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Monday, January 3, 2005
Braving the “Desert of Death” for Heroin Profits

By Steven Taylor @ 1:38 pm

Via the NYT : Armed and Elusive, Afghan Drug Dealers Roam Free

With its forbidding reputation as the “desert of death,” it deters most travelers but is the favored route of drug traffickers taking opium, heroin and hashish produced in Afghanistan to Iran for smuggling to Turkey and Europe. They cross in armed convoys of 10 to 20 pickup trucks, at such high speed that police officials say they cannot catch them.

“The smugglers know the desert very well,” said the police chief of Nimruz Province, who goes by one name, Asadullah. “They have very powerful cars, Land Cruisers that go at 250 kilometers an hour,” he said. That is more than 150 miles an hour. The desert is so smooth that the drivers can indeed move at high speeds. The 300-mile border that Nimruz Province shares with Pakistan and Iran is wide open for them, he added.

The desert crossing is part of a lucrative drug trade that threatens to turn Afghanistan into a narco-mafia state, United Nations and Afghan officials warn. Afghanistan, the biggest producer of opium in the world, is now the source of 90 percent of the heroin on Europe’s streets, the United Nations antidrug agency says.

Although farmers all over Afghanistan have been turning to poppy cultivation - causing such farming to increase by 60 percent in 2004 - they often remain impoverished, while big profits are being made by the dealers and traffickers, they say.

The basic paralles with Colombia are stark: poverty-induced cultivation, enrichment primarily of traffickers not growers, and market forces driving traffickers to amazing activities to get their product to market.

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