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Monday, December 22, 2008

Heroin, schools and the heart of the insurgency - # Ghaith Abdul-Ahad in Lashkar Gah

Crossing his long fingers, and speaking quietly, the uncle explained his trade. "If we smuggle 40kg, we give the Taliban 4kg. We pay the 10% as a zikat [Islamic tax] to the Taliban. And we pay another 10% to the government officials and the police.

"Each Taliban commander collects his own tax - from the smugglers - and also from the farmers. We pay a commander and he makes calls to other commanders to make sure that we have safe passage. The problem is when we have to pay several times to several commanders."

He said he travelled to Musa Qala, Sangin and other districts in Helmand all of which, he said, were effectively under Taliban control - the British and the Afghan government controlled the towns but the countryside is a free for all. A motorbike is his preferred mode of transport. He could load it with as much as 80kg of poppies, though sometimes he used Land Cruisers or taxis.


The real money, the uncle said, lay in international smuggling. The opium was taken to laboratories in the east on the border with Pakistan, refined, and made into heroin. That's where the real business began, he says. Convoys of mainly Baluch smugglers took the heroin back through Afghanistan, then into Iran. From there it travelled through Iraq and Turkey to reach Europe.

He reels off the figures like an accountant: "A kilo of opium is around $5,000 in Pakistan. It is $20,000 when it reaches Europe, through Greece and Turkey. Four kilos of opium make a kilo of heroin which sells for $10,000 in Iran - $30,000 in Greece."...


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