111 510 510 libonline@riphah.edu.pk Contact

Afghan drug explosion

The worst prime minister Britain has suffered in ages was Tony Blair who is now executive-jetting around the world to pocket vast sums by fixing deals for some pretty grubby people. It was Blair who ordered British troops to join Washington’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – and he has much blood on his hands.

In July 2001, in the run-up to the invasion of Afghanistan, Blair declared: “We act also because the Al-Qaeda network and the Taliban regime are funded in large part on the drugs trade. Ninety percent of all heroin sold in Britain originates from Afghanistan. Stopping that trade is, again, directly in our interests.”

His claim that the Taliban were funded by drugs was a downright lie. The Taliban then in power in Afghanistan were undoubtedly bigoted savages, but they had outlawed drugs and managed to cut poppy cultivation area to 8,000 hectares in 2001. The US and Britain can no longer deny the UN Drug Agency’s report that “Following the ban in Afghanistan, global opium poppy cultivation was reduced by 35 percent.”

Washington saw things in conflicting ways. On August 2, 2001 Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Christina Rocca said, “To respond to the poppy ban, I would like to announce a $1.5 million pledge to the United Nations Drug Control Program’s Short Term Assistance Project to sustain the ban on poppy cultivation in Nangarhar province in Afghanistan,” which was sensible; but then in Texas on November 15, standing alongside his guest, President Putin, President Bush said in answer to a question, “I don’t know if you know this or not, but the Taliban government and Al-Qaeda – the evil ones – use heroin trafficking in order to fund their murder. And one of our objectives is to make sure that Afghanistan is never used for that purpose again.”

Like Blair, he told a downright lie. The Al-Qaeda people had nothing to do with Afghan drugs. Their cash came from the other side of the Persian Gulf. It was only after the US-UK invasion and the collapse of the Taliban at the hands of foreign-bought warlords that poppy-growing soared again, and in 2003 the fields totalled 80,000 hectares.

Now there are 209,000 hectares (many controlled by the warlords the CIA bribed so generously in 2001-2002), enabling foreign addicts to continue their pathetic dependence on Afghan-sourced heroin. Western politicians disregard the fact that Afghan farmers who produce opium for heroin wouldn’t do it if there wasn’t a foreign market for their product. There is criminality throughout – but it is at the final point of sale that most profit is made.

When President Karzai visited Washington in 2004, Bush declared that “Under your leadership, Afghanistan’s progress has been dramatic. Afghanistan is no longer a terrorist factory sending thousands of killers into the world,” and similar absurdities. He did not once mention the crisis of heroin production, in spite of his undertaking to “make sure that Afghanistan is never used for that purpose again.”

It was left to Karzai to point out that “Among the problems is the question of drugs. The Afghan government is adamant to fight this menace, to end it in Afghanistan and receive your help in that.” But there was no help from the man who had declared that “heroin trafficking funds murder.” The Bush and Blair promises about ending poppy cultivation were blowhard nonsense.

Poppy production could have been controlled had there been acceptance of advice from those who knew how to deal with the tribes, the corrupt leaders, and all the fascinating (and usually untrustworthy) movers and shakers in Afghanistan’s fractured and disparate society. It wouldn’t have been easy. Nothing in Afghanistan is easy. But if the US and Britain had paid attention to those who knew the country, it would be a better place than it is now – or is, alas, going to be in future.

The Washington solution to the problem was blitz eradication: destroy all fields; use maximum force; spray herbicide; prosecute farmers. It was bizarre, and in 2006 the Senlis Council concluded that such methods wouldn’t work. Senlis suggested licensed growing of poppies for legal processing into medical morphine (as, for example, in India), and noted that “Forced poppy-crop eradication, which is carried out by the private military company and US government-financed DynCorp, attacks the sole cash crop for more than three million Afghan farmers, turning them against US-Nato troops and boosting Taliban support.”

Their proposals went unheeded, although in 2010 the US special emissary to the region, Richard Holbrooke, admitted that: “Eradication is a waste of money. The farmers are not our enemy, they’re just growing a crop to make a living.” And the wicked farce continued.

In September 2013 the Oxford Mail reported that the chemicals firm Macfarlan Smith, part of the giant company, Johnson Matthey (annual revenue $19 billion), is supplied with opium poppies by at least six farms in Oxford county and that “hundreds of acres of land have just been harvested for morphine production.” (The government rejected the Mail’s freedom of information request for details. There are many other poppy farms in southern England.)

The paper also reported an executive of Macfarlan Smith as saying “We are the world’s largest producer of morphine [and] all the poppies are grown under contract to us, with licences granted by the Home Office.” Not only that, but the poppy farmers receive European Union farm subsidies for their efforts.

On the one hand there is escalation – explosion – of illegal drug production in Afghanistan, mainly in Helmand, the province in which British troops were intended to “bring security to the Afghan people”, while on the other there is legal production in Britain, for vast profit of a private company, of exactly the same drug, at great expense to the taxpayer. As Goethe had it: “We do not have to visit a madhouse to find disordered minds; our planet is the mental institution of the universe.”

The writer is a South Asian affairs analyst. Website: www.beecluff.com

Brian Cloughley, "Afghan drug explosion," The News. 2013-11-25.
Keywords: Social sciences , Political leaders , Government-Afghanistan , International economics , Al-Qaeda , Taliban , Politicians , Taxpayers , President Karzai , Johnson Matthey , President Bush , Richard Holbrooke , Afghanistan , United States , Washington , Iraq , CIA , NATO