The Afghan Drug Trade Finances Terrorists

By Land, Thomas | Contemporary Review, January 2005 | Go to article overview

The Afghan Drug Trade Finances Terrorists


Land, Thomas, Contemporary Review


THE countries most harmed by a renewed flood of heroin exports from the war-torn, fertile poppy fields of Afghanistan are mounting a robust defensive response. The West has raised its military and financial commitment to Afghan security. But it still refrains from confronting the warlords.

A promising initiative for the defence of Western Europe against the drug racket has been launched in Budapest. Hungary brought together the police forces of Eastern Europe in a collective initiative to arrest the Westward flow of drugs along the infamous Balkan smuggling route. Further to the East, President Vladimir Putin in Moscow has deployed some of his most trusted old secret service colleagues in a Russian security apparatus to suppress the trade. And China has staged a series of highly publicized executions of drug pushers.

Antonio Maria Costa, the director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Geneva, has called on the coalition forces in Afghanistan to target the traffickers. Costa says Afghanistan now produces 87 per cent of the global supplies of heroin, up from less than 5 per cent in 2001, the last year under Taliban rule. He cites 'mounting evidence' that the drug money is being used to finance criminal activities, including terrorism.

'This is a disaster for us', observes President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, whose provisional appointment as head of state was confirmed by Afghanistan's first democratic elections. He also told an international anti-drugs conference in Kabul that opium production assisted international terrorism and threatened the country's economic recovery and security--and even Islam.

The 2004 heroin yield, which is derived from the opium poppy, is one of the biggest on record. In 2003, the Afghan heroin trade was worth $2.8bn, representing more than 60 per cent of the gross domestic product. The security agencies believe that some of that income is being used to finance terrorist assaults such as the murderous March 11 bombing by Al-Qaeda of packed commuter trains in Madrid last year.

Today, much of the country remains in the hands of the Afghan warlords who pay lip service to their alliance with the Western-led coalition and the government in Kabul while running their territories effectively as feudal fiefdoms. Perhaps the biggest barrier to change remains the rule of the warlords whom the West dare not offend in its continuing struggle against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

There is a lot at stake, including the credibility of Western commitment to uphold Afghan security, according to Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato), speaking on the eve of a recent Istanbul summit conference. Nato, which now leads the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, has committed 10,000 troops to secure the capital of Kabul and some areas beyond.

Serious outbreaks of fighting still regularly flare up in many regions. Much of the countryside remains under the control of the Afghan warlords who use heroin money to maintain their irregular armies of up to 10,000 each.

The Afghan heroin trade has now emerged as the most worrying and enduring cause of regional instability, according to Graeme Herd, professor of civil-military relations at the George C. Marshall European Centre for Security Studies in Germany. He argues in a landmark discussion paper published by the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London that 'the most probable outcome (of the conflict) is the emergence of a narco-terrorist state along the lines of Colombia'.

A global conference in Berlin recently concluded with an $8.2bn commitment to Afghanistan's security over the next two years, a substantial increase on previous such investment. The biggest investor in the scheme is the United States with a pledge of $2.2bn over two years, followed by Britain ($900 m), Japan ($400 m over two years), the European Union (EU) as a whole ($297.

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