Afghanistan: The Making of a Narco State

Matthieu Aikins, Rolling Stone:

Back at Hekmat's house, I ask his uncle Mirza Khan if he'll show me the results of his harvest thus far. He returns with a polyurethane bag the size of a soccer ball and hefts it onto the carpet. He unwinds a thick rubber strap, and a sour, vegetable odor fills the room. Inside is a mass of raw opium, with a rich brown color and a moist texture, like pulped figs. It's about 10 pounds, a half-acre's yield. "If I'm lucky, I might get 60,000 kaldar for this," he says. That's about $600.

"Do you know how much this is worth on the streets of London?" I ask him. He shrugs, and I make a quick calculation. Ten pounds of opium can be refined into a pound of pure heroin. Cut it to 30 percent purity and sell it by the gram – that's 1,500 grams at a hundred bucks a pop. "This is worth over $150,000."

That's a 25,000 percent markup. We stare at each other for a moment, and Mirza Khan gives a chuckle. He shakes his head in amazement. A future hundred grand sitting in the living room of a guy who doesn't have plumbing, electricity or furniture. Someone between him and that junkie is clearly making a killing.

While Rolling Stone should—having committed many sins lately—be ashamed of their web design and the amount of ads and cookies that attempt to run in the background of their site, this story is too important not to link to. We’re at a very important point in history re: Afghanistan right now. It will be inviting, as new terrors emerge, to forget about what we spent more than a decade doing, and then undoing, there. This piece shines some light, tries not to let that happen. I heard about it during this Fresh Air interview with the author, which is also worthy of a listen.