Sun, 24 Sep 2023

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: Afghanistan has become the world's fastest-growing producer of methamphetamine, a concerning revelation the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has outlined in a recent report.

This development is particularly alarming given Afghanistan's already substantial involvement in opium production and heroin supply, despite the Taliban's declaration of war against narcotics upon their return to power in August 2021.

The UNODC report reveals that the methamphetamine produced in Afghanistan is primarily synthesized from readily available chemicals or extracted from the ephedra plant, which is abundant in the wild. The rise of meth manufacturing in the country poses a significant threat to national and regional health and security. It could potentially disrupt the synthetic drug market and exacerbate addiction issues. Incidences of meth seizures suspected to originate from Afghanistan have already been reported in the European Union and East Africa.

Angela Me, chief of the UNODC's Research and Trend Analysis Branch, points out several advantages that methamphetamine production offers over heroin or cocaine in Afghanistan.

"You do not need to wait for something to grow," said Me. "You do not need land. You just need the cooks and the know-how. Meth labs are mobile; they are hidden. Afghanistan also has the ephedra plant, not found in the biggest meth-producing countries: Myanmar and Mexico. It is legal in Afghanistan, and it grows everywhere. But you need a lot of it."

Me underscores that it is too early to gauge the Taliban's impact on meth supplies.

A spokesperson for the Interior Ministry, Abdul Mateen Qani, told the AP that the Taliban-run government has prohibited the cultivation, production, sale, and use of all intoxicants and narcotics in Afghanistan.

He said authorities had destroyed 644 factories and around 12,000 acres of land where prohibited narcotics were cultivated, processed, or produced. In more than 5,000 raids, 6,000 people have been arrested.

"We cannot claim 100 percent that it is finished because people can still do these activities in secret. It is not possible to bring it to zero in such a short time," said Qani. "But we have a four-year strategic plan that will finish narcotics in general and meth in particular."

Despite these efforts, a UN report from November revealed a 32 percent increase in opium cultivation following the Taliban's takeover. Opium prices also surged after the ban announcement in April 2022, with farmers' income tripling from US$425 million in 2021 to $1.4 billion in 2022. The illicit drug market has thrived amid Afghanistan's economic contraction, resulting in more people resorting to illegal cultivation and trafficking.

Afghanistan is grappling with drought, severe economic challenges, and the persistent consequences of decades of conflict and natural disasters. These hardships and the withdrawal of international financial support, drive people into poverty, hunger, and addiction.

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