The Opium Wars- Past and Present


China, in the 18th century, was a mighty and prosperous empire. It manufactured items which were exotic and in demand; such as, silk, porcelain, tea and lacquered goods.

The West was keen to trade in these items, yet was restrained by laws set by the Chinese emperor. Trade did not flourish since the Chinese were of the opinion that their products were superior compared to that of the West.

The western traders (especially the British) were unhappy with this restricted trade. Thus, they devised a cunning plan. They started selling opium (grown predominantly in India and Turkey) to the Chinese. Initially, the drug was used as a medicine to stop diarrhea, but soon, the Chinese population got addicted to it.

This addiction facilitated the West to procure all that they needed. The balance of trade, which was favorable to the Chinese initially, was now reversed. When the Chinese realized the damage that had been caused, the opium trade was made illegal by law. However, owing to the corruption that existed in the Chinese officials, it only grew. This finally led to the opium war (1839-42), which resulted in the defeat of the Chinese, and they lost their control on trade which they had previously held. (Hong Kong was ceded to Britain as a result of this war)

And history repeats itself.

The ‘narco-aggression’, as they call it in Russia, bears similarities to the malicious Chinese episode.

According to The Federal Drug Control Service, as many as 30 million to 40 million (in a population of 142 million) in Russia may have tried drugs, at least once. Annually, approximately 80,000 Russians die of drug-related causes. One in five crimes committed in Russia, is related to drugs. About 45 per cent of Russian university students use drugs.

The main source of these drugs was Afghanistan. The Narco business has emerged as virtually, the only economy of Afghanistan that is valued at some $10 billion a year. Opium trade is estimated by the U.N. to be equivalent to 53 per cent of the country’s official economy, and is helping to finance the Taliban.

The trade increased when the Russian borders became porous after its disintegration.

And when Russia backed the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, in an attempt to crush the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda in the post-9/11 scenario, it least expected an established drug trafficking from Afghanistan, to assume gargantuan proportions under the U.S. military. The U.S.-led NATO forces have not only failed to eliminate the terrorist threat from the Taliban, but have also presided over a spectacular rise in opium production.

It has been reported earlier that the CIA is involved in the production of opium in Afghanistan, or is at least protecting it. However, it is for the first time that Russia has directly accused the U.S. military of involvement in heroin traffic from Afghanistan to Europe.

One of the best-informed Russian journalists on Central Asia, Arkady Dubnov, quoted anonymous Afghan sources as saying that “85 per cent of all drugs produced in southern and southeastern provinces are shipped abroad by U.S. aviation.” Well-informed sources in Afghanistan’s security services told the Russian journalist that the American military had acquired drugs through local Afghan officials who dealt with the field commanders’ who were in charge of the drug production.

President Putin has described the drug abuse situation as one of ‘national calamity’. The Moscow city government plans to introduce mandatory drug tests for all students in the Russian capital, this year. School children may be next in the line for screening; some surveys indicate that four out of five young Russians are familiar with drugs. The Russian Parliament is planning to discuss a law to allow compulsory treatment of drug and alcohol addicts.

The situation is indeed critical. The side-effect of the Afghanistan war is now harming Russia, and it is already promoting tense relationships with the United States.

Nanda Kishore

[image by Dani3d]