Side event: Voices of the Quchaqbar – Understanding opiate trafficking in Afghanistan from the perspective of drug traffickers

Organized by Afghanistan, and UNODC Programme Development and Management Unit

Anja Korenblik, UNODC

[Welcoming remarks and introduction of speakers]

Michel Osman, UNODC

This report is unique as it conducted qualitative research and interviewed traffickers in Afghanistan that had not been charged, or had any criminal justice involvement. We interviewed 41 traffickers — they were all male (acknowledged this as research limitation) —across Afghanistan. The majority of those interviewed were between 35 – 49 years old, some older and in their 60s. Forty percent were involved in trade for less than 4 years. A review of the literature found there was no consensus for what constitutes ‘large scale’ traffickers. Our study group was compromised of mostly small traffickers (under 10kg) and mid up, which we defined as unto 40kg per month, and a smaller percentage (10%) were defined as ‘large’, being more than 40kg per month.

Motivations for trafficking include both ‘need and greed’. Some smaller traffickers where only doing it to meet basic needs, or to save for particular expense – such as a wedding or private schooling for their children. Many would have preferred to work within licit markets if they were available. Afghanistan has large levels of unemployment, and much of it short term and unstable.

We asked people how they became involved in trafficking and it was mainly down to lack of economic opportunities and to avoid poverty, but also because also seen as a way for people to pull themselves out of debt and subsistence survival. Money is more a factor for staying in the trade. Once significant profits had been made, it became a driver for staying involved. Others stated lack of licit opportunities or one that would provide similar levels of money.

So, how are the networks structured? Trafficking networks were very hierarchical, but flexible. For high level groups they included a head of organization. Surprisingly, they were flexible enough to share resources. Family networks were crucial, and many networks were small family based organizations, with a limited reach. Very few worked outside of family. Many very small, 2 – 6 people. Networks were extremely cooperative, particularly in times of crisis sharing both profits and risk. Rarely would there be violence within the networks.

Many had no contacts to export to international destinations, but sold to other larger traffickers that would focused on international distribution. Iran was singled out as best place to sell to even larger international networks, followed by Pakistan. Several groups also moved synthetic drugs such as amphetamine type substances (ATS).

Women are used in labs, intelligence on trafficking routes, recruitment and most prominently as couriers. It is easy to recruit women as the profits are very attractive for them due to gender disparities within the country. Couriers with dual-nationalities are paid a premium.

There appears to be no formalized production and supply. Many networks just make enough and some stocks were also future use. Labs could produce between 45 – 600kg in a single cycle. Money was reinvested mostly into supplies, including precursors, but also real estate and licit businesses to be used as fronts.

M. Fazel Wasit, Counter Narcotics, Afghanistan

Over the last decade (2009-2019) there were 27,686 counter narcotic operations and 30,902 people were arrested with a total of 2,717 tons of various drugs were seized. There has been 285% increase. Acetic Anhydride is a precursor for heroin production and an estimated 313,000 — 783,00 litres is imported via smuggling annually. Over last 10 years, 62 foreign nationals have been arrested in Afghanistan. The ‘farm gate’ price of opium has decreased over 50% in main opium poppy growing provinces since 2009. Prices has been fluctuating over the last several years. We have found a strong correlation between number of dismantled drug labs and drugs seized. We have found an increase in synthetic drugs, particularly ATS in the last decade. These are many imported, but some are produced in the east.

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