Pubdate: Sun, 05 Feb 2006
Source: Sunday Telegraph (UK)
Copyright: Telegraph Group Limited 2006
Authors: Toby Harnden
Bookmark: (Heroin)


Some cabinet ministers in Afghanistan are deeply implicated in the 
drugs trade and could be diverting foreign aid into trafficking, the 
country's anti-narcotics minister said yesterday.

The admission will dismay Western governments, which last week 
pledged $10.5 billion (UKP6 billion) in aid, including UKP505 million 
from Britain, to help to fight poverty, improve security and crack 
down on the drugs trade.

It raises the prospect that money being donated by the West could be 
used indirectly to kill British soldiers, 3,300 of whom will be 
stationed in anarchic Helmand province, where corrupt officials, 
insurgents and drug lords overlap.

"I don't deny that," said Habibullah Qaderi in an interview with the 
Sunday Telegraph, when asked whether corruption linked to the UKP2.7 
billion-a-year drugs trade went right up to the cabinet.

Such high-level criminality, he said, would help account for why "a 
lot of trafficking through different parts of the country" was being 
conducted with apparent impunity.

But he declined to name names and said Afghanistan's weak justice 
system, itself bedevilled by corruption, meant that it was difficult 
to convert allegations and rumours into fact. "The question is how to 
find evidence against these people [politicians]."

In Kabul, the houses of several senior politicians resemble small 
palaces with marble corridors, painstakingly manicured lawns and 
dozens of armed guards.

Even in provincial town such as Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand, 
ostentatious homes stand in stark contrast to the poverty around them 
and are known locally as the houses of "smugglers" - a euphemism for 
drug traffickers.

Western aid officials and several European diplomats named the same 
high-ranking politicians and officials, including one with close 
links to Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's President, as drug lords.

"The Afghans complain that 75 per cent of aid is spent directly 
rather than being filtered through their government but the reason 
for that is because otherwise a significant proportion is skimmed off 
into the pockets of drug lords," said one American aid worker. 
"Post-Taliban Afghanistan is going to emerge as a low-level 
narco-state at best."

But a veteran European diplomat in Kabul said: "The problem, as ever, 
is the smoking gun. We all know it is happening. We all know the 
names. But I have never seen any direct evidence and I don't know 
anyone who has."

Ali Ahmad Jalali, who resigned as Afghanistan's interior minister 
last year, said: "Sometimes government officials allow their own cars 
to be used for a fee. Sometimes they give protection to traffickers.

"In Afghanistan, corruption is a low-risk enterprise in a high-risk 
environment. Because of the lack of investigative capacity it is very 
difficult to get evidence. You always end up arresting foot soldiers."

But he accused Western governments of exaggerating the problem to 
justify limiting their long-term commitment to rebuilding 
Afghanistan. The "drug problem in Afghanistan is demand-driven" from 
the West, he said, with 90 per cent of profits being made outside the 
country. Nato policies, moreover, had helped to consolidate the drugs 
lords because they had focused solely on fighting Taliban and 
insurgent forces rather than attacking the trade.

Mr Jalali urged British troops in Helmand not to ignore narcotics, 90 
per cent of which end up in Europe. "I understand Nato's argument 
that if they eradicate poppy fields then that antagonizes the 
population. But there are legitimate targets - mobile labs and 
stockpiles - which only drugs lords, rather than ordinary poppy 
growers, are involved with."

A British official said that a number of Afghan MPs were linked to 
the drugs trade and that some officials had to be circumvented 
because they were corrupted by drugs. "There are plenty of people in 
the national assembly who are very dodgy. Corruption is endemic so I 
have to be careful with some figures in the Afghan set-up who might 
not be 100 per cent committed to eradicating drugs."

Last week, the World Bank castigated Western governments for failing 
to channel money through the Afghan government, leading to vast 
amounts of cash being spent on exorbitant salaries, security guards 
and fortified accommodation for aid workers.

But the Kabul Weekly, an Afghan newspaper, summed up the dilemma: "If 
aid is given to NGOs, huge amounts go into their own expenditures. If 
it's given to the Afghan government, the poor bureaucracy and 
corruption waste it."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom