Afghan war fuels opium boom

March 18, 2010

It was common during the opening of the Iraq war to see slogans proclaiming "No blood for oil!" The cover story for the war — Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's links with Al Qaeda and his weapons of mass destruction — were obvious mass deceptions, hiding a far less palatable imperial agenda.

The truth was that Iraq was a major producer of oil and, in our age, oil is the most strategic resource of all.

The war's real agenda was confirmed by moves to privatise Iraq's state-owned oil company to Western interests in the aftermath of the invasion.

Why then, are there no slogans saying "No blood for opium"?

Afghanistan's major product is opium and opium production has increased remarkably during the present war. The current NATO military offensive around Marjah in Hemand province, reported to be Afghanistan's main opium-producing area, is clearly motivated by opium.

Why then won't people consider that a hidden agenda for the Afghan war has been control of the opium trade?

The weapons of mass deception tell us that the opium belongs to the Taliban and the US is fighting a "war on drugs" as well as terror.

Yet it remains a curious fact that the opium trade has tracked across southern Asia for the past five decades from east to west, following US wars and always under the control of US assets.

In the 1960s, when the US fought a secret war in Laos using the Hmong opium army of Vang Pao as its proxy, south-east Asia produced 70% of the world's illicit opium.

After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, opium production in areas of Afghanistan controlled by US-backed drug lords took off until it rivalled Southeast Asian production.

Since 2002, Afghan opium production, encouraged by both the Taliban and US-backed drug lords, has reached 93% of world illicit production, an unparalleled performance.

The 2008 United Nations World Drug Report showed the astonishing increase in Afghan opium production that followed the US invasion. In 2001, Afghanistan's share of global illicit opium production was 185 metric tons out of the global total of 1630 metric tons.

By 2007, this had skyrocketed to more than 8200 metric tons of the nearly 8870 metric ton global total.

In the 1980s, the US supported Islamic fundamentalists, the Mujahideen, against the Soviets in Afghanistan. To pay for their war, the Mujahideen ordered peasants to grow opium.

Across the border in Pakistan, Afghan leaders and local syndicates, under the protection of Pakistani intelligence, operated hundreds of heroin labs.

As the Golden Crescent in south-west Asia eclipsed the Golden Triangle in south-east Asia as the centre of the heroin trade, it sent rates of addiction spiralling in Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and the former Soviet Union.

To hide US complicity in the drug trade, Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) officers were required to look away from the drug-dealing intrigues of US allies — and the support they received from Pakistan's Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) and the services of Pakistani banks.

The CIA's mission was to destabilise the Soviet Union through the promotion of militant Islam inside the central Asian republics and the drug war was sacrificed to fight the Cold War.

Their mission was to do as much damage as possible to the Soviets. Knowing the drug war would hasten the collapse of the Soviet Union, the CIA facilitated the operation of anti-Soviet rebels in the provinces of Uzbekistan, Chechnya and Georgia.

Drugs were used to finance terrorism and western intelligence agencies used their control of drugs to influence political factions in central Asia.

The Soviet army withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, leaving a civil war between the US-funded Mujahideen and the Soviet-supported government that raged until 1992.

In the chaos that followed the Mujahideen victory, Afghanistan lapsed into a period of warlordism in which opium growing thrived.

The Taliban emerged from the chaos, dedicated to removing the warlords and applying a strict interpretation of Sharia law.

They captured Kandahar in 1994 and expanded their control throughout Afghanistan. They captured Kabul in 1996, declaring the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

Under the Taliban government, opium production in Afghanistan was curbed. In September 1999, the Taliban authorities issued a decree, requiring all opium-growers in Afghanistan to reduce output by one-third.

A second decree, issued in July 2000, required farmers to completely stop opium cultivation. Taliban leader Mullah Omar called the drug trade "un-Islamic".

As a result, 2001 was the worst year for global opium production in the period between 1990 and 2007. During the 1990s, global opium production averaged above 4000 tonnes. In 2001, opium production fell to less than half this amount.

Although not admitted by the then-Howard government, which claimed the credit for itself, Australia's 2001 heroin shortage was due to the Taliban.

Following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US, the armies of the Northern Alliance — led by US Special Forces and supported by daisy cutters, cluster bombs and bunker-busting missiles — shattered the Taliban forces in Afghanistan.

The opium ban was lifted and, with CIA-backed warlords back in control, Afghanistan again became the major producer of opium.

Despite official denials, former US National Security Council official for Afghanistan Hillary Mann Leverett confirmed the US knew that government ministers in Afghanistan, including the minister of defence in 2002, were involved in drug trafficking.

After 2002, Afghan opium production rose to unheard of levels.

Thomas Schweich, who served as US state department co-ordinator for counter-narcotics and justice reform for Afghanistan, accused Afghan President Hamid Karzai of impeding the war on drugs.

Schweich also accused the Pentagon of obstructing attempts to get military forces to assist and protect opium crop eradication drives.

Schweich wrote in the July 27, 2008 New York Times that "narco-corruption went to the top of the Afghan government".

He said Karzai was reluctant to move against big drug lords in his political power base in the south, where most of the country's opium and heroin is produced.

The most prominent of these suspected drug lords was Karzai's brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, who was said to have orchestrated the manufacture of hundreds of thousands of phony ballots for his brother's re-election effort in August 2009.

US officials have criticised Ahmed Wali Karzai's "mafia-like" control of southern Afghanistan.

An October 28, 2009 NYT article reported the Obama administration had vowed to crack down on the drug lords who permeate the highest levels of Karzai's administration. US pressed Karzai to move his brother out of southern Afghanistan, but he refused to do so.

Scheich wrote: "Karzai was playing us like a fiddle.

"The US would spend billions of dollars on infrastructure development; the US and its allies would fight the Taliban; Karzai's friends could get richer off the drug trade.

"Karzai had Taliban enemies who profited from drugs but he had even more supporters who did."

But who was playing who like a fiddle? The puppet president or the puppet masters who installed him?

In his 2009 history of the "war on drugs", The Strength of the Pack, Douglas Valentine showed this never ending war has been a phony contest, an arm wrestle between two arms of the US state, the DEA and the CIA.

While the DEA has vainly attempted to prosecute the war, the CIA has protected its drug-dealing assets.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, European powers (chiefly Britain) and Japan used the opium trade to weaken and subjugate China.

During the 21st century, it seems that the opium weapon is being used against Iran, Russia and the former Soviet republics, which all face spiralling rates of addiction and covert US penetration as the Afghan war fuels central Asia's heroin plague.

[Dr John Jiggens is a writer and journalist who has published several books including The Incredible Exploding Man; Marijuana Australiana; The Sydney Connection and The Killer Cop and the Murder of Donald Mackay. Along with Matt Mawson, Anne Jones and Damien Ledwich, he edited The Best of The Cane Toad Times.]

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