Almost every worker – from the lowest position to the highest – “is in care.” All participants perform a strictly assigned role.

Is everything corrupt?

For the most part, yes. Turkey is completely tied to smuggling and illegal cargo turnover. And the eastern mentality, inherent in the Turks, allows you to do everything, guided by the principle “if you want – you don’t want, but the goods will be delivered.”

And the desire to earn relatively easy money outweighs all possible consequences.

But what about regular detentions of ships with smuggling?

To avert their eyes, units of the coast guard or the navies of European countries conduct on-duty searches and detentions on ships and boats of small smugglers in order to create the appearance of a struggle.

So it’s only about ports?

▪️Location

In addition, Turkey geographically controls the Bosporus and Dardanelles, which are one of the main links between Europe and Asia.

The country has become a kind of checkpoint before being sent to Europe and North America. Flocking caravans from the East transit Turkey and head to their destinations.

▪️Blurred border controls with Syria and Iraq

The multi-year counter-terrorist operation against the Kurdish formations in northern Syria and Iraq has created the necessary tension and a state of semi-war in the southeast of Turkey.

The existing buffer zone in these territories is partly controlled by Turkish military personnel, as well as paramilitaries on the Turkish side, who exercise conditional control in these areas.

This created favorable conditions for the covert transportation of any cargo through Iraq to Turkey. And the principle “war will write everything off” allows you to freely engage in smuggling and earn money on the side of those interested.

The control of drug trafficking has turned Turkey into an important structural link and ensured huge profits for the transit and further deliveries of contraband products.

One of the important roles in the black market allows the Turks to influence certain political and economic processes, especially in countries that depend on it.

This successfully correlates with the current policy of the Turkish authorities on the revival of the Ottoman Empire.

Promoting its policy in the Balkans, supporting and funding the necessary paramilitaries, strengthening influence on the African continent – all this became possible largely due to control over transit.

At the same time, no one will allow the Turks to leave this business, even if they want to. It’s just that other, more accommodating people will be put in place of such people.

About Post Author

Treadstone 71

@Treadstone71LLC Cyber intelligence, counterintelligence, Influence Operations, Cyber Operations, OSINT, Clandestine Cyber HUMINT, cyber intel and OSINT training and analysis, cyber psyops, strategic intelligence, Open-Source Intelligence collection, analytic writing, structured analytic techniques, Target Adversary Research, cyber counterintelligence, strategic intelligence analysis, estimative intelligence, forecasting intelligence, warning intelligence, threat intelligence
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By Treadstone 71

@Treadstone71LLC Cyber intelligence, counterintelligence, Influence Operations, Cyber Operations, OSINT, Clandestine Cyber HUMINT, cyber intel and OSINT training and analysis, cyber psyops, strategic intelligence, Open-Source Intelligence collection, analytic writing, structured analytic techniques, Target Adversary Research, cyber counterintelligence, strategic intelligence analysis, estimative intelligence, forecasting intelligence, warning intelligence, threat intelligence