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Who'll address Indo-Afghan drugs nexus? (Saturday, 24 July 2006)
By Makhdoom Babar
Editor-in-Chief

ONE is alarmed by the findings of the latest drugs survey conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Contrary to the belief that an American military presence in Afghanistan and Central Asia would discourage the illicit trade in narcotics, recent studies by the ODC have confirmed that Afghanistan's drug trade has actually risen to new hights. It has not only successfully recovered from the opium ban, imposed by the Taliban but has in fact surpassed all previous records of opium production in Afghanistan. Under the Taliban imposed ban, Afghanistan's share of the global opium yield in 2001 diminished to 10% in 2001 from approximately 70 % the year before. However, according to the latest ODC data, the share of Afghanistan in world's drug trade has again skyrocketed to 80%. . Presenting the World Drug Report at the National Press Club in Washington, last month, the UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa said, "Afghanistan's drug situation remains vulnerable to reversal because of mass poverty, lack of security and the fact that the authorities have inadequate control over its territory,"
Investigations carried out by The Daily Mail in this direction reveal that in addition to opium poppy cultivation, another serious development, which has further complicated the situation, is the emergence of a large number of heroin laboratories in Afghanistan. While previously Afghanistan was responsible for the proliferation of opium poppy throughout the world, now the poppy is being increasingly processed into opium and heroin within Afghanistan. This "value-addiction" has, on the one hand, significantly increased profit margins for the drug barons and one the other hand created immense problems for the countries neighbouring Afghanistan, which are facing a tremendous surge in the influx of opium and heroin form that country. The increase in the number of seizures of opium and heroin along the Iran Afghanistan and Pakistan Afghanistan as compared to raw poppy seizures bear testimony to the fact that Afghan smugglers are now resorting to heroin production within Afghanistan. One has also, therefore, to look into the smuggling of Acetic Anhydride into Afghanistan from the region. Acetic Anhydride is one of the precursor chemicals, which are used in the processing of opium poppy into heroin, and its production and trade is supposed to be under strict international control n accordance with the international drug control treaties. Against the backdrop of these developments, the following questions intrigue one's mind: (i) why action has not been taken by the Karzai government and the US-led coalition to address the situation? And (ii) what role the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime to sensitize the international community to this grave situation is playing? Unfortunately, the answers to these questions expose a glaring contradiction between the professed commitment to the cause of drug control at the international level and the actual policy being followed by the important players at the international scene.
The Daily Mail's investigations further indicate that despite the serious security implications of the increased drug trade from Afghanistan as well as the socio-economic hazards associated with heroin and opium addiction which is receiving a boost due to increased availability of these drugs in the international markets, the US-led coalition and the Karzai government have closed their eyes to the poppy cultivation and heroin production supported by Afghanistan's warlords in control of various provinces of the country where Kabul literally has no control.
It is of great concern that the members of the Northern Alliance, who are known for their direct links to the production of opiates, constitute a considerable portion of the government at all levels. Ironically, Northern Alliance members in the Interior Ministry are now responsible for counter-narcotics operations. Furthermore, high-level officials in Kandahar, Helmand, and the Defence Ministry are also reportedly tied to the drug trade. This situation is further exacerbated by numerous recent allegations that soldiers from the interim government's security forces have been guarding drug markets.
The US-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan (ISAF) has declined to pursue the eradication of opium poppy crops under the pretext that the activity was beyond its mandate of maintenance of peace and security in Afghanistan. Clearly, the US is avoiding a potential conflict with the Afghan warlords, the major beneficiaries of drug, whose political support is essential for the sustenance of Karzai government. However, in doing so the US is ignoring the strong nexus, which exists between the drug economy and the continuing instability in Afghanistan and the growing terrorist activities in the region. The Afghan warlords have been netting huge profits from the drug trade emanating from poppy production in areas under their control. According to ODC figures, in 2002 drug revenues in Afghanistan reached US $1.2 billion, and amount that matches the total assistance provided to Afghanistan last year by the International community.
It is not difficult to see that the Afghan warlords have a vested interest in ensuring that the State remains week in Afghanistan so that they can continue with their profit-yielding drug trade without the fear of a strong action by the central authorities. Consequently, the warlords are channelling a portion of their drug earnings to fuel terrorist activities and attacks against Karzai government and coalition Forces. Thus by giving a free-hand to the warlords and drug barons in return for their political support to the Karzai government, the US is in fact undermining its own objective of peace and security within Afghanistan.
Not only is the drug money being used in sustaining instability within Afghanistan but it is also one of the major financial sources for terrorist attacks in the neighbouring countries. In a bid to capitalize on the political chaos and war-lord culture prevailing in Afghanistan, India for the first time opened four new Consulates in Mazar-i-Sharif, Heart, Jalalabad and Kandahar besides reopening an oversized Embassy in Kabul, closed after the departure of Soviet backed regime in Afghanistan. This makes Indian diplomatic representation the largest in Afghanistan., bigger even than that of the US, India does not have any big legitimate commercial interests tied to these Afghan cities, neither does it have any expatriate Indian Community nor frequent travellers to or from India and Afghanistan, seeking visas of passport assistance. Taking into account the current socio-economic and security conditions in Afghanistan, there seems to be no commercial or consular justification for India to have opened a Consulate in the small-remote Iranian town to Zahidan on the border of Balochistan province of Pakistan. These Indian consulates are actually working to strengthen bonds with the Afghan warlords and drug barons who are one and the same owing to the entrenchment of drug culture in the Afghan political structure. The Government of Pakistan has gathered sufficient evidence linking recent incidents of sectarian terrorism in Pakistan with the Afghan warlords sympathetic to the Northern Alliance. While training to the sectarian terrorism is being provided by Indian intelligence agency RAW' s personnel stationed in the Indian Consulates in Afghanistan, financing for terrorism against Pakistan is invariably being done through drug money. Disclosure of the former Interior Minister Makhdoom Faisal Saleh Hayat about the existence of six Indian terrorism training camps in Afghanistan is a clear pointer in this direction. The maiden horrific attacks by this narco-terrorist nexus was carried out in July 2003 on a Shiite Mosque in Quetta, Balochistan, killing 53 worshippers which was followed by a number of such attacks and sabotage activities todate..
"The US must understand the strong relationship between drug production and terrorism and should, therefore, recognize the need for strict action against drug production in Afghanistan. The US administration must redefine its priorities in Afghanistan and realize that the elimination of drug economy is an issue of peace and stability and a sine qua non for its success in the war-on-terror", expressed Adrew Moses, a renowned US analyst, when contacted by The Daily Mail.
On the its part, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has to play a more proactive role in increasing the awareness of the international community about the seriousness of the drug problem in Afghanistan. While the ODC has been expressing its concern about the increased production of poppy and heroin in Afghanistan in terms of its socio-economic fallouts for Afghanistan and the neighbouring countries, the United Nations has failed to highlight the grave consequence of the illicit drug production on regional and international peace and security and its links with terrorist activities against neighbouring countries such as Pakistan. The ODC has been advocating progressive elimination of poppy cultivation from Afghanistan through the implementation of sustained alternate development programmes. However, it has chosen to keep silent vis--vis the existence of countless heroin laboratories in Afghanistan about which it has sufficient data(3). While the policy of alternate development is relevant to the issue of poppy cultivation, action against heroin manufacturing should be based on strict law enforcement measures as it as a purely criminal activity. To this end, the ODC must initiate a concerted campaign at the international level to increase pressure on the authorities in Afghanistan to launch an immediate offence against the criminal syndicates involved in the heroin manufacturing and smuggling business. The ODC must not shy away form its responsibility in deference to the skewed considerations and political shortsightedness to the US and the Karzai government. It must also urge the US and Karzai government to neutralize warlords' efforts to keep the evil trade alive. The influx of precursors into Afghanistan from countries such as India has also to be probed. India is the largest producer of opium into heroin, in the region. There is a need for timely measures in the larger interest of the international community.
The Government of Pakistan also needs to attend to the imperative for raising international awareness about the serious challenges of Indian-sponsored narco-terrorism from Afghanistan, Pak-Afghan warlords and their involvement in drug trade. Apart from being a victim of terrorist activities financed from Afghan drug money, Pakistan has also suffered the most from the menace of heroin addiction. With upto 1.5 million heroin addicts, Pakistan is a country with largest concentration of more proactive international strategy to flight the narco-terrorism nexus in Afghanistan. Population afflicted by this form of addiction. As such Pakistan has a strong stake in lobbying for a more proactive international strategy to fight the narco terrorism nexus in Afghanistan.
A highly credible Western intelligence agency report suggests that for the Afghan and the US government, the primary issue should be to halt this drug trafficking and to block the Drug Barons from grabbing power in Afghanistan, if these governments seriously desire to eradicate terror networks from Afghanistan and halt the financial supplies to various terrorist and extremist groups across the world.
According to Jonathan Smart, a noted American writer, Karzai government has constantly been asking neighbouring Islamic government of Pakistan to take more and more steps to bust absconding Taliban and al-Qaeda members and keeps alleging that al-Qaeda operative carry out subversive activities inside Afghanistan from across the border. However it has minimize the activities of the Drug Barons in Afghanistan who are in fact the major source of survival for the al-Qaeda operatives or other fundamentalist groups in any part of the world. Jonathan writes that Karzai government is having its eyes wide shut over the issue, without realizing that the Afghan Drug Trade had become something like IMF or the WB for the al-Qaeda or other terror groups across the globe.
According to some unconfirmed reports, Pakistani Intelligence agencies that have made maximum arrests of the al-Qaeda operatives and other terror groups or individuals and interrogated them comprehensively, also learnt from certain arrested accused that these groups were sufficing on the money, generated through the afghan Drug Trade. On the other side, Pakistan's Anti Narcotics authorities have often been asking the Pakistan government and Islamabad's Foreign Office to take up the drug trafficking issue with Kabul. However the Pakistan government is yet to take up this issue with Karzai government strongly and harshly as it is bent upon establishing extraordinarily cordial relation between Kabul and Islamabad. Despite the fact that Pakistan and Afghanistan governments have signed a number of accords and agreements for a joint terror combat and eradication of the menace of drug trade with Interior Ministers from both the countries holding frequent meetings, it remains a matter of prime concern for Islamabad that Kabul has not moved even an inch to counter the drug business in Afghanistan.

1. Tamara Makarenko: "Crime, Terror and the Central Asian Drug Trade". Makarenko is a consulting editor for Jane's Intelligence Review.
2. Hearing testimony of Bernard Frahi, chief Operations Branch of ODC, at the US House Committee on International Relations on 19 June 2003.
3. Data is available through intelligence sources of the US, UNODC own surveys and intelligence provided by neighbouring countries such as Pakistan.

 

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