Counter-Terrorism: The Taliban Cash Cow

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p> July 2, 2007: The reason you hear so many reports of battles with the Taliban in Afghanistans Helmand province, is because that one area (south of Kandahar and on the Pakistani border), currently produces over 40 percent of the worlds heroin. With less than a million people, Helmand has long been a Taliban stronghold. The Taliban are basically a coalition of Pushtun tribes from southern Afghanistan. The Taliban were unpopular in most of Afghanistan because non-Pustuns (about 60 percent Afghans), and many Pushtuns, did not like having the Taliban lifestyle and customs crammed down their throats.

 

Helmand became a source of heroin during Taliban rule. The farmers of Helmand paid a share of their profits to the Taliban, and shipped the drugs out through Pakistan, or west via Iran. A lot of the Helmand opium and heroin stayed in Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan, and the addiction problem in those three countries has been growing for a decade. Helmand heroin "taxes" are still a major source of income for the Taliban, and NATO military operations in Helmand over the last two years has forced the Taliban to stand and fight. If they lose control of Helmand, and the Afghan government shuts down a lot of the heroin production, the Taliban will suffer some serious damage. While the Taliban is a political and religious organization, it's most active members expect to be paid. Without the drug cash, the Taliban payroll shrinks.

 

Most of the poppy growing takes place along the Helmand river, which runs through the desert-like province. The farmers don't want to lose their highly profitable poppy crops, and the drug gangs don't want to see their labs (which convert the poppies into opium and heroin) destroyed. Heroin is big business in Afghanistan, which now accounts for over 90 percent of the worlds production. Because the Afghan government has been slow to crack down on heroin production (mainly because the drug producing tribes were hostile to it, and many government officials were paid off), the world wide heroin supply has grown nearly fifty percent in the last seven years. Almost all the growth has come from Afghanistan.

 

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