Afghan Opium and Uzbekistan-Related Conspiracy Theories

by Christian Bleuer on 5/14/2010 · 19 comments

I know next to nothing about the opium issue in Afghanistan, and I purposely avoid writing on the subject. However, it’s been hard to ignore for the last day or so as everybody is reporting on the fungus/blight taking out opium poppies in Afghanistan. For example, BBC reports:

A serious disease is affecting opium poppies in Afghanistan, Antonio Maria Costa, the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has said. Mr Costa told the BBC that this year’s opium production could be reduced by a quarter, compared with last year. He said the disease – a fungus – is thought to have infected about half of the country’s poppy crop.

So who’s to blame? Nature? Excessive monoculture? Gretchen Peters? Let’s ignore the agriculture experts and go to the BBC view on the ground:

…farmers in Afghanistan are unsure about what is damaging their crops. Some believe Nato troops are responsible for the outbreak, but Mr Costa denied that this was the case. Farmer Haji Mohammad in Nawzad told the BBC that he had seen a dramatic reduction in the amount of opium he was able to harvest. He described the fungus as an “aerial spray.”

Inevitably locals will blame foreigners. However, the rest of the world’s agriculture suffers from fungus, pests, disease, blights, etc… on a regular basis without the assistance of NATO troops.

Of course, it doesn’t help perceptions at all that so many people in the West have called for poppy fields to be sprayed or plowed under. And guess what? There has been research on how to take out poppies. In fact, the research was done in our area of interest, in Uzbekistan. I remembered a BBC story from way, way, way back in the year 2000. It is still available, along with the ugly old BBC website layout. What say they?:

The UK and the US are funding research on a new biological weapon in an effort to destroy the heroin trade. The research, by former Soviet scientists in Uzbekistan, is being supervised by the United Nations Drug Control Programme (UNDCP). But there are doubts about the safety of the killer fungus they have developed…

That’s a rather large roll of tin foil for the tin-foil hats.

What about the effects in Afghanistan? As for the farmers, there’s not much they can do about it. But what about all those government-protected or Taliban-taxed drug traffickers? There will not be happy. And the opium money/tax that filters up/down/sideways (depending on how you view the structure of the opium business) to the government officials and Taliban? Will it be reduced? I lean towards the figures that say the corrupt officials get the lion’s share of the money. Perhaps they will hold off on buying a new wedding-cake house. Or maybe they will use the opportunity to act as brave defenders of Afghans and denounce foreign meddling (that they wouldn’t last a month in their offices without).

Many people have already pointed out that if production goes down there will be a rise in the price and then a (further) price jump after old stockpiles run out. So it works out, unless you are the guy whose fields were hit especially hard. Anyways, plenty of room for speculation and conspiracy theories. But I’ll take a wild guess and say that this fungus of unknown origins is miles from a silver bullet.

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Abdullah May 14, 2010 at 5:58 am

Definitely not the working of US troops. Where would they get the funds to finance the taliban if they eliminated it all. Since the price increase will offset any losses in harvest, it would be a good idea to clear those mine fields along the way to be sure that all the remaining harvest will make it through with ease.

Evan Harper May 14, 2010 at 6:44 am

Imagine if some law-enforcement or crop-spraying operation managed to destroy 20% of the entire world opium crop for a year. It would be hailed, rightly, as the greatest victory in the history of the War on Drugs. There’d be medals, promotions, UN resolutions of commendation, Presidential speeches taking credit. There’d be feature articles in big magazines, examining precisely what brilliant combination of tactics, operations, and strategy enabled this breakthrough. We’d never hear the end of it.

And yet — here it is happening by sheer accident, and does anybody expect it to make a difference to drug consumption? Of course not. Heroin prices will rise moderately. Some occasional users may quit temporarily, some addicts may cut back marginally. Both groups will seek substitute opiates. Dealers will raise prices and increase adulterant levels, easily making up any potential lost profits. And in a year or two, we’ll be back exactly where we started.

Could there be any clearer demonstration that the War on Drugs is a colossal fraud?

Abdullah May 14, 2010 at 6:59 am

Come on Boratino, all Central Asians know the cure for radiation poisoning or any other poisoning for that matter is “just drink a glass of milk”, it works every time.

Grant May 14, 2010 at 7:06 am

Prices have risen more than a bit for opium, which was inevitable. And of course the U.S gets blamed. Not to say that the U.S doesn’t have some guilty secrets, but if we were capable of every single thing attributed to the U.S we should be ruling this planet by now.

Jack May 14, 2010 at 1:33 pm

> but if we were capable of every single thing attributed to the U.S we should be ruling this planet by now.

Who says we aren’t? ๐Ÿ˜‰

joey May 14, 2010 at 7:11 am

There is a glut in supply at the moment, this fungus will have the effect of pushing up prices across the board. And making the UN/NATO more unpopular.

Abdullah May 14, 2010 at 7:26 am

Son-of-a-fusarium!! Batman!! Looks like agent green has reared its ugly spore “Pleospora papaveracea”. Hello Iran, is the USA, NATO, conducting biological warfare in you neighborhood? To be continued……

Tashkent 4 Star Hotels May 14, 2010 at 6:40 pm

Though there is no substantive evidence to support the theory regarding Uzbekistan but if it is True at least the world leaders must have the moral courage to appreciate the positive efforts by President Islam karimov to Eradicate Heroin Trade from Afghanistan. IMF Deputy Managing Director had the courage to appreciate the positive steps of Uzbekistan Government to pass through during the financial crisis and high rate of economic progress achieved because of President Islam karimov Policies. I think it is high tine that the world economist start reading the book by President Islam Karimov regarding World Financial Crisis.
President Islam Karimov has many times been right inspite of world pressures and now is the time to start acknowledging his positive contributions to the humanity and stop criticizing him.
We are a Hotel Booking Agency Offering big Discounts on all 4 Star Hotels in Tashkent

Christian May 14, 2010 at 9:23 pm

Best spam comment ever.

Michael Hancock May 15, 2010 at 1:12 am


Turgai Sangar May 18, 2010 at 7:43 am

“We are a Hotel Booking Agency Offering big Discounts on all 4 Star Hotels in Tashkent”
With IMF and ABD delegations as a major customer, I presume?

Metin May 18, 2010 at 4:32 pm

did you wish hotels served delegates from Hizbut-Tahrir, Al-Qaeda and folks like Ben-Laden instead ๐Ÿ™‚

Turgai Sangar May 22, 2010 at 4:30 am

All on the same floor, or separate?

AJK May 14, 2010 at 9:56 pm

I caught Maria Costa at a talk a few months ago…he said his big focus was on palliative care. He was definitely just speaking to his audience, but has a point that just getting medical professionals into Afghanistan (and elsewhere in Central Asia) is much, much, more cost effective:

And Monocle, eh? I’ve been meaning to write about their article on Tim Hortons in Afghanistan for a while. Hopefully I’ll get to that this summer.

Christian May 14, 2010 at 11:22 pm

I only ever get Monocle when I’m stuck in some terrible international airport for long durations. One issue costs as much as a book.

tictoc May 19, 2010 at 12:03 am

Is anyone attributing the poppy blight to Allah? Something along the lines of … Allah takes a dim view of your engaging in drug production so he sent this blight to ruin your crops.

Last summer, The Secret Global Cabal targeted the tomato trade in the US. Blight took out a large portion of the tomato crop and sent prices soaring.

Still, if it’s a fungus, that could mean bad news for next year’s crop, too. Some can survive the winter in the soil and affect new plantings.

matt_dupee May 21, 2010 at 10:59 am

Christian, I agree with your points here. British media is almost reporting as fact that ISAF/US were responsible and I have analyzed some of the farmer’s claims used in their reports and have found major discrepancies. I have written my two cents concering the blight outbreak, which was confirmed to be caused by aphids according the Afghan Counter Narcotics Ministry. Commentary can be found here: Afghanistan’s Poppy Blight Could Mean Trouble for War Effort

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