Pubdate: Sun, 29 Jan 2006
Source: Sunday Herald, The (UK)
Copyright: 2006 Sunday Herald
Author: James Cusick
Bookmark: (Heroin)


Four years after the Allies moved in, Afghanistan remains the world's
major source of heroin. Will more British troops end the drug
warlords' reign? By Westminster Editor James Cusick

Seven months after the Iraq war, the distinctive figure of Hamid
Karzai helped Tony Blair through one of his most difficult Labour
conferences. On the conference platform in Bournemouth, wearing his
trademark cape and hat, the Afghan leader said his country had
received help from the rest of the world and his people had "joined
hands with them to free ourselves". Karzai helped boost Blair's
crumbling authority by saying he supported the war "because we want
exactly the same thing for the Iraqi people".

The Afghan president was only half right. Five years after the Taliban
regime was terminated by US-led forces, Karzai himself controls
precious little territory beyond the capital, Kabul. He regulates only
a fraction of his country's budget and aid programmes, most of which
are fed through the 2000 NGOs resident in Afghanistan. His country
remains one of the world's poorest, ranked 173rd out of 178 in the
Human Development Index.

This week Karzai will be back in Britain, in London for a two-day
conference on his country's future. Jointly hosted by Tony Blair, UN
Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Karzai, the aim of the talks -
according to Adrian Edwards of the UN's Assistance Mission in
Afghanistan - is to "decide where we are going with Afghanistan".
Answers such as "backwards" and "nowhere" may be the uncomfortable

The Oxford Research Group say the "key issue" in Afghanistan is opium
poppy cultivation, up 60% in farmed acreage since Karzai was in Bourne
mouth. The poppy in Afghanistan is worth over $2.5 billion a year,
equal to the entire US aid package.

In Afghanistan, an opium poppy crop still yields 12 times the gross
income o f wheat. And the profit margin is getting larger. Existing
warlords have begun copying the South American model: where all stages
are controlled. Afghanistani warlords are now beginning to engage not
just in production, but also processing, trafficking and international

The backdrop of the uncontrolled poppy trade is a population where the
United Nations Human Rights Commission estimates a quarter of all
children suffer serious food shortages, where malnutrition is rising,
where 6.5 million out of Afghanistan's 26 million people are dependent
on food aid and where only $3 billion has been spent - out of the
international community's promised aid of $13bn - on humanitarian
needs for the second largest refugee population in the world. The
rest, more than $10bn, has gone on security.

Last week the defence secretary, John Reid, announced that Britain
will send around 3300 British troops into southern Afghanistan this
summer as part of Nato's expanded mission. The increased numbers will
mean more than 6000 British troops will be based in Afghanistan, most
of them in the Helmand province - the heart of the country's opium
industry and one of the most hostile and dangerous regions. The
three-year deployment will cost Britain over ?1bn and will be the
largest military operation since the invasion of Iraq.

The previous day, Reid told the Commons that he would "not hide" the
"difficulties and risks of this deployment". But, he said, those risks
"are nothing compared to the dangers to our country and our people of
allowing Afghanistan to fall back into the hands of the Taliban and
the terrorists. We will not allow that. And the Afghanistan people
will not allow that."

A former Foreign Office adviser, now a consultant in the United
States, described Reid's comments as "delusional". He said: "Reid
makes it sounds as though Afghanistan is a unified, well-policed,
controlled country that is facing some imminent terrorist threat or a
return of the Taliban. Someone should tell him there is no unified or
controlled Afghanistan. And someone should tell him the Taliban never
really left.

"He should also make it clear what the actual task ahead is for the
6000 British troops who will be contributing to the Nato 'peace-
keeping' mission. Some provincial warlords who run vast areas of
Afghanistan beyond Karzai's control have personal armies of 30,000
well-equipped soldiers. That is one warlord - and there are many of
them. Reid also talks about a Taliban resurgence. But Karzai himself
has admitted warlords running the burgeoning poppy trade pose the more
immediate problem."

Last week, Karzai, speaking from his fortified palace in Kabul - the
only place in his country that offers him security - said: "We have
two options: either we have to finish poppy or it will finish us." For
poppy farmers and warlords who produce 87% of Europe's heroin,
Karzai's order is likely to be ignored.

Despite the UN announcing last year a 21% drop in the overall land
planted with poppies, there was only a 2.4% fall in poppy tonnage.
"Afghanistan has no other enemy but the poppy," said Karzai. Drug
profits, he said, were feeding the insurgency. " With the money they
make bombs, train suicide bombers, destroy schools, kill scholars and

Nato's mission, with the UK task force and headquarters group of
Allied Rapid Reaction Corp taking command of the International
Security Assistance Force (ISAF), is to take on more anti-narcotics
tasks in an effort to rebuild Afghanistan. Ultimately, Nato wants to
raise the strength of the ISAF from 9000 to 15,000 soldiers and there
has been pressure from Washington for this expansion to help the
Pentagon reduce US forces in Afghanistan.

Last week the senior US commander, General George Casey, admitted
American forces were "stretched ". That admission produced an
immediate denial from the US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld who
claimed: "No, the force is not broken." This was despite the findings
of a Pentagon report which warned that the US Army could not sustain
deployment levels long enough to break Iraq's insurgency.

Last year, the US had 17,000 combat troops in Afghanistan carrying out
"Operation Enduring Freedom". They focus on counter-guerrilla warfare
against al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorist cells. These US forces operate
without any control or accountability from Karzai's small
administration in Kabul.

Although Reid said the additional UK forces would not be going to
Afghanistan "with the primary purpose of waging war", he admitted
there might be some difficulty in keeping the aims of the US and
UK/Nato missions apart.

The UK's counter-narcotics role has no defined border: the opium trade
links warlords to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, with the recent tactic of
suicide bombers now increasing the climate of insecurity. For Lord
Garden, a former assistant chief of the defence staff, there is "a
degree of overlap" between Nato's and the US mission. But the problem
for Garden goes deeper than the current counter-terrorism and
anti-narcotics concerns. "You have to remember that Karzai [when he
first came to power] asked for 50,000 troops to be sent into
Afghanistan. He was sent 5000."

International focus on operations in Afghanistan will be heightened
for one crucial reason: what happens there affects the prognosis for
Iraq. The US-led invasion was Bush's immediate response to 9/11. Iraq
was part two. The British government backed, unconditionally, both of
these foreign policy objectives. And neither shows any sign of being
credited a success.

The extent of these dual failures was highlighted last month by
Richard Haass, George Bush's head of policy planning at the State
Department during his first term in the White House. Principal adviser
to the Secretary of State, Colin Powell, on foreign policy during the
run in to the Iraq war, Haass also co-ordinated policy on the future
of Afghanistan. Haass knows both the Iraq and Afghanistan policies
inside out, being an architect and adviser on both.

On Iraq, Haass claims the Bush administration has, at least
internally, recognised it cannot sustain its current level of military
effort, given what he calls the "strain on manpower and equipment".
The former adviser says Bush wanted Iraq to be a successful democracy
"at peace with itself and its neighbours, providing a model for other
states to emulate". That, reckons Haass, is over optimistic.

He claims the outcome will be far less successful: and it is the
parallels he draws with Afghanistan that raises uncomfortable
political questions. "A barely functioning Iraq, with a weak central
government and highly autonomous regions, such as a secular
Kurdish-dominated north; a religious, Shi'ite-dominated south, a
Sunni-dominated west; and a demographically mixed and unsettled centre
that takes in Baghdad." Haass said: "Think of it as a version of
today's Afghanistan - minus the poppy fields."

If that's really the best Iraq can achieve, then 6000 British troops
and their dangerous war against the opium trade holds a wider
significance than John Reid cares to admit.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin