After years of hard work by drug warriors in Afghanistan, the country no longer produces 87 percent of the world's opium. It now produces 92 percent, according to the U.N. Mysteriously precise figures aside, this year's harvest is believed to be the biggest ever, up about 50 percent from last year's. Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, blames the Taliban:
He said the increase in cultivation was significantly fueled by the resurgence of Taliban rebels in the south, the country's prime opium growing region. As the insurgents have stepped up attacks, they have also encouraged and profited from the drug trade, promising protection to growers if they expanded their opium operations….
"The southern part of Afghanistan was displaying the ominous hallmarks of incipient collapse, with large-scale drug cultivation and trafficking, insurgency and terrorism, crime and corruption," he said in a statement released by his office.
"We are seeing a very strong connection between the increase in the insurgency on the one hand and the increase in cultivation on the other hand," he explained in the interview.
That's one way of looking at it. Another is that efforts to stamp out opium cultivation are driving farmers into the Taliban's arms, thereby strengthening the insurgency. If Western drug warriors and their Afghan allies were not trying to eliminate the farmers' livelihoods, they would not need the Taliban's protection.