Pubdate: Tue, 12 Oct 2004
Source: Korea Herald, The (South Korea)
Copyright: 2004 Korea Herald
Author: Doug Bandow
Note: Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. He served as a 
special assistant to President Reagan.
Bookmark: (Heroin)


Afghanistan's presidential elections came off with little violence but
some damaging controversy. President Hamid Karzai's 15 opponents
charged vote fraud.

Whether the election is perceived as legitimate is only the second
most important issue facing the war-torn nation. Most critical is
whether the Bush administration risks undermining the fight against
al-Qaida and the Taliban in an attempt to suppress drug production.

Unfortunately, Afghanistan has become a global Opiates-R-Us. In a
nation where the average wage is a couple of dollars a day, heroin and
opium trafficking produced revenues last year estimated at $2.3
billion annually - as much as 60 percent of Afghanistan's official
annual GDP. Opium has become the perfect export from a land enveloped
by chaos and war.

The U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has attempted to craft a
positive spin - "The establishment of democracy in Afghanistan and the
government's measures against cultivation, trade and abuse of opium
have been crucial steps towards solving the drug problem." This is
just PR spin.

The mujahadeen relied on the drug trade for revenue when fighting the
Soviets. After the USSR withdrew from Afghanistan, civil war raged for
another decade.

The fundamentalist Taliban took power in 1996 and banned use of all
intoxicants, including opiates. However, Kabul had no objection to
people selling drugs to infidels.

Following the Taliban's ouster, the new government outlawed opium
production. But chaos meant that the poppy fields were replanted and
smuggling was revived.

A regime change, though necessary for security purposes, did not
provide Afghan households with a new income. Moreover, Hamid Karzai
rules little more than Kabul.

Even a successful election won't help much. Poppy production has
spread to 28 of 32 provinces and the Afghan government figures that
about 30 percent of families are involved in the trade.

Until now controlling opium trafficking has not been the West's top
priority in Afghanistan. Although the U.S. Defense Department is
careful to appear cooperative, allied forces have largely ignored drug
trafficking unrelated to enemy action.

The Taliban is involved in drug trafficking, but so are many of
Karzai's (and America's) local warlord allies. The poppy traders "are
the guys who helped us liberate this place in 2001," one U.S. official
told the New York Times.

Unfortunately, even the return of stability and prosperity won't
eliminate the drug trade. Observed the UNODC, "Given the current opium
prices within Afghanistan, it is also clear that no other crop can
compete with opium poppy as a source of income."

Which leaves interdiction. Interdiction in regions run by warlords and
where the Taliban and al-Qaida are active.

To his credit, House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry
Hyde (R-Ill.) says, "I do not want our military forces, already tasked
with vital counterterrorism and stability operations, to become
Afghanistan's anti-narcotics police." That, he says, should be the job
of "Afghan police, army, and judicial authorities we are helping to

Yet there is no functioning Afghan state. How is a government which is
unable to secure its capital city going to squelch poppy production in
distant provinces?

Few additional allied troops can be expected. American forces, just
18,000 in the entire country, already are badly stretched. But Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says Washington is developing a "master
plan" to combat opium production.

Robert B. Charles, assistant secretary of state for international
narcotics and law enforcement affairs, promises, "We intend to be very
aggressive, very proactive. If the penalties are high enough, they
will not grow heroin poppies. We need to show the people that we are

But if the coalition penalizes its erstwhile allies, it risks driving
them back to the Taliban. One U.S. soldier in Kandahar worried, "We
start taking out drug guys, and they will start taking out our guys."

Indeed, drug producers are thought to have staged the bomb attack on
the private security firm, DynCorp, which has been training
anti-narcotics police. The Karzai government claimed that the same
forces attempted to assassinate vice presidential candidate Ahmed Zia

"There is no quick fix," says Rosalind Marsden, Britain's ambassador
to Afghanistan. Unfortunately, it's not clear that there is a slow
fix either.

Attempting to suppress the drug trade with more than rhetoric will
make it even harder to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaida. Yet the West's
most important goal today remains destroying transnational terrorist
networks, led by al-Qaida.

A British parliamentary committee recently warned that without
additional resources, "Afghanistan - a fragile state in one of the
most sensitive and volatile regions in the world - could implode."
Expanding the drug war will make that more likely to happen.
Unfortunately, the allies have little choice but to leave
Afghanistan's opium market open to the world.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake