Six months ago, Ghulam Myuddin threw in the towel. He could no longer see the point of trying to chase drug smugglers who were driving Lexus landcruisers across northeast Afghanistan in his clapped-out Russian jeep. Sitting in a police drugs warehouse in Badakhshan province, which shares a border with China, the former narcotics policeman pulls his green and purple striped robe around his shoulders and shrugs. 'When we seize all these drugs, we cost the smugglers money and we make enemies,' he said, looking at the sacks of opium and heroin piled up around him - a stash worth millions of dollars on the streets of Europe. The problem with being an honest policeman in Afghanistan is that there is no money in it. With almost half of Mr Myuddin's former colleagues taking payoffs from the local drug barons, the chances of getting anything done are minimal at best and the personal risks are high. 'I was enemies with the most powerful people in the province and I asked myself if it was worth it. The answer was no,' he said as he poured a sack of seized heroin packets onto the table. Wrapped in white cloth and sealed with plastic, the packages are stamped with the names of various local heroin factories. One is marked with a purple eagle and the name of the Shirg Khan factory, and another with a pattern of five stars to signify top export quality. The underground storeroom in the provincial capital of Faizabad holds enough drugs to make a fortune in Europe or Asia, but it amounts to only a tiny fraction of local output. Remote and mountainous, Badakhshan is one of Afghanistan's poorest regions and its poverty has underpinned its transformation into a leading area for heroin production in a country that is the source of 90 per cent of the world's supply. Before the drug traders arrived 10 years ago with packets of poppy seeds, local farmers would travel across Afghanistan to find work as migrant labourers. Drugs changed all that. Opium poppies don't need much water, and the crop can be stored and easily transported across Afghanistan's rubble-strewn roads without being damaged. Once the opium is sold off, the poppy stalks are burnt for fuel, their ashes used to make soap, and the seeds pressed to make cooking oil. In a country with few banks, opium is stored as a form of savings. No other crop is as profitable or as versatile. Afghan President Hamid Karzai declared a jihad on drugs shortly after he came to office last year, but in Badakhshan there is little evidence that the battle is being won. Although the number of fields planted with opium fell by almost half last year, this spring it is likely to rebound as farmers who were promised aid by local officials replant their fields. Last year, western governments laid out five-year spending plans to Afghan officials, who in turn made lavish promises to the farmers - seeds, pesticides, road-building work. Only a trickle of the promised aid materialised, and this year it is business as usual. An hour's drive from Faizabad, the drugs bazaar in the town of Argu is booming. Argu is the biggest heroin-processing district in northeastern Afghanistan. Home to at least 14 laboratories run by Pashtun traders from the violent tribal borderlands near Pakistan where the Taleban is waging an insurgency against US troops that is fuelled by drug money. Heroin from Argu goes north across the border to Tajikistan or south to Kabul and then on to Pakistan or Iran. In October last year, British and US trained anti-drug police raided the bazaar and confiscated 700kg of opium and heroin, according to Adbul Jabar Mosadeq, the Argu district chief. Six months on, the bazaar is back in full swing. Shopkeepers sit with hands stained black with opium, weighing out their stocks on battered scales and talking into clunky satellite phones. 'I'll give you US$200 a kilo if you load heroin in your car and drive it down with the foreigners to Kabul,' one trader tells our translator, assuming correctly that a landcruiser with a foreign woman in it would be waved through every checkpoint on the two-day drive to the Afghan capital, no questions asked. To make sure the drugs arrived in one piece, the cargo would have been guaranteed by a couple of phone calls to the money market in Kabul. With no formal banking system in Afghanistan the underground hawala money markets, which operate in all of the country's towns, can move millions of dollars around the country using a system based on trust. With a drugs industry worth US$2.8 billion there is a lot of money to move. The narrow street in between the two lines of shops in Argu is a sea of fetid mud, but goods inside the shops reflect local wealth. Chinese electronics and new rifles hang next to bolts of brightly sequinned cloth. There are no paved roads, phone lines or power in Argu, but it doesn't take much hi-tech equipment to produce heroin. The term laboratory sounds sophisticated, when in fact little more is needed than a fire, an oil drum and a bag of fertiliser. In the wake of the October raids, the smugglers have started using portable gas stoves to heat the oil drums rather than log fires, so they can shift locations on a weekly basis. It's not hard to work out who is running the labs. The dark-haired Pashtun tribesmen with their flat-cap Pakol hats and blankets worn like capes stand out in the Argu bazaar, where the locals are fairer Uzbeks and Tajiks. But even if the local police know who the smugglers are, there is little incentive to do anything about it. 'The police here don't have a salary that can keep them in shoe polish, so they see the smugglers with their pockets full of dollars, and they let them go,' said General Shan Jahan Noori, the provincial police chief of Badakhshan. 'Forty to 50 per cent of the local police here are involved in the drugs trade.' The smugglers bought all the latest technology and the co-operation of the local officials, he said. General Noori earns almost US$100 a month, but some of his junior officers make less than US$10 - barely enough to feed their families. So the police top up their wages with bribes. Smugglers paid district police chiefs a monthly stipend of US$1,000 to turn a blind eye, and armed a dozen guards on each mobile lab with rocket-propelled grenades, said Azizullah Ahfizi, deputy commander of the provincial counter-narcotics police in Faizabad. 'If we try to raid a lab, they see us coming,' Mr Ahfizi said. 'It's not just that they have sentries and lookout posts. They pay people in our office, so if we are planning a raid they know about it in advance.' With corruption so entrenched, Afghanistan's war on drugs is moving at a glacial pace. One of Mr Ahfizi's colleagues laughed about the best way to get heroin out of Argu and to markets overseas. 'You just give it to the highway police and they can drive it across the country for you,' he said. 'The smugglers have half the police in their pockets and drive the best cars. Unless we are working for them we can't keep up.' General Noori put it more succinctly, pointing to his battered grey jeep outside the police headquarters in Faizabad, just a few hundred metres from a new BMW four-wheel drive belonging to one of the drugs elite. 'What chance do you think we'd have in a car chase?' he asked.