Pubdate: Tue, 22 May 2001
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2001 Los Angeles Times
Author: Robert Scheer
Note: Robert Scheer Is a Syndicated Columnist.


Enslave your girls and women, harbor anti-U.S. terrorists, destroy every 
vestige of civilization in your homeland, and the Bush administration will 
embrace you. All that matters is that you line up as an ally in the drug 
war, the only international cause that this nation still takes seriously.

That's the message sent with the recent gift of $43 million to the Taliban 
rulers of Afghanistan, the most virulent anti-American violators of human 
rights in the world today. The gift, announced last Thursday by Secretary 
of State Colin Powell, in addition to other recent aid, makes the U.S. the 
main sponsor of the Taliban and rewards that "rogue regime" for declaring 
that opium growing is against the will of God. So, too, by the Taliban's 
estimation, are most human activities, but it's the ban on drugs that 
catches this administration's attention.

Never mind that Osama bin Laden still operates the leading anti-American 
terror operation from his base in Afghanistan, from which, among other 
crimes, he launched two bloody attacks on American embassies in Africa in 1998.

Sadly, the Bush administration is cozying up to the Taliban regime at a 
time when the United Nations, at U.S. insistence, imposes sanctions on 
Afghanistan because the Kabul government will not turn over Bin Laden.

The war on drugs has become our own fanatics' obsession and easily trumps 
all other concerns. How else could we come to reward the Taliban, who has 
subjected the female half of the Afghan population to a continual reign of 
terror in a country once considered enlightened in its treatment of women.

At no point in modern history have women and girls been more systematically 
abused than in Afghanistan where, in the name of madness masquerading as 
Islam, the government in Kabul obliterates their fundamental human rights. 
Women may not appear in public without being covered from head to toe with 
the oppressive shroud called the burkha , and they may not leave the house 
without being accompanied by a male family member. They've not been 
permitted to attend school or be treated by male doctors, yet women have 
been banned from practicing medicine or any profession for that matter.

The lot of males is better if they blindly accept the laws of an extreme 
religious theocracy that prescribes strict rules governing all behavior, 
from a ban on shaving to what crops may be grown. It is this last power 
that has captured the enthusiasm of the Bush White House.

The Taliban fanatics, economically and diplomatically isolated, are at the 
breaking point, and so, in return for a pittance of legitimacy and cash 
from the Bush administration, they have been willing to appear to reverse 
themselves on the growing of opium. That a totalitarian country can 
effectively crack down on its farmers is not surprising. But it is 
grotesque for a U.S. official, James P. Callahan, director of the State 
Department's Asian anti-drug program, to describe the Taliban's special 
methods in the language of representative democracy: "The Taliban used a 
system of consensus-building," Callahan said after a visit with the 
Taliban, adding that the Taliban justified the ban on drugs "in very 
religious terms."

Of course, Callahan also reported, those who didn't obey the theocratic 
edict would be sent to prison.

In a country where those who break minor rules are simply beaten on the 
spot by religious police and others are stoned to death, it's 
understandable that the government's "religious" argument might be 
compelling. Even if it means, as Callahan concedes, that most of the 
farmers who grew the poppies will now confront starvation. That's because 
the Afghan economy has been ruined by the religious extremism of the 
Taliban, making the attraction of opium as a previously tolerated quick 
cash crop overwhelming.

For that reason, the opium ban will not last unless the U.S. is willing to 
pour far larger amounts of money into underwriting the Afghan economy.

As the Drug Enforcement Administration's Steven Casteel admitted, "The bad 
side of the ban is that it's bringing their country--or certain regions of 
their country--to economic ruin." Nor did he hold out much hope for Afghan 
farmers growing other crops such as wheat, which require a vast 
infrastructure to supply water and fertilizer that no longer exists in that 
devastated country. There's little doubt that the Taliban will turn once 
again to the easily taxed cash crop of opium in order to stay in power.

The Taliban may suddenly be the dream regime of our own war drug war 
zealots, but in the end this alliance will prove a costly failure. Our long 
sad history of signing up dictators in the war on drugs demonstrates the 
futility of building a foreign policy on a domestic obsession.
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