email a friend iconprinter friendly iconOpium Wars
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The team advances to another field, and from a crumbling house a woman emerges, shrieking, "For God's sake, don't destroy it! We don't have anything else!" The men say nothing and keep swinging. A few minutes later, they discover another poppy field, surrounded by brick walls. Two small children stand against the wall, crying loudly as the officers approach. An older sister tries to comfort them as their mother hollers, "These children have no father! How will I provide for them now?"

The chief looks stricken. Lowering his cane, he walks up to the older girl, murmurs a few sympathetic words and presses a few Afghan dollars into her hand.

"Give his money back!" the mother hisses.

The officers move on to another widow's poppy field. She sits on a mule sobbing while they undo the labor of her dead husband—who she says had been a mujahideen against the Soviets and more recently fought the Taliban as a member of the Afghan National Army before being killed by a roadside bomb this past winter. As we proceed, I notice that the poppy bulbs in some of the razed fields bear telltale slash marks, indicating that their opium resin had been harvested before our arrival. I also notice fields that are plainly visible but go untouched. Are these oversights? Or has someone been bribed?

As the chief and his officers repose under trees after an elaborate picnic lunch of goat, chicken, yogurt, and fresh vegetables filched from nearby fields, I ask the chief if some of his own men may be involved in the opium trafficking.

"Yes, there are a few," he says quietly. "But let's talk about this later." When I remind him of his words the next week, the chief says he has purged his department of crooked cops. He says he does not know of any elected officials in Badakhshan involved in smuggling—"otherwise, I would have arrested them." I do not tell him that other sources have fingered a prominent official as a smuggler, as well as another smuggler who was a candidate for the parliament, offering to pay for votes and telling farmers that if elected he would ensure that opium production will continue. Even as Badakhshan becomes poppy free, local commanders and government officials have allegedly reached power-sharing agreements over drug routes taking opium across the northern border into Central Asia. The Afghan economy, even here in the non-Taliban controlled areas of the north, remains reliant on the drug trade.

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