Afghanistan’s fastest-growing drug industry operates from desert outposts in plain view. One of its most bustling hubs, five hours west of Kandahar, can be reached only by miles of dirt tracks that lead to a row of dusty shops topped with Taliban flags. Wholesalers openly here, moving dozens of kilos of methamphetamine every week, reports the Washington Post. A half-kilo bag would have a street value in Europe of tens of thousands of dollars. It sells in Afghanistan for $250. For decades, the country has been a global hub for opium production, estimated to supply 80 percent of world opiate users. Now its meth industry is growing at breakneck speed, stoking fears among Western experts that, under the Taliban, Afghanistan could become a major supplier as demand rises globally.
Afghanistan's poppy fields were already the world's main supplier of opium. Afghan traffickers now grind a native plant called ephedra, which is a natural source of meth's key ingredient. Hundreds of meth labs have appeared in Afghanistan over the past six years. More are being built each month as an economic crisis forces Afghans to find new sources of income. The vast majority of meth produced is for export, but an increasing number of Afghans are turning to it as their drug of choice. The sudden boom came after drug traffickers discovered a potential bonanza in ephedra — known locally as oman — which grows wild. “These labs have been extremely busy these last few months, as a consequence of the sheer amount of ephedra that passed through,” said David Mansfield, an expert on Afghanistan’s illicit economy who has produced reports for the World Bank and European Commission.