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Revolutionary Opium and the Saffron of God

OP SLIPPER - MTF-1by Pierre ChiartanoHerat. The roads in Afghanistan are the center of life, death, and interests. Down there, along the car routes, people shoot, place IED – the deadly improvised explosive devices – even decide the country’s future. On scarce paved roads, on frequent dirty and sandy roads, and on the main ways, the just outlined desert paths, are passing goods, food, weapons and drugs. Opium for Afghans is a tradition and way of life. The poppy plant grows without the need of great attention. There isn’t need to irrigate it, no need of fertilizers, cropper don’t have to use special machines for the harvest. It is enough use hands to collect the white latex that flows as slow as a vegetable mucus from the bulb of the flower when it has not yet blossomed, carefully cut it with a razor blade. With a small spatula, croppers accumulate raw mucus until they have a ball that turns on whitish brown. Many of these balls of opium are then compressed into tablets. Those tablets are then loaded inside Antonov aircraft, ready to take off from seven semi-prepared airfields along the Iranian border. From these runways dry and dusty, usually crossed only by scorpions as big as lizards, the drug comes in the hub of Mashaad. Then take the path of Bratislava for European market and Tehran for the domestic dealing network. The directors of this traffic are some branches of the Revolutionary Guards. Better to say it is a cospiracy for gain easy money and defeat political rivals. But even greed could be a good reason for smuggling. In Iran it’s going on an inner war that occasionally shows strange “airplane accidents” decimating one faction or another of Shiite orthodoxy “gang” in uniform. Iran’s presence is a strong perceiving in Herat province. There are banks, companies, schools and agents of Tehran in every corner. Shiites have a huge interest in maintaining stable this province, to manage the affairs and control an important border region. Certainly drug is not the whole business, but it is a pivotal issue. Herat is the Afghan province that most remembers Iran, since the age of Tamerlane, and it has many university departments, from engineering to medicine. It has a better standard of living than many other parts of the country. Anyway is better remembers that Afghanistan produces 80 percent of raw opium in the world. And Helmand valley – on southern border of province – produce the 70 percent of afghan white poppy. «But they are beginning to organize even the manufacturing stages», explains to us civil Nato officer in the Western Region of Afghanistan, Andrea Romussi. Local drug lords realized that they can increase profits by refining raw opium. «Herat is a model for all of Afghanistan. There is a great tradition in trade and business. In Herat find what you do not find elsewhere in the region», states Romussi. Some time ago, Isaf had tried to dry the roots of poppy business, it was a way to push the cultivation of saffron. A precious spice that can also be sold to 12 thousand dollars a ton in bulk. A competitive price compared what drug lords pay to Afghan farmers to obtain the harvest. The saffron bulbs that are usually bought from Iran market are of very poor quality, compared to those produced  in Afghanistan. The best area for this kind of crop is Ghorian in Iran. Iran, opium and saffron seem to share roads and destiny too many times. Herat Provincial recostruction team purchased 400 tons of bulbs in 2010. It was a test to show as the project «leave opium-get saffron» was a serious issue. But in Afghanistan there is not anymore a planned economy, at least not since soviets fled away. «The request must come from the Afghans» sayd to us a Isaf/Cimic officer. Unfortunately requests has not yet arrived this year (november 2011). Maybe everyone is waiting for the winter campaign. Insurgents and drug lords will not spend, as usual, this season to make shining Ak 47 and Rpg for spring, the time of harvest. The enemies of the new Afghanistan would show that the transition – the announced phase two – will not work. But they will have to contend with the Isaf troops and, in Regional command West, with italian militaries, among the best performers of the Petraeus “manual”. However saffron needs water, opium not. And if you do not dry saffron at a certain temperature it loses quality and  you can just sell it in Indian market to a tenth of its value. The drug war is not and will not be an easy task in the ancient Oxiana.

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One comment on “Revolutionary Opium and the Saffron of God

  1. Kiarash
    December 23, 2012

    The artcile is very interesting and highlights some importnat key points regarding drug trafficking between Afghanistan and Iran. The role of some groups of Pasdaran in the drug dealing is also an interesting issue which is analysed in the article.
    مقاله ای بسیار مفید و جالب در مورد نقش بخشی از سپاه پاسداران در تجارت مواد مخدر.

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This entry was posted on December 19, 2012 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , .
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