Editor's Note: Viktor Ivanov is the Director of Russia's Federal Service for the Control of Narcotics. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Viktor Ivanov.
By Viktor Ivanov - Special to CNN
In early September, the upper house of the Afghan parliament accused the international community of failing to wage a successful fight against drug production and trafficking in Afghanistan. This accusation is supported, in their view, by the growth of the heroin manufacturing industry in the country to an estimated worth of about $50 billion.
Equally disappointing is the conclusion of the U.S. Congress Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, co-chaired by Senators Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Grassley, which acknowledges the absence of distinctive results of international efforts in Afghanistan to combat drug production. Both senators draw attention to the need to destroy opium poppies as the main way of eliminating drug production.
Also discouraging is that the United Nations estimates that in the decade since U.S. and NATO military operations began in Afghanistan, Afghan heroin has killed a million young people in Eurasia. Moreover, shortly after the start of military operations, it came to the United States itself and, according to American experts, about two million Americans have become addicts. U.S. Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman said earlier this year that drug trafficking from Afghanistan poses a threat not only for Russia but for the United States as well.
What has stymied progress in the fight against Afghan drug production? There are three main causes.
First, the most effective tactical approach to combating drug production—crop extermination—is not applied in Afghanistan today. Simply put, if there were no crops, there would be no drugs. Rather, current strategies focus on strangling drug trafficking routes, which are difficult to expose and extremely criminalized. Considering that trafficking routes in Eurasia and Central Asia cover more than 25 million square kilometers, whereas all opium poppy fields in Afghanistan comprise no more than 1,300 square kilometers—20 thousand times smaller than the overall trafficking territory—it seems misguided to focus on the former.
A more effective approach would be to begin at the root of the process, where the crops grow, and introduce appropriate legal norms so that land where drug crops are discovered could be expropriated and owners strictly punished. The application of effective measures against land owners with crops of opium poppies would make anti-drug programs more targeted, tied as they are to the people behind the trade as opposed to a regional administration.
Second, the current approach to combating drug production and trafficking in Afghanistan is ideological. Current strategies focus on the movement and finances of the Taliban, which, even the U.S. State Department has conceded, is the beneficiary of only a minority of drug profits—less than $150 million—compared to the $50 billion in total revenues of Afghan heroin traffickers. As a result, powerful crime syndicates remain outside the focus of the world's attention and are sufficiently resourced to bribe officials, influence policies of other states and, perhaps, to fund international organizations.
This approach sacrifices anti-drug missions to geopolitical objectives. This is not dissimilar to the situation in Noriega’s Panama, with respect to which the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Drugs and International Operations of the U.S. Senate concluded: “In some ways foreign policy considerations impair the ability of the United States to wage war against drugs. Foreign policy priorities … from time to time delayed, hindered or directly contradict enforcement efforts aimed at preventing the diversion of drugs into the United States.”
Third, in the fight against drug production there is virtually no use of modern digital technology. In the era of iPhone and GPS, this is anachronistic at best. The time has come to incorporate digital systems into the fight against drug production. I would like to introduce Russia’s initiative for digital measures to eliminate Afghan drug production: the Digital Poppy Road Map.
We propose creating an interactive map as an informational resource available to all people to consolidate information on Afghan drug production in one place. It would record all relevant information on crops, drug labs, warehouses and routes of transit. The goal of this project will be to consolidate this information so that it can be constantly revised and updated by a number of parties.
The map will identify key drug production infrastructure and supply hubs, opium and marijuana fields, opium markets and bazaars, drug laboratories, drug holdings, trade paths, etc. Such a map will enable authorities to identify and localize the exact infrastructure contributing to the production of these brands, which will give a new understanding of this complex issue.
Placing such a map in the public eye will enable us to coordinate anti-drug trafficking assignments to the appropriate authorities. This will promote transparency and cooperation among key international players in the Afghan anti-trafficking movement.
According to our estimates, tens of billions of dollars a year are spent on anti-drug programs without much success. Thorough digitization can be done for just $150 million a year, by our estimates. The digitization of the fight against drug production would require the close cooperation of Russia, the United States and other global bodies. It is an affordable, effective and badly needed tool against the scourge of the global drug trade.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of Viktor Ivanov.