Benjamin Lowy

EDITORIAL: AFGHANISTAN: The Afghan High

Afghanistan’s opium production has increased more than 15-fold since 1979, the year of the Soviet invasion in the country. By 2000 Afghanistan was the source of 70% of all of the illicit opium produced in the world. Following a decline in 2001, production resumed at high levels in 2002, again making Afghanistan the world’s largest producer accounting for almost three-quarters of global opium production.

Afghanistan's drug economy is as pervasive as its poppy fields, linking impoverished farmers, heroin addicts, and the Taliban.

And while the Afghan government has embraced poppy eradification programs under pressure from the United States, corruption is rife, and opium and heroin have permiated every level of Afghan society.

  
An addict pauses after mainlining heroin in a Kabul shooting gallery that was once the Russian Cultural Center. A single hit of the narcotic costs less than 50 cents.
  
An addict shoots heroin.
     
  
  
  
An afghan man freebases opium resin.
     
  
Addicts sleep wherever they find space in the dilapidated Russian Cultural Center.
  
  
An Afghan addict shoots heroin into his groin in order to hide track marks from his family members.
     
  
  
  
     
  
  
A drug deal in the Russian Cultural Center, an infamous heroin shooting gallery in Kabul.
  
     
  
  
  
A man recovers from a
     
  
Men relax in a drug rehabilitation center in Kabul. A 2005 U.N. report estimated that Afghanistan was home to about 1 million drug abusers.
  
  
     
  
Drug money flows into the hawala network, an honor-bound Western Union-like banking system used in the Middle East and South Asia.
  
Drug money flows into the hawala network, an honor-bound Western Union-like banking system used in the Middle East and South Asia.
  
The Afghan police's anti-narcotic intelligence division keeps a detailed record of one of Afghanistan's many drug networks in a Kabul office.
     
  
  
A large convoy of Afghan military and police, including the provincial governor, drove for hours along dusty, unpaved tracks to reach an isolated poppy-producing region of Nangarhar province in Afghanistan.
  
     
  
The Afghan government burns 6.5 tons -- a miniscule portion of the nation's drug production -- of opium, heroin, and hashish on the outskirts of Kabul.
  
An Afghan Army soldiers looks over a poppy field in Nangarhar province.
  
Afghan police and provincial security forces destroy poppy fields in Nangarhar province. Though the government and foreign contractors have eradicated thousand and thousands of acres of poppy fields, that hasn't stemmed the flow of drug money to the Taliban.
     
  
An Afghan poppy field with mature, ready-to-harest opium producing buds.
  
Afghan police and provincial security force farmers to their own destroy poppy fields in Nangarhar province.
  
An Afghan boy wanders through a field of poppies. In 2007, Afghan farmers harvested a record 8,200 metric tons of poppies, much of which wound up as opium. What draws farmers to the black market? In some years, poppy farmers earned six times Afghanistan's per capita income.