In 2007, Afghanistan supplied 93% of the world's opium, according to the U.S. State Department. Illicit poppy production, meanwhile, brings $4 billion into Afghanistan, or more than half the country’s total economy of $7.5 billion, according to the United Nations Office of Drug Control (UNODC). It also represents about half of the economy of Pakistan, and of the ISI in particular.Prior to the invasion of Afghanistan, most of these labs were in Turkey, but production has mostly moved to Afghanistan - although they are still controlled by the same networks.
Destroying the labs has always been an obvious option, but for years America refused to do so for political reasons. In 2001 the Taliban and bin Laden were estimated by the CIA to be earning up to 10 per cent of Afghanistan’s drug revenues, then estimated at between 6.5 and 10 billion U.S. dollars a year. This income of perhaps $1 billion was less than that earned by Pakistan’s intelligence agency ISI, parts of which had become the key to the drug trade in Central Asia. The UN Drug Control Program (UNDCP) estimated in 1999 that the ISI made around $2.5 billion annually from the sale of illegal drugs.
At the start of the U.S. offensive in 2001, according to Ahmed Rashid, "The Pentagon had a list of twenty-five or more drug labs and warehouses in Afghanistan but refused to bomb them because some belonged to the CIA's new NA [Northern Alliance] allies." Rashid was "told by UNODC officials that the Americans knew far more about the drug labs than they claimed to know, and the failure to bomb them was a major setback to the counter-narcotics effort." James Risen reports that the ongoing refusal to pursue the targeted drug labs came from neocons at the top of America’s national security bureaucracy, including Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, Zalmay Khalilzad, and their patron Donald Rumsfeld.
As Sibel frequently points out, the 'face' of the heroin industry is always the Afghan poppy farmers, and the policy dispute is always described as 'To eradicate or not eradicate,' and whether Afghani farmers have any better options for feeding their families, and whether poppy destruction will drive farmers into the protective arms of the Taliban etc. When the issue is framed like that, 'reasonable people' can disagree about the correct approach. The next level of the discussion, infrequently discussed, is whether or not to target the production facilities, the drug labs and the warehouses. Even here, Peter Dale Scott, quoting Ahmed Rashid, only refers to the 2001 situation when the Northern Alliance was still in business.
I can't remember a single story in the eight years since the invasion of an attack - air or ground - on one of these drug labs or warehouses - so whatever arguments Feith, Wolfowitz, Khalilzad and Rumsfeld were relying on back then are now presumably inoperative. (see my "Sibel Edmonds & the Neocons' Turkish Gravy-Train" for more.) And, of course, those guys have all been out of the US government for years, so there are presumably others who have taken their place in who are following the same policy. Who? And Why?
But there is another important element - beyond the options of going after the poppy farmers and the drug labs - that is almost never discussed (putting aside for current purposes Sibel's emphasis on the fact that there are a group of people who manage this $50 billion industry and the necessary money-laundering etc.) That is, now that these drug labs are located within Afghanistan, a country occupied by the US/NATO, these labs need so-called 'precursor chemicals' to produce heroin - and lots of them, tanker loads.
A July 2008 AP report, carried by Boston Globe, and not many others, quotes Christina Oguz, country representative for the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, saying that only 1% of these precursor chemicals are ever seized - even though these chemicals are all imported by the tanker-load, and have no 'dual-use' justification. Reading between the lines in the article, Oguz's 'frustration' is palpable:
She urged the international community to share more information on known smugglers of the chemicals, many of whom were "long-established and based in neighboring countries."These chemicals are not coming into Afghanistan on the backs of mules - as the media often presents Afghanistan's export of heroin -they are coming through major transit points.
Former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, made the same point in his 2007 article "Britain is protecting the biggest heroin crop of all time." Murray writes:
(Afghanistan) now exports not opium, but heroin. Opium is converted into heroin on an industrial scale, not in kitchens but in factories. Millions of gallons of the chemicals needed for this process are shipped into Afghanistan by tanker. The tankers and bulk opium lorries on the way to the factories share the roads, improved by American aid, with Nato troops.Let me emphasize - the US government/NATO might have arguably legitimate reasons to 'protect' the poppy farmers, they might even have reason not to attack the drug labs. But what possible excuse is there for allowing tanker after tanker of requisite heroin precursor chemicals for entering Afghanistan? Who does that help?
My knowledge of all this comes from my time as British Ambassador in neighbouring Uzbekistan from 2002 until 2004. I stood at the Friendship Bridge at Termez in 2003 and watched ... the tankers of chemicals roaring into Afghanistan.
For comparison, I mentioned Bashir Noorzai recently. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for heroin-related charges last week. One of the charges against him in his indictment was:
In or about 1997, Taliban authorities in Afghanistan seized a truckload of morphine base that was owned by BASHIR NOORZAI, a/k/a "Haji Bashir Noorzai," the defendant. Shortly thereafter, Taliban authorities returned the seized morphine base to NOORZAI with personal apologies from Mullah Mohammad Omar, the leader of the Taliban.Is it categorically better or worse to seize and release a 'truckload' of morphine base, or to knowingly allow many truckloads of heroin precursor chemicals to enter a country that you occupy and to effectively create a 'green zone' for heroin labs? Shouldn't Feith, Wolfowitz, and the others be subject to the same punishment of life imprisonment?
I'll finish with some more from Peter Dale Scott's important article:
It follows that there are many players with a much larger financial stake in the Afghan drug traffic than local Afghan drug lords, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban. Sibel Edmonds has charged that Pakistani and Turkish intelligence, working together, utilize the resources of the international networks transmitting Afghan heroin. Others have also written about the ties between U.S. intelligence and the Turkish narco-intelligence connection.
Loretta Napoleoni has argued that there is an ISI-backed Islamist drug route of al Qaeda allies across North Central Asia, reaching from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan through Azerbaijan and Turkey to Kosovo. Dennis Dayle, a former top-level DEA agent in the Middle East, has corroborated the CIA interest in that region’s drug connection. I was present when he told an anti-drug conference that "In my 30-year history in the Drug Enforcement Administration and related agencies, the major targets of my investigations almost invariably turned out to be working for the CIA."
The UNODC Executive Director, Antonio Maria Costa, has reported that "money made in illicit drug trade has been used to keep banks afloat in the global financial crisis."
The global drug traffic itself will continue to benefit from the protracted conflict generated by "full-spectrum dominance" in Afghanistan, and some of the beneficiaries may have been secretly lobbying for it.