It’s no secret that Afghanistan is a focal point in the War on Terror and the world’s leader in producing heroin, but there are unintended consequences of these two facts specifically the increasing number of Afghani women and children who are addicted to drugs.
According to a new study from the Afghan government in coordination with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan, the female population, inside the Afghanistan warzone is turning to illegal drugs and alcohol to overcome disparity of life in the religious tribal nation.
Mohammad Ibrahim Azhar, Afghanistan’s Deputy Counter-Narcotics Minister says there are more than one million Afghans, including women and children, who have succumbed to the addiction of heroin.
The Afghanistan narcotics minister reports that the increase in addiction rates stem from the rise in products made from the opium poppies grown in the economically poor war-torn nation.
The current nine-year war has driven many Afghanis into poverty. Couple that with the social pressures of strict religious beliefs and forced marriages (often at very young ages) has pushed many women to use illicit drugs as a form of escapism, Azhar said.
Also, many women who live in Afghanistan are refused medical treatment for various illnesses and turn to heroin as a painkiller; however once they embark down this road the addiction becomes difficult to kick.
One woman told Radio Free Europe, on condition of anonymity, that she turned to heroin because her husband refused her medical care.
“I was ill for a long time,” she said. “My husband didn’t care. He didn’t bother to take me to a hospital. I went to a local man to get a powder to kill the pain. I only found out later that it was morphine, but by then I was addicted to it. That led to me taking heroin. I am so ashamed of that. Every one in the family and the local community who knows I am addicted hates me. I want to get rid of this shame as soon as possible.”
There are a number of free drug treatment centers in Afghanistan, according to the Health Ministry, but only a small number of women seek treatment because of the country’s conservative Islamic beliefs.
Due to Afghanistan’s strict religious laws, many women are forced to conceal their addiction in order to prevent bringing shame to their family that leads them to be branded as sinners. Also, seeking treatment for drug addiction problems is prohibited by Islamic law.
It’s clear that the 10-year-Russian war and the U.S. led nine-year- War on Terror have certainly left their impetuous marks on a broken tribal nation struggling to finds its identity.
Armed cartel members standing post.
Everyday drugs enter the U.S. through the major ports of entry, San Diego, El Paso, Nogales and other smaller ports. The majority of American’s may not be able to comprehend just how much methamphetamine, marijuana, cocaine, and cash enter the country through ports and not across the desert.
“El Paso may be the busiest city in the world in terms of the flow of drugs,” said Special Agent Mike Cordero, a member of the FBI/DEA Strike Force, and drug team established in 2007 to target “the biggest of the big” drug trafficking organizations.
“If they are major players,” Agent Cordero explained, “we’re going after them. Our mission is to disrupt and dismantle these organizations.”
According to the FBI and DEA it is estimated that 40-60 percent of all illegal drugs that enter the U.S. come through the border regions surrounding the El Paso, Texas Field Office.
The drugs pour across the border from Juarez, Mexico and U.S. dollars stream back into Mexico completing the drug cycle of life. It is estimated that each month, tens of millions of U.S. dollars head south into Juarez, enabling the cartels to pay off corrupt public officials, procure weapons and engage in other criminal activity like human trafficking or kidnapping.
The targeted law enforcement team in El Paso is one of several located along the Southwest border. FBI and DEA agents are trained to fight the crime and violence associated with the drug cartels.
The program is funded by the “Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, a longstanding Department of Justice initiative that combines federal, state, and local law enforcement efforts to fight organized crime and drug traffickers. The Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI have lead roles in operating the strike force,” according to the FBI.
By working with undercover operatives, sources, and Mexican law enforcement, the FBI/DEA team uses an intelligence-driven approach in apprehending drug-related criminals. “Besides orchestrating large drug buys, agents pay close attention to the money laundering aspects of drug trafficking. The actionable intelligence gathered by the strike force benefits many other investigations and law enforcement agencies both domestically and internationally,” the FBI said.
In El Paso, the strike force consists of “10 FBI agents and 10 DEA agents.” The specialized team also coordinates with representatives from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF).
“We are a badge-less operation,” Agent Cordero said. “When you walk in our office, you can’t tell who is FBI and who is DEA. There is a concerted effort to put the cases first and not to worry about who gets the credit,” he added. “It’s a win is a win for everybody.”
The joint-team effort recently participated in a takedown called “Project Deliverance.” The team agents apprehended 133 people on drug charges and seized 800 pounds of marijuana, 11 kilos of cocaine, and nearly $140,000 in cash.
The operation also collected international intelligence for numerous other investigations around the country. “Because El Paso is a pivotal location for the Mexican drug trade,” said Special Agent Raul Bujanda, another member of the strike force, “the intelligence we gather allows us to spin off a lot of cases to other offices.”
However there are those who believe we may be better served to decriminalize drugs in the U.S. and ramp up rehabilitation centers to treat the real addiction problem.
Ryan Hoskins wrote a paper for George Mason University regarding this very issue (Mexico Drug Violence: Why the Merida Initiative, gun bans and border controls will fail and drug reform is the solution).
“It would be great if President Obama would reallocate the money currently set aside for drug interdiction and make an effort to fix the drug addiction problems American’s face each day,” Hoskins proposed.
“During my research (on the drug problems America faces) I came across Portugal’s recent legalization of drugs and I realized we (U.S.) are going about this problem all wrong.”
Hoskins contends that drug usage didn’t increase in Portugal as many expected and police actually handed out more “fix-it” type tickets if you will. “By de-stigmatizing drugs, users were more likely to get treatment,” Hoskins explains.
While America may be a long way from legalizing drugs, states like California are moving forward with adding Marijuana to the okay list. In November, the Golden State’s voters will mark “yes or no” on proposition 19, a ballot initiative legalizing Mexican drug cartel’s biggest money maker- pot.
If the voters approve the measure by large margins, other states in the union are sure to follow suit hoping to earn more taxpayer money. This plays into Hoskins’ hope. “First we need to decriminalize drugs, gain control of the drug problem and then perhaps we can eventually get rid of the black market by legalizing drugs altogether.”
The latter, legalizing drugs would certainly bring an end to most black-market sales, but the notion drugs would be legalized in a country in which excess is the norm, may take a little getting used to.