Introduction – May 20, 2012
The following article isn’t so much an exposure of the truth as a measure of the writer’s gullibility. Trouble is the writer is so fundamentally ignorant that he also helps reinforce the public’s ignorance about the role of drugs in Afghanistan.
The Western powers didn’t invade Afghanistan to close the drugs trade down but to restore it after the Taliban had outlawed the trade in narcotics, as this New York Times article confirms. In July 2000 the Taliban outlawed the cultivation of poppies and by the time the article was written, in May 2001, Afghanistan’s drugs trade had all but ceased to be.
Six months later however, the Taliban were overthrown and the drugs trade was quickly restored; thereafter the production of drugs surged so that by 2007 record amounts of opium were being produced.
So no surprise that the ‘pledge’ to end Afghanistan’s heroin trade was not fulfilled. One of the men behind that pledge was Tony Blair, surely one of history’s smoothest liars, and he knew that the West was invading Afghanistan to restore the drugs trade not to end it.
In fact Britain has a long history of using its military to ensure the production and consumption of narcotics. From the poppy fields of Helmand province today back to the Opium Wars in Victorian times.
But don’t expect the writer of the following article to tell you about that. He has swallowed the lies hook, line and sinker and regurgitates them here to reinforce the public’s ignorance about the West’s role in Afghanistan
Why Britain’s pledge to end Afghanistan’s deadly heroin trade has failed
Sean Rayment – telegraph.co.uk May 20, 2012
Back in 2001, three weeks after the 9/11 attacks, the then prime minister Tony Blair sold the case for war in Afghanistan by insisting that the invasion would destroy the country’s illicit drug trade. In an impassioned speech to the Labour Party Conference, he told his supporters: “The arms the Taliban are buying today are paid for by the lives of young British people buying their drugs on British streets. This is another part of the regime we should destroy.”
The prime minister was, in part, referring to the tragic death of Rachel Whitear, an everyday girl from a respectable, loving family who got caught up in the seedy world of drugs. In May 2000, Rachel died of an overdose of what, in all likelihood, was Afghan heroin. A graphic photograph of her discoloured body found on the floor of a dirty bedsit led to a nationwide anti-drugs campaign.
But after almost 11 years of failed policies, and the deaths of 414 British soldiers and 1,972 American ones, little has changed. Instead of destroying Afghanistan’s drug trade, the country is today responsible for 82 per cent of the global production of opium, and more than 90 per cent of heroin found on British streets is made from Afghan opium. Every year the Taliban makes around £100 million from the illicit trade by taxing farmers, supplying opium seeds and ensuring safe passage of the drugs across the country’s borders.
I have visited Afghanistan ten times since 2001, and first encountered the vast swathes of poppy fields growing openly in southern Afghanistan in 2006 when 3,150 British troops were sent into the region to combat the growing insurgency. Fighting broke out almost immediately as the British and the Taliban fought for control of the vast fertile area sitting either side of the Helmand River where the majority of opium is cultivated.
Helmand was once Afghanistan’s wheat basket. But the high global price for opium proved too tempting for hundreds of thousands of Afghan farmers who soon learnt that harvesting poppy paid better than growing wheat or pomegranates. A hectare of wheat is worth £475 while the same area of opium might be worth up to £6,500. Consequently, the province today produces 48 per cent of the country’s opium.
The ongoing strength of the Taliban will be prominent in Western leader’s minds as they attempt to thrash out an Afghan withdrawal strategy during the Chicago Nato Conference, which begins on Sunday. Prime Minister David Cameron and President Barack Obama are hoping to persuade Nato member countries to continuing funding the Afghan Security Forces – expected to cost around £2bn a year – for at least a decade once the majority of western troops have withdrawn from the country in two years time.
Meanwhile, 2012 is looking like a bumper year for Afghanistan’s poppy harvest. So what went wrong?
When I was in southern Afghanistan in 2006, rather than destroying the poppy, senior British officers were under strict orders not to take part in any form of eradication despite indisputable evidence that the Taliban were selling drugs to buy weapons. In effect, as many soldiers told me, the British were fighting with one hand tied behind their backs.
Neither Washington nor Downing Street wanted soldiers being accused of destroying the livelihoods of impoverished farmers, an act which – it was claimed – would play into the hands of the Taliban. In some cases poppy farmers are understood to have even received compensation from the ISAF (the International Security Assistance Force) for damage to property sustained during battles between British soldiers and insurgents. Many British soldiers repeatedly told me of their frustration over the wisdom of risking their lives to protect poppy farmers who were effectively working for the Taliban.
Then, in 2007, I was embedded with British troops in the infamous town of Sangin, an area where more than 100 British soldiers have been killed, and where much of the land was controlled either by the Taliban or drugs lords. During one patrol that I accompanied, an officer openly derided the folly of the British policy. “We are not allowed to destroy this poppy,” he said, his voice trembling with anger. “But the money made from selling the opium will go to the Taliban who will use it to pay people to kill British soldiers. Where’s the sense in that?”
As security in provinces such as Helmand and Kandahar disintegrated, the area dedicated to poppy cultivation started to grow. In the years that followed, over 400 British troops were killed and over 2,000 were injured as the Taliban fought to hold onto their areas of opium production. Yet not a single hectare of opium was destroyed.
While commanders attempted to establish what, if any, counter-narcotics strategy they should adopt, Helmand and other areas of southern Afghanistan steadily became consumed by a sea of red as field after field was turned over to opium production.
It was eventually decided that the ISAF would have no counter-narcotics mandate, and the eradication process would be left to the Afghan National Police. Yet many of their officers were drug addicts, and the organisation as a whole was riddled with corruption. The result was a record 8,000 tons of opium being produced in 2007.
Today, two of the areas of greatest of opium production in Helmand, Nahr-e-Saraj and Nad-e-Ali – the area where Guardsmen Michael Roland was shot dead last month – are supposed to be under British control. I have been to Nad-e-Ali on several occasions and have watched as the poppy is sown and harvested while British troops look on, knowing there is little that they can do.
When asked why poppy fields aren’t destroyed, given that they represent almost the sole source of the Taliban’s income, most officers simply say: “It isn’t our problem”.
Up to 15 per cent of Afghanistan Gross National Product is believed to come from drug-related exports, a business worth an estimated £1.6 billion a year. With such vast sums of money swimming around, it is little wonder that opium has led to corruption within every strata of Afghan society.
“There is much that needs to be done at the highest levels to combat corruption,” Ashit Mittal, the UNODC deputy representative in Afghanistan, told me. “A country cannot have these levels of opium production without corruption and bribery at the higher and lower levels of Afghan society.” Indeed, Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of Afghan president Hamid Karzai, was widely believed to be one of the country’s main drug’s barons before he was assassinated by his own head of security in July last year.
Yet despite the gloomy prospects for the future of counter-narcotics in Afghanistan, there have been some successes. Over 2,000 Afghan National Police officers have now been specially trained and a special counter narcotics police unit has been created. Every member of the force is polygraphed once a year and also undergoes regular urinalysis to test for drug abuse. Those who fail are either sacked or returned to other units. There are also projects such as the Helmand Food Zone run by the British Provincial Reconstruction Team, where concerted efforts are made to persuade farmers to abandon the poppy by supplying them with subsidised high-grade wheat and fertiliser. These projects have met with significant success, albeit in a relatively small area.
But despite the gains, Afghanistan will remain a narco-state for the foreseeable future, partly because the country’s own drugs problem is getting worse. “Afghanistan never had a history of drug addiction 30 years ago,” says Abdul Gayyum, the spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics, “But today we have we one million addicts.”
The majority of Afghanistan’s addicts are unemployed men, often refugees returning from Iran and Pakistan. But, worryingly, the cases of addiction amongst women, young children and even babies are beginning to soar.
Children, some less than a year old, are being given opium by their mothers in order to keep them calm and sleepy so the women can work uninterrupted in jobs such as carpet weaving and basket making.
Some doctors are also adding to the addiction problem by prescribing opium for a wide range of minor illnesses such as back and head aches.
One senior official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told The Sunday Telegraph: “There is no silver bullet for solving Afghanistan drug culture. It will take a lot of time and money and there is no guarantee of success.
“The country is now at a crossroads. At the end of 2014 the majority of ISAF troops will leave and. Although the country will still receive considerable aid from the international community, Afghans will have to start solving their own problems.”