What We Left Behind in Afghanistan

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Stefano Tijerina, a lecturer in management and the Chris Kobrack Research Fellow in Canadian Business History at the University’s of Maine’s Business School.

After twenty years of nation-building in Afghanistan, the United States leaves behind a country in shambles. It might be argued that we slowed down the momentum of terrorist cells and that we kept the Taliban in check for two decades. But there seem to be few positive long-terms stories to highlight—perhaps the empowerment of Afghan women; but that might not last very long under renewed Taliban rule.

Afghanistan is rich in natural gas, petroleum, coal, copper, chromite, talc, barites, sulfur, lead, zinc, iron ore, salt, precious/semiprecious stones, and arable land [1]. But, during the American presence, the country was not targeted by the Western private sector to harness these potential economic development capabilities. The only real area of growth over the last two decades was opium production—that is perhaps our legacy in Afghanistan.

According to the most recent “Afghanistan Opium Survey” report of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Afghanistan is the largest opium producer in the world [2]. UNODC also reported that the Taliban was the biggest buyer of opium and the biggest collector of opium production taxes as well [3]. Moreover, “sales of opium and poppy derivatives constituted the main source of income” for more than half of the population, and the “gross income from opiates exceeded the value of the country’s officially recorded licit exports in 2019″ [4].

Left: A poppy field in Helmand province, Afghanistan, April 3, 2013. Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

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