We might be forgiven for thinking US and NATO allies are interested in keeping opium cultivation down. However, as Afghan farmers start sowing their next poppy crop, we’d be fools not to recognise how comprehensively embedded the heroin trade is – not only in the war in Afghanistan, but in the funding of terrorism in general and, in a further twist, the lining of Western corporation coffers.
Yossef Bodansky said in July 2010, in an article about the strategic ramifications of a US-led withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan:
In global terms, the key threat is the impact that the vast sums of drug money has on the long-term regional stability of vast tracks of Eurasia: namely, the funding of a myriad of “causes” ranging from jihadist terrorism and subversion to violent and destabilizing secessionism and separatism.
There’s no suggestion that the damage done by terrorism is greater than the damage done by drugs. Bodansky points out that when Russian president Dimitry Medvedev launched an international forum entitled ‘Afghan Drug Production: A Challenge to the International Community’, he said: ‘We consider drug addiction the most serious threat to the development of our country and the health of our people.’
It would seem a heresy, however, if we didn’t also pay close attention to what ‘crime shows’ say about ‘following the money’. A clear understanding about this leads not only to a picture that the US is not coming clean about their interest in undermining Afghanistan’s narco-economy, but to an estimated annual $1billion income received by al-Qaeda throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s from laundering the huge profits from Afghanistan’s drug trade.
Consider for a moment that when the US-led forces entered Afghanistan in the autumn of 2001 there was virtually no poppy cultivation occurring. In its desperation to gain legitimacy and support from the West, The Taliban eradicated what was growing at the time. (As a footnote, it should be said that they allowed the jihadists to continue selling heroin from the cached stockpiles over that season.) What occurred next, some would say, was a great lost opportunity during which the US and NATO alliance ignored the poverty and chaos that was nationwide. The Islamist leaders, through emissaries, filled the gap by offering the population (especially in Southern Afghanistan) economic security in the form of loans and seeds for poppy cultivation.
The poppy cultivation area in Afghanistan rose from 8000 hectares in 2001 to 74000 in 2002, peaking at 193 000 in 2007. It did dip to 123 000 hectares in 2009 (mainly due to blight attacking the crops rather than eradication by police). As Bodansky said: ‘this drug trade funds jihadist terrorism and subversion from Tajikistan to Chechnya to Bosnia-Herzegovina.’
But as I indicated in the heading, if we are to fully understand the reach of the drugs and the narco-economy of Afghanistan, this isn’t quite the end of the ‘money trail’.
In 2006 Catherine Austin Fitts, president of an investment advisory service in the US, wrote about a pending lawsuit the European Union had against RJR Nabisco (one of the world’s largest food processors and consumer products corporations) on behalf of eleven sovereign European nations – nations with a formidable array of military and intelligence resources to collect and organise the evidence for such a lawsuit. The lawsuit alleged that RJR Nabisco was engaged in multiple long-standing criminal conspiracies. An excerpt from the lawsuit reads:
22. In a similar way, the primary source of heroin within THE EUROPEAN COMMUNITY is the Middle East and, in particular, Afghanistan, with the majority of said heroin being sold by Russian organized crime, Middle Eastern criminal organizations, and terrorist groups based in the Middle East. Heroin sales in THE EUROPEAN COMMUNITY and the MEMBER STATES are facilitated and expedited by the purchase and sale of the DEFENDANTS’ cigarettes in money-laundering operations that begin in THE EUROPEAN COMMUNITY and the MEMBER STATES, Eastern Europe, and/or Russia, but which ultimately result in the proceeds of those money-laundering activities being deposited into the coffers of the RJR DEFENDANTS in the United States.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised – wars never seem to be as easy to unravel as one might think. But it should be noted that what I’ve mentioned here is just the tip of the iceberg. (The Russian mafia’s involvement, for instance, deserves its own post on the subject.) What seems apparent, however, is that the opium trade is in full swing. It is also fully entrenched across Euro-Asia and beyond, and it has a far greater reach into sectarian conflicts and established corporations than we might give it credit for.