Source: 12019


In the 1950’s the Soviet Union trained 10-15% of the Afghani military officers and provided the military with armoury. The increased exposure to communism allowed for leftist views to flourish in the army. In 1978 the Khalqi military officers overthrew the government instating a communist regime, a year later when the regime appeared to be failing the Soviet Union invaded to support the regime. From 1978-1981 Afghanistan experienced increasing violence. There was no widespread support for the communist ideology so nationalism did not flourish. Army officers attempted to enforce discipline on soldiers resulting in large numbers deflecting from the army and returning home (Giustozzi, 2008). Militia groups found it easy to recruit as Afghani men returned home, in need of work and wanting to protect their families from the invading Soviets. The United States, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan funded the Islamic resistance (the mujahidin) in the largest covert operation in history.

Militia groups found it easy to recruit as Afghani men returned home, in need of work and wanting to protect their families from the invading Soviets. The United States, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan funded the Islamic resistance (the mujahidin) in the largest covert operation in history. The CIA instantly began training mujahideen to fight the Soviet invasion, using Pakistan to tunnel weapons (Edstrom, 2015). After the war, Afghanistan struggled to recover but remained largely under the control of fighting warlords (Haq, 1996). The Taliban, a Sunni Islamic movement, gained control of Afghanistan in 1996 mainly through Pakistani funding (Rubin, 2013). Once in control of Kabul the Taliban enlisted tankettes, pilots, and mechanics as well as trained their own core supporters in handling sophisticated military equipment (Giustozzi, 2008, p. 38).

The role of the warlord in Afghanistan’s culture has been continually strengthened. When state-building commenced in 2001 many warlords repositioned themselves as politicians. Under the Taliban, the police force, army, and judicial system disappeared and had to be recreated in 2002 with their defeat. Many of the new police force is ex-militiamen (Giustozzi, 2008). Many strong men and local commanders are in the provision of security to the narco-traders and in the processing and smuggling of narcotics (Giustozzi, 2008, p. 43). Analysis of counternarcotic initiatives in Afghanistan will show that success is regularly hindered by warlords and ex-militiamen.

Crop Eradication: The preferred British initiative

Crop Eradication is one of the most popular counternarcotic initiatives. The most popular versions of crop eradication are aerial, compensated, manual and forced. Manual eradication usually involves teams patrolling with the police or military and destroying crops using tractors, sticks, and hands. Within Afghanistan, this has been unsuccessful. Compensated eradication, refers to paying farmers to destroy their crops and stop cultivating. This has also been unsuccessful because the traffickers always outbid the government, and funds from compensated eradications always end up in the hand of regional stronger men (Felbab-Brown, 2005, p. 64).

Aerial eradication, or fumigation, involves the spraying of crops with pesticides from helicopters. The only country which currently uses aerial fumigation is Colombia. Alongside damaging coca crops it has also contributed to adverse health consequences, damaged food crops and displaced communities (Human Rights Watch, 2015). Forced manual eradication involved forcing farmers to destroy their crops e.g. destroy your crops or be beheaded or imprisoned, this has also had adverse effects. In North Laos, forced eradication campaigns were followed by rice shortages which resulted in the need for aid. In Burma, 2002-03, forced manual eradication led to the closure of two-thirds of pharmacies and medical practitioners (Human Rights Watch, 2015, p. 2). Another perspective on eradication is of either Negative or Positive eradication (Chouvy, 2015) if it aids livelihoods it is positive if it is a detriment to livelihoods such as in Colombia or Laos it is negative.

Eradication as a counternarcotic initiative

Laos managed to radically reduce poppy cultivation. In 1989 the government established new forms of high-profit crops (asparagus and coffee), built new roads so crops could be sold, and tailored education to be relevant to the culture of sewer and water safety, this then raised health standards. 6 years later opium cultivation had dropped more than 90% (UN, 1998). Human Rights Watch noted in Afghanistan crop eradication was directed at ‘farmers who lacked political support, are unable to pay bribes, and cannot protect themselves,’. In Nangarhar, bans on cultivation, forced eradication, imprisonment of farmers and threats of NATO bombing led to a decrease in production, 90% drop in income and migration to Pakistan (Human Rights Watch, 2015, p. 2).

Crop eradication in Afghanistan has not worked, in many ways, it has stimulated corruption (Felbab-Brown, 2005; Human Rights Watch, 2015) when crops are eradicated in one area another area begins cultivating more. Felbab-Brown (2005) argues eradication can lead to the creation of serfdom labour as most farmers rent the land they pay for and use opium sales to pay rent. If all the poppy is eradicated they may have to grow poppy to get out of debt. This pushes the farmers further into the hands of warlords. In a US House of Representatives hearing the issue was raised that if eradication seemed to be aimed at one ethnic group it could exacerbate ethnic conflicts within Afghanistan where Pashtuns are viewed as reaping benefits (108th Cong, 2004).

Eradication, when placed within the social context of Afghanistan, is not feasible. Chouvy (2012) researched the unintended consequences of crop eradication. The intended consequence of eradication is the suppression of opium, the unintended consequences of eradication range from restored law, price hikes, increased violence, increased poverty, increased cultivation and a balloon effect. Chouvy’s theory of unintended consequences proves right when applied to Afghanistan since eradication began the areas which have experienced manual eradication have also experienced increased poverty such as Nangarhar (Human Rights Watch, 2015). From the early 2000’s when eradication began to modern day, there had been a major increase in annual poppy cultivation. Extra troops had to be deployed in 2006 to Helmand, Afghanistan’s largest poppy cultivating area after a rise in insurgency, and even with the success of the ANSF, it cannot be argued that law has been restored in Afghanistan.

Crop eradication although a favoured method in Afghanistan, is not useful in reducing poppy cultivation. Not only does it have menial effects on the overrule amount of poppy cultivated, but the lack of infrastructure throughout Afghanistan makes it too difficult for teams to venture to every location to carry out eradication. Then even if eradication takes place it runs the risk of marginalising farmers and pushing them into serfdom. Too much eradication targeted towards one ethnic group then runs the risks of contributing to ethnic conflict within Afghanistan. Therefore, crop eradication has not been a useful counternarcotic initiative in Afghanistan. Future articles will examine other counternarcotic initiatives such as interdiction, drug amnesty, and alternative development.


By Shaneka Knight

Instagram: Shanekaa Kknight



Edstrom, W. (2015). Heroin Dealer in Chief. Afghanistan, Source of 90% of the World’s Heroin [website]. Retrieved from

Felbab-Brown, V. (2005). Counterinsurgency, Counternarcotic, and Illicit Economies in Afghanistan: Lessons for State-Building [website]. Retrieved from:

Giustozzi, A. (2008). Working Paper No. 40. Afghanistan: transition without end. An analytical narrative of state building [website]. Retrieved from:

Haq, I. (1996). Pak-Afghan Drug Trade in Historical Perspective. Asian Survey, 36, 945-963. Retrieved from

Human Rights Watch. (2015). Human Rights and Drug Policy: Briefings for the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs [website]. Retrieved from

Rubin, R. B. (2013). Afghanistan from the Cold War through the War on Terror. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

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