Afghanistan Mules and the United States

afghanistanAll it takes are mules to fuel the Taliban war in Afghanistan against the United States. Mules are the ideal beasts of burden in the hostile Hindu Kush mountain terrain even in this age of sophisticated high-tech war gadgets. This is not about the donkey/horse hybrid but about drug mules.

In common parlance of the drug world, the traffickers, those at the lowest rung of the ladder, are called mules. Their sole function is to transport drugs, especially heroin, from destination A to B. For a couple of hundred dollars, they risk being caught by the anti-narcotic forces or other agencies. The penalty for drug trafficking is death in countries like Saudi Arabia.

About 90 percent of the world’s opium is cultivated and harvested in Afghanistan. According to a recent report by the U.S. government, more agricultural land is under poppy cultivation today in Afghanistan than it was in 2002, when the American troops toppled the Taliban regime. Two major reasons for this increase in poppy cultivation are 1) increasing street demand of heroin in rich countries and 2) the daily deterioration of law and order in Afghanistan.This is the reality in spite of the fact the United States has spent $10 billion to eradicate poppy cultivation and to replace it with other cash crops in Afghanistan.

According to Hamid Zadran, a local landowner, “No other cash crop even comes close to what I earn from cultivating poppy. With mounting inflation, poppy is our only passport out of hunger and poverty. I have even cut fruit trees and cleared vineyards to make land for poppy cultivation.”

For Naqueeb Ahmadzai, another landowner, this is only part of the picture. He says, “Even if I want to cultivate other cash crops, the local warlords operating heroin labs would not allow me to do so, and then the returns are high as well.” He continues, “So I am left with no other option but to contribute to the heinous drug trade, though, unwilling… I have a family to take care of and I can’t risk the ire of the local warlord.”

Heroin production is flourishing because of the warlords running heroin labs, the money from which buys weapons in its war against United States. It is on record that it is not only the warlords, but black sheep in the anti-narcotic forces, whether Afghan or American, who are also involved in this lucrative drug trafficking. Russian drug smugglers are also major stakeholders in Afghanistan. There are confirmed reports that bodies of dead mules have been used to smuggle heroin into the United States and Europe.

The recent high-profile deaths of two Hollywood actors, Cory Monteith and Philip Seymour Hoffman, allegedly due to heroin overdose or tainted heroin, have reintroduced this drug of the 1970s into our society. The main issue is that Afghan heroin is manufactured in shanty labs, in unhygienic conditions and by laymen with little or no knowledge of pharmacology. Hence, most of the time the stuff that is  smuggled into the United States by drug mules is tainted, even lethal.

OP-ED by Iftikhar Tariq Khanzada


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