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Drugs, Afghanistan, Terrorism and US Corporations

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.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.

SJ Finn is an Australian writer and the founder of International Overdose Awareness Day. Her novel ‘Down to the River’ was published in March 2015 (Sleepers Publishing). She can be found at www.sjfinn.com

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  1. Good post. The degree of myopia about Afghanistan is astonishing. The Age, for instance, recently published a half-decent account of corruption in the country. Here’s an excerpt:

    United States and Australian troops are not only fighting the Taliban, but also combating rampant corruption, thuggish Afghan National Police and a population that welcomes foreigners with open arms for as long as it is of value to them.

    One would expect that Karzai would be doing everything in his power to eliminate the daylight robbery. His contempt at fulfilling his obligations to erect a stable government will only play into the hands of the Taliban.

    Which is all fine, of course — except that the narrative of the US and NATO battling entrenched corruption ignores the extent to which the US is actively complicit in that corruption. We know now, for instance, that Karzai’s brother, one of the most notoriously corrupt figures in the regime, has been on the payroll of the CIA for years, and has been protected from investigation on that basis.

    More recently, we learned that Mohammed Zia Salehi, another Karzai associate under investigation for corruption investigation, was also a CIA agent.
    So rather than the US attempting to stamp out corruption, the real picture is of the US actively contributing to it by financing some of the biggest criminals.

  2. I love that description of George, “well-tanned actor”. And yes, scream away. I think we forget how powerful corporations are. Just last night, finishing off Kate Jennings’ essays in her book, Trouble, she said that her novel ‘Moral Hazard’ hadn’t been sold through the largest bookshop chain in the USA because of the reference to euthanasia. Also, the Ross Garner appearance last night on the 7.30 report about the gold mine tailings being dumped into the sea in New Guinea. It’s endlessly scary and, as you say, greed beyond belief in regard to what corporations will do and turn a blind eye to, in the pursuit of profits.

  3. Yeah, thanks Jeff. It’s the ultimate insult that so many wars are just protracted sprawling lineages of corruption. Faith in the so-called free world drains away, and everything you’ve written in your comment, piles up to a big mess. I’ll follow up on the points you made for my own education. I’m determined to understand this war more fully.

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