The case of an Afghan village police chief, named Inayatullah, is
a small example of a much larger problem.
Is Commander Inayatullah a courageous law-and-order crusader
responsible for smashing the drug mafia in his hamlet? Or, is he an
opium smuggler? Or, as his bosses say, is he both?
It's a question that hangs over more and more public officials
here. The post-Taliban boom in opium production means that drug
money now permeates every stratum of Afghanistan's society - from
the farmers cultivating poppies in the east to those in the highest
levels of the central government of Kabul, according to senior
Afghan and European officials working here.
"We are already a narco-state," says Mohammad Nader Nadery at the
Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, which has studied the
growing impunity of former military commanders and drug dealers who
now work within the Afghan government. "If the governors in many
parts of the country are involved in the drug trade, if a minister
is directly or indirectly getting benefits from drug trade, and if a
chief of police gets money from drug traffickers, then how else do
you define a narco-state?"
Abdul Karim Brahowie, Afghanistan's minister of tribal and
frontier affairs, says that the government has become so full of
drug smugglers that cabinet meetings have become a farce. "Sometimes
the people who complain the loudest about theft are thieves
themselves," he says.
In the past two years, the UN reports that poppy cultivation
increased by two-thirds in 2004 to 51.7 million acres. The US
estimate was even higher - at 87.5 million acres. Afghanistan now
produces 90 percent of the world's opium - most of it ends up on the
streets of Europe and Russia as heroin. European officials warn that
this fledgling democracy is being undermined as Afghan officials
make decisions based on what's good for the drug trade, rather than
"There is a danger that all the stabilization and reconstruction
efforts will be neutralized unless the narcotrafficking problem is
addressed," says Ursula Mueller, political counselor at the German
Embassy in Washington. "We have to fight this corruption ... those
guys involved in the drug business [who] are in all levels of
Afghanistan's government," adds Ms. Mueller, who has been actively
involved in rebuilding Afghanistan since the US toppled the Taliban
in late 2001.
The Afghan government of US-backed President Hamid Karzai has
made countering the narcotics trade - over fighting terrorism - its
central aim. And the international community, with Britain taking
the lead, is planted firmly behind him. Germany, for example, is
training local Afghan police, and the US has budgeted $780 million
this year to support the antinarcotics battle.
But the opium trade is deeply rooted in Afghan society. Many
regional warlords and opponents of the Taliban are now top officials
in the Karzai government. One of the most complicated - and delicate
- tasks is to get corrupt officials to turn away from the drug trade
as a source of personal income.
Mueller says it can be done. She tells of a former Afghan
provincial official who was nominated to become a deputy minister in
Kabul. "We had doubts, and the [Bush] administration had doubts
about him," Mueller says. "It was an open secret that he was heavily
involved in the drugs business."
But, she says, he has turned his back on his former trade and has
become a responsible government official leading efforts to staunch
the illicit drug business.
The effort in working with local governors has been mixed,
though, according to Steve Atkins, a spokesman for the British
Embassy in Washington.
Britain provided funding and advice to Afghans on an eradication
program in 2004. Governors who participated claimed they eradicated
37,000 acres, but a verification team found that only 13,000 acres
had actually been eradicated. …