Thursday, February 17, 2011

#9: Seeds of Terror: How Heroin is Bankrolling the Taliban and al Qaeda by Gretchen Peters

In 2000, Afghanistan provided 75% of the world supply of poppies for opium production. By the time of the September 11th attacks, one UN source said that the production was cut to roughly 17 hectares of cultivation in the entirety of the country.  In 2008, Hilmand province alone had 103,560 hectares of poppy under cultivation.This has since been used by lefties to denounce the military action in Afghanistan as proof that the US government is in bed with the same drug dealers that the Taliban forced out of the country.

Gretchen Peters takes this to task in a logical way; she is not the first author to do this, but the myth persists. The much quoted fatwah on cultivation was, according to Peters, a way to drive up the price of the crop to increase funding for the Taliban and al Qaeda. This system is a leftover from the 1980s, in which farmers would grow poppy, hire Mujaheddin to protect the fields, pay them with drug money, which would then be used to buy material for fighting the Soviets. According to Peters, this same system is in place now and is being run by the resurgent Taliban. In 2000, CIA director George Tennant pointed to the increase in heroin prices as an "increased revenue stream for al Qaeda". (Peters, 18) The Taliban was extremely hard on drug users before the fatwah on cultivation, but did nothing to discourage the growth of poppy. (Peters, 67-70)

But these are not the Taliban we know. Most of the leadership has been chased into the tribal areas of Pakistan; the farmers in SW Afghanistan point out to most Western journalists that the current Taliban "are not interested in religion...they are drug dealers." (Peters, 90-95). Of course, there is the obligatory bashing of the Pakistani government for supporting these jack-asses for most of the last 20 years. Peters also pulls no punches when talking about President Mohammad Karzai's brother; he emerges from the pages of this text with little credibility but quite a lot of drug money.

The key part of the book, and a call to action that is needed, is the conclusion that Peters draws. In her words, "the Bush administration rejected nation building. What is called for is nation building." (Peters, 218). Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and the army maintained that fighting the drug aspects of the War on Terror in Afghanistan was "mission creep" to be avoided, or best handled by the DEA and Intelligence services. This was (and remains) misguided, and this text does a commendable job at shedding light on the problem. Peters also (rightly) advocates livelihood before eradication. It isn't going to do a lot of good to destroy poppy if the farmer then starves because he cannot afford food; better to gradually work him off the poppy, setting up markets and the ability to cultivate wheat. This can be done; look at Afghanistan in 2000. Those farmers grew other things.

I had never thought of Afghanistan as a "narco-state", and this shows my limited understanding of the topic. Peters draws heavy parallels between the current manifestation of the Taliban and the FARC in Colombia. Both are gangsterish, involved in drug trafficking to finance military actions and feared by the general populace. This book is excellent, and the author's opinions wise. When teamed with the excellent documentary "Restrepo", one can see a policy that has not worked side by side with a policy that may work.

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