Sultan M Hali
US President Donald Trump is breathing fire and brimstone, threatening Pakistan with dire consequences unless it does more. Perhaps he needs to take a reality check of war toll in Afghanistan not just in dollar figures. Economists, more qualified than this scribe, have already shredded to pieces President Trump’s misplaced charge that the US has foolishly given Pakistan more than $33b in aid over the last 15 years. He needs to examine the fact that according to the DEA, more than 10,000 people in the US alone died of heroin-related overdoses last year because of an epidemic fuelled partly by the low cost and availability of one of the world’s most addictive, and most deadly, drugs. Critics ask if statisticians should add these casualties to the 3,430 US and coalition troops killed during the war or the 104,000 Afghans and 70,000 Pakistanis who fell victim to terror attacks after 2001.
The factor that should worry President Trump is that allegedly the security forces are facilitating the drug trade in Afghanistan rather than stopping it. Columnist Mnar Muhawesh, in his Op-Ed ‘US War in Afghanistan is Fueling Global Heroin Epidemic & Enabling The Drug Trade’, observes that “The ‘War on Drugs’ and the “War on Terror” are more intertwined than that media and our elected officials would like us to think.” Adding that despite its promises to eradicate the black market, the US actually enables the illegal drug trade. Columnist Abby Martin discloses that the US government has had a long history of facilitating the global drug trade: In the 1950s, it allowed opium to be moved, processed and trafficked throughout the Golden Triangle in Southeast Asia while it trained Taiwanese troops to fight Communist China. In the 80s, the CIA provided logistical and financial support to anti-Communist Contras in Nicaragua who were also known international drug traffickers.
Martin questions “It’s hard to believe that a region under full U.S. military occupation – with guard posts and surveillance drones monitoring the mountains of Tora Bora – aren’t able to track supply routes of opium exported from the country’s various poppy farms (you know, the ones the U.S. military are guarding).” It is ironic that the same Taliban that the U.S. led troops wanted to defeat and annihilate were the ones who had plugged Afghanistan’s age old narcotic trade. Prior to the War in Afghanistan, the Taliban actually offered subsidies to farmers to grow food crops not drugs. In the summer of 2000, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar announced a total ban on the cultivation of opium poppy. Offenders were physically beaten while their faces were blackened and they were paraded through villages to set an example. The only opium harvest the following spring was in the northeast, in an area controlled by the Taliban’s rivals, the Northern Alliance.
Journalist Matthieu Aikins, writing for “Rolling Stone” in 2012, noted” Opium production fell from an estimated 3,276 tons in 2000 to 185 tons in 2001.” Then 9/11 occurred. Dr. Steven Kassels observed in his 2015 article for “Social Justice Solutions” “When the Taliban fled or went into hiding; the farmers lost their financial support to grow food, and returned to growing heroin, a crop that thrives in regions of Afghanistan.” Seeking a “light footprint” in Afghanistan, the US and its allies teamed up with what Aikins describes as “anti-Taliban warlords.” Aikins reported: “Within six months of the US invasion, the warlords we backed were running the opium trade, and the spring of 2002 saw a bumper harvest of 3,400 tons.” The War in Afghanistan injected fresh life into the country’s practically dead opium industry. By 2014, Afghanistan was producing twice as much opium as it did in 2000. By 2015, Afghanistan was the source of 90 per cent of the world’s opium poppy.
According to the latest report released by United Nations Office on Drugs and Narcotics in November 2017, poppy and opium production in Afghanistan has increased by a record high 63% in 2017. The report finds political instability, lack of government control and security, as well as corruption as main drivers of illegal cultivation. In the last year of Taliban governance, the production was reduced to merely 221 tons which has now reached 9,000 tons in 2017; an increase of 87% from its 2016 Level (4,800 tons). The way U.S. scapegoats Pakistan for its failures in Afghanistan; it also alleges that the Taliban are sponsoring the poppy crop. It is the latest UN report that contradicts the accusation. As per the report, poppy cultivation has expanded in Northern Afghan areas of Balkh, Jowzjan, Baghlan, and Sari Pul provinces. These provinces were entirely free of poppy a few years ago and are known to be out of Taliban control.
It has been reported that CIA and the private US security agency Blackwater, operating in Afghanistan support drug trafficking to finance their black and clandestine operations in the war-ravaged country. Reportedly, countries like Afghanistan, which torn by strife, provide ideal environment for such illegal activities. U.S. soldiers and contractors do not require visa restrictions for Afghanistan, nor do the laws of the land apply to them, thus they have a free hand in sponsoring activities like poppy production and drug trafficking. Reportedly, high numbers of Afghan Defence Forces personnel are also habitual poppy users and hence carry low morale and physical health. The US administration should take cognisance of this menace which is threatening itself.
—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.