nCa recently had an exclusive conversation with some top official of Afghanistan drug and customs services.
The essence of the conversation was that there is a lot more than meets the eye: Americans are involved in drug trade in Afghanistan, the laws are flawed, refugees returning from Iran and Pakistan bring drug habit with them, and Afghanistan was short-changed in Bonn agreement as far as customs rules are concerned.
The names of the officials will not be disclosed for obvious reasons.
American involvement in drug trade
nCa asked the officials whether it was true or not that some Americans were involved in smuggling the drugs, mostly notably heroin, out of Afghanistan and into the United States.
The authorities said that even though no case was registered against Americans, the premise was essentially true.
They said that drugs originating from Afghanistan were available in the streets of most of the western countries, including the United States. They added that so far only two Afghans had been caught in this trade in the USA, pointing to the fact that drug trade was mainly in the hands of other people, not the Afghans.
They also said that at all the legal borders – and there are many between Afghanistan and the western countries where the drugs finally end up – the procedures are such that large quantities of drugs will not pass through them legally.
Driving the point to its logical conclusion, the officials said that Afghan authorities are not allowed to check what is being loaded into the military planes belonging to USA/NATO/ISAF.
From this we conclude that substantial quantities of narcotics are being shipped out of Afghanistan in the military planes. They added that they also had other reasons to believe it was true.
The authorities pointed out that within the territory of Afghanistan all efforts were being made to curb the drug trade, they cited as example the arrest of General Malham (accused of trying to smuggle heroin to Iran from Herat), the arrest of the governor of a district in Nimruz and his two sons (caught red handed in trying to smuggle heroin to Iran), and the apprehension of a district police chief in Takhar province (allegedly with 24 kg of heroin), all within the last two months.
The officials contended that large scale direct availability of Afghan drugs in the western markets was not possible without the involvement of American military operating in Afghanistan.
Hoarding of heroin by Americans
nCa asked that the prices of heroin in Afghanistan last year were very low but the prices in the end markets did not come down, what was the reason.
The authorities told that it is believed that the Americans bought and hoarded the heroin so that the market does not crash.
The declined to confirm or deny whether the hoarding by the Americans was to make profits in a lean year or to use the cache to destabilize some targeted country by promoting drug addiction among the youth.
Rising drug addiction and its causes
nCa asked whether the drug addiction was rising or falling in Afghanistan, and what were the reasons for the current trend.
The authorities told that drug addiction was on the rise, especially among the youth. They explained that several reasons were behind this tendency.
They said that most of the refugees returning from Iran and Pakistan bring the habit with them. In the host countries they need to work long hours in hard labour to survive and they use the narcotics to overcome the tiredness.
When they return to Afghanistan, they introduce their friends and relative to the drugs, particularly in wedding and other ceremonies.
They told that, on a limited scale, the drug dealers were systematically entrapping the youth into addiction by giving them initial free doses. They said that heroin is strongly addictive and if you use it three times, you are an addict already.
The authorities said that the heroin labs in Iran and Pakistan were using Afghan youth as labour and the young people working in such labs (mostly a small outfit with boiling and filtering arrangements) are given free drugs. They become addicts and spread the habit to others.
These young people have no money but they have a habit they must feed, thus widening the circle of addicts, an official told.
Another official said that he saw with his own eyes that in a workplace in Iran the workers, both Iranians and Afghans, were given mild narcotics by the supervisor before the start of the workday. And, they were given additional doses throughout the day at each tea and meal break, this in order to get more work out of them.
Another official added that the Afghan refugees who work in the Iranian households are bound to become addicts. He put in plain words that some 95% households have some kind of narcotic, liquid or solid, mild or strong, in regular use and the Afghan boys and girls working in such houses are encouraged to join in. the official said that there is no way to prove it but we have seen it too many times to dismiss it as just hearsay.
An official said, only half joking, that he stayed with an Iranian family for about a month and he came very close to becoming a drug addict himself.
nCa asked whether the authorities were handicapped by laws to come down hard on the addicts.
The authorities explained that carrying and sale/purchase of heroin was a crime under the current Afghan laws but possession of heroin up to 5 grams for personal consumption was not a crime.
They said that drug dealers and middlemen were taking advantage of this law. They told that drugs were being abused openly under the bridges, in the blind alleys, in the secluded corners of the public parks and in the backrooms of shops because of this loophole in the law. There is nothing we can do as long as a person is in possession of 5 grams or less of heroin and he is not caught buying or selling it, they said helplessly.
They added that drug traders and middlemen were using a marketing tactic to stretch their net far and wide. If someone sells 5 grams of heroin for them, he gets 1 gram free of cost. In this way, an addict who needs a doze of 5 grams every day can get it free of cost by selling five doses to other addicts.
Tax laws geared to cheat Afghanistan
nCa asked whether the foreign entities, both military and non-military were paying proper taxes and duties on the material and goods they bring into Afghanistan.
The authorities told that under the Bonn agreement of 2001, the military items are allowed duty free but the import of items for whatever purpose by the non-military entities attracts customs duties and taxes.
The officials said that at the time of signing of Bonn agreement, the Afghan side was not in a position to negotiate a fair deal for customs duties and also the Afghan delegation did not have any experience in such negotiations. The western side took advantage of these weaknesses, they said. They said that Ahadi and Ashraf Ghani were dealing with these issues on behalf of the Afghan side and they could not envision fully the complications arising from the flawed clauses.
The authorities said that we are trying to negotiate a better deal now and we hope to impose processing charges on the items that are allowed duty-free. This would bring huge addition to Afghan revenues, they hoped.
The authorities added that the Bonn agreement took unfair advantage of the Afghan gratitude.
They explained that even in cases where duties are payable, the rates were much less than comparable tariffs worldwide.