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Taliban Takes Cut in Booming Drug Trade-Sources

Discussion in 'Marijuana News from The USA' started by Superjoint, Oct 13, 2001.

  1. By John Fullerton
    Source: Reuters

    Afghan drug lords are cleaning out stocks of hashish, opium and heroin and sending the drugs flooding into Pakistan, while the besieged Taliban cash in by taking a cut of the proceeds, frontier sources said Saturday.
    It's been barely a week, but already the U.S. war on Afghanistan is starting to erode the authority of the Taliban, which in the last five years imposed a draconian Islamic system in which drugs were banned and highway brigandry virtually eliminated.

    ``People sitting on stocks of hashish and opium don't want to lose it all if the Taliban falls, so they've been selling ever since the September 11 attacks on new York and Washington,'' said one source close to smugglers living on both sides of the border.

    ``Enormous profits are still being made, and the trade represents a huge income for the Taliban, which levies a 10 percent tax on all shipments over the border.''

    That revenue is vital for the purchase of ammunition, spare parts and fuel, the sources said. The Taliban leaders may not even know. Fighters near the Chaman border are also trying to levy a ``tax'' on United Nations food convoys.

    Payment is in kind. A man carrying 10 kg (22 lbs) of heroin will hand over one kg, a 10-truck convoy of opium will leave one behind for the Taliban. In return, the Taliban provides security -- ``protection.''

    The drugs trade had dried up in the last year after the Taliban administration, considered a pariah by almost every government in the world, succeeded in virtually wiping out poppy farming in areas they control.

    And they did this voluntarily, without compensation to the farmers who depend on the crop for their livelihood, and without the promise of reward or international recognition for doing so, United Nations drugs officials say.

    Under Taliban rule, cross-border trade of less illicit items has been concentrated in this region straddling the frontier between the Taliban stronghold of Afghanistan's Kandahar district and Baluchistan province in Pakistan.

    Trade Breaks Down

    But since the U.S. air strikes started against Afghanistan last Sunday, most trade through the Chaman checkpoint -- a trade in electronic goods, cars, motorcycles, cosmetics and food -- has all but collapsed.

    ``It's unprecedented,'' said one U.N. official who asked not to be identified.

    ``These millionaire smugglers realize the Taliban's credit isn't good -- the thing they dread most is instability, so they'll be looking around for alternative sources of power and patronage as the Taliban begins to lose its grip on power,'' he said.

    But the drugs trade is flourishing again, the frontier sources said.

    ``They're unloading their stocks despite the falling prices. If they sit on what they have, they could lose the lot when the Taliban collapses and Afghanistan is plunged into yet another round of lawlessness and banditry,'' the official said.

    On the Pakistan side of the frontier, the sources said, protection for the drug racket is provided by buying off the security forces, from officers in the frontier militia to senior police and army officers.

    The potential profits are huge.

    One kilogram (2.2 lbs) of quality hashish currently costs about 1,000 Pakistani rupees ($16) on the frontier -- and it fetches 28,000 ($450) rupees in Dubai, for example.

    When the Taliban banned the cultivation of opium -- the source of heroin -- prices rocketed.

    ``One kilogram (2.2 lbs) of opium jumped from 600 Pakistani rupees to 12,000. It made some people with insider knowledge millionaires overnight,'' said a frontier resident.

    Prices Dive

    Now prices are going the other way, from $500 per kg of opium before the September 11 suicide attacks on New York and Washington to $75 a kg.

    ``The best quality goes to Europe, via Turkey. The second grade is carried by camel train through the border minefields of Rajasthan... to the Indian market. The third grade stuff is sold locally,'' said one of the border sources.

    Paradoxically, prices have risen in the retail market in the Balchistan capital, Quetta, partly because security has been tightened to combat recent anti-U.S. protests.

    But also because this market is dominated by one or two outlets -- well-known individuals apparently immune from prosecution -- capable of fixing local prices.

    The foreign trade -- it can involve hashish, raw opium or the penultimate stage of heroin refinement, the brown powder known as morphine sulphate -- enters Pakistan's Gulestan region from Chaman.

    Much of it heads west to Chota, where the borders of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran meet.

    Some goes directly by truck to Karachi.

    The Chota-bound consignments then move in one of two directions, south to the coast of the Arabian Sea, or west to Turkey, carried in heavily armed convoys because the Iranian authorities work hard to curb the trafficking.

    At the coast, operators of high-speed boats will pay 20,000 rupees for one kg of hashish.

    ``It's kept in the family, on the frontier among Pashtuns as well as Baluch in the south,'' said a frontier source.

    ``The Baluch work throughout the Gulf, in Arab navies, coastguard units and customs. In Muscat and Oman they know when to look the other way.''

    Why didn't Pakistan crack down the smugglers?

    ``They're too deeply involved, right up to very senior people. The profits are too great. Corruption is endemic, the rewards too tempting for many people,'' said one tribal leader whose people are involved in drugs trafficking.

    ``There's the son of a village butcher I know who's a dollar millionaire. In your country kids from poor homes dream of becoming football or rock stars -- here it's to become a smuggler.''

    Source: Reuters
    Author: John Fullerton
    Published: Saturday, October 13, 2001
    Copyright: 2001 Reuters

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