President Ghani must face the truth: Stability and Opium cannot co-exist
by Ramtanu Maitra on 25 Jun 2015 1 Comment

Since Ashraf Ghani was made president through remote control by the Obama administration last September, bringing an end to the three month-long dispute with his presidential rival Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, who, left with little choice, has subsequently assumed an undefined role in the number two position as the country’s first-ever Chief Executive (CE) - he has issued a flurry of policy statements designed to satisfy his benefactors in the West.


While visiting foreign countries, he sought economic help promising the host nations a stable Afghanistan where they could invest for mutual benefit. During these foreign jaunts seeking investment, Ghani showed no intent to acknowledge the existence of the 800-pound gorilla that sits right in the middle of his living room in the form of a billowing sea of poppy that produces hundreds of tons of heroin every year, ushering in violence, death and a state of permanent instability  for resident Afghans.


It is high time that President Ghani face the fact that foreign nations will make meaningful investment to aid Afghanistan’s economic well-being only if he takes on this gorilla, and slays him. Otherwise, all sideshows and donor promises aside, Afghanistan will remain an unstable and troubled nation where drug-traffickers, warlords, insurgents and geo-political operators with their shady intelligence agencies and deadly games will continue to rule the roost as they do today. Afghanistan will be labeled as the kind of place where big investors dare not put their money.


The 800-pound Gorilla


Since he assumed power, Ghani has not lifted a finger to take on the massive opium-growing and heroin-trafficking network, which has established a grip that is much firmer than Ghani ever had, or can expect to have if he does not challenge them. Over the last decade, while more than 150,000 United States and NATO troops were in Afghanistan “battling” al-Qaeda, Taliban and whoever else, the country quickly became “Poppystan.” A World Bank technocrat who was educated abroad, President Ghani was put in power by the same forces that facilitated this illegal industry to take a firm control over Afghanistan and flooded the region with the deadly opiate.


Ghani will soon find out that by turning a proverbial Nelson’s Eye on this huge drug-network that provides cash to large international banks and blank cheques to all varieties of terrorists inside and outside Afghanistan while addicting and killing millions across the world will only ensure perpetual, investment-killing instability within Afghanistan. Unless President Ghani acts on this, and acts quickly, this Dr. Frankenstein’s monster will make his hard-earned seat of power permanently irrelevant.


After he became president, Ghani went to China, Britain, the United States, Pakistan, Iran and India, to name the major nations he visited, seeking their help to make Afghanistan economically viable. He talked about this problem and that problem that have caused Afghanistan to be unstable and rudderless, but never mentioned the 800-pound gorilla, much less seek the help of these major nations to get rid of it.


At the December 4, 2014, London Conference on Afghanistan, President Ghani waxed eloquent. In his speech, while battling some unnamed ghosts, he said his administration (of two rival groups, who at the time could not even decide on who would be the members of his Cabinet and kept Afghanistan without a defense minister), had succeeded in proving wrong those who said Afghanistan will have a hell of a time making the transition. He said he has “gotten two of them right, but we are about to get the third right,” and which is the third one he said he would get right?


The first success he claimed was the political transition, which meant transferring of authority from one elected leader to another. The world knows how that came about. Following the presidential election, Dr. Abdullah, Ghani’s rival, did not believe he had been defeated by a fair election and refused to concede. From Washington, the Obama administration weighed in in favor of Ghani. On Sept. 17, a senior administration official told the New York Times that US Secretary of State John Kerry had called Abdullah during a meeting with 30 of his aides, and addressed them by speaker phone. It was allegedly Kerry’s 30th call to top Afghan officials since the runoff election on June 14, the New York Times noted.


“If you don’t come to agreement now, today, the possibilities for Afghanistan will become very difficult, if not dangerous,” Mr. Kerry said, according to the account by the American official. “I really need to emphasize to you that if you do not have an agreement, if you do not move to a unity government, the United States will not be able to support Afghanistan.”(“Afghan presidential Rivals Finally Agree on Power-Sharing Deal”, Rod Nordland, The New York Times, Sept. 20, 2014).


The second success Ghani boasted of in London was security. “Well, the Afghan national security forces, I am proud to indicate as their commander-in-chief, are assuming their patriotic duty of defending our homeland,” he announced. What is indeed the security situation now in Afghanistan? Does the on-ground security situation reflect what Ghani said in London? No, it doesn’t.


Waves of deadly militant attacks against Afghan security personnel have been reported daily since the Taliban declared its spring offensive in May. Speaking at a press conference in Kabul on June 2, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior Sediq Sediqi attributed the eruption of violence to ongoing military operations along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Sediqi claimed foreign militants have crossed the border into Afghanistan to create insecurity. He also said that the activities of the Taliban, Daesh (Islamic State) and other militants groups are being closely monitored and that Afghan security forces have been ordered to quickly act against these groups as soon their whereabouts are known.


At the same time, some reports from Afghanistan suggest that Daesh has gained grounds. How active Daesh has become is not known, but we do know that on Jan. 26, 2015, Daesh announced the existence of its ‘Khorasan chapter’ under known Taliban commander Rauf Khadem and a former Pakistani Taliban commander, Hafez Saeed Khan. The bottom line is this: while there could be a dispute about who is behind the serious uptick in violence, no one can deny that the security situation in Afghanistan is going southward.


In addition, the latest report published by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) based in Washington, DC, indicates that, over the past year, some 15,000 Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers have quit their jobs. According to SIGAR, the loss of 8.5 percent of the ANA’s force to attrition has left it with a smaller number of troops than it had at the start of last year.


Ghani’s third and fourth transition challenges cited in London concerned economics and what he promised to deliver to the Afghan people. On the former, he stated: “We have not done well, but that is the challenge that we have been inherited and we will face it.” On what his administration will deliver, it is, of course, too early to evaluate. He is right, though, in saying “that the Afghan people “will judge us by our capacity to deliver because they expect us to deliver, our partners expect us to deliver and the world expects us to deliver.”  


Big Bank and Heroin Chain


The reason why the Ghani administration will not meet with any success in improving Afghanistan’s economy and hence will not be able to “deliver” whatever he has promised is simply because he does not want to eliminate opium/heroin. He did not mention the challenge that the huge underground, or maybe not so underground, opium/heroin industry poses to Afghanistan’s future. He did not acknowledge that all other problems in Afghanistan, repeated over and over again in countless forums, emanate directly, or indirectly, from the monster, nurtured and strengthened over the years by Ghani’s benefactors.


It is no secret, and Ghani knows as well as many others do, that the big banks that control the City of London and Wall Street benefit significantly from the Afghan opium-generated cash. Was he afraid to say that in London, knowing the control that the City of London exerts over the British economy and British politics?


Former Prime Minister Tony Blair had told the British House of Commons that he joined hands with the Americans in the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan with the sole intent to stop proliferation of Afghan drugs on the British soil. At that time Afghanistan’s opium production was below 1,000 tons; and now, 14 years later, Afghanistan’s opium production is about 6,500 tons and growing. More Afghan heroin is flooding the UK and the United States. It is evident that Blair’s masters in London and New York did not allow  formulation of any program that would eradicate poppy and, instead, obfuscated the issue using  all kinds of excuses  to prevent the International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) from taking it on. As a result, the mighty ISAF allowed the narco-industry to grow into an overwhelmingly powerful monster affecting not only Afghanistan, but the region around it as well.


If President Ghani, in a sudden fit of sanity, chooses to unshackle himself from the London-Washington bondage, he would realize that economic development and security cannot be attained without total eradication of opium and not through legalization of drugs, as George Soros and his ilk have recommended. President Ghani should take a little time to look at the cases of two other narco-states - Colombia and Myanmar.


The Cases of Colombia and Myanmar


By the end of the last century, the Latin American nation of Colombia had been virtually taken over by the narco-terrorists, FARC, wearing the garb of Marxists. When President Alvaro Uribe took over the reins in 2002, he declared an all-out war on FARC fighters and drug traffickers, who together represented two sides of the same coin. But were these so-called Marxists-cum-narco-terrorists working by themselves? Apparently, they were not.


In June 1999, before Uribe appeared on the scene and unleashed his attack on these terrorists, the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, Richard Grasso, flew into Colombia’s jungles on the invitation of Colombia’s narco-terrorist-appeasing President Andres Pastrana to meet with Raul Reyes of the FARC. Grasso explained the market mechanism to Reyes and invited him to Wall Street for a firsthand look. Grasso told reporters afterward he intended to communicate to Reyes how Colombia would benefit from the increased global investment if nearly four decades of civil conflict could be ended. (“NYSE Chief Meets Rebel in Colombia”, June 27, 1999, Associated Press). Grasso told Reyes: Stop fighting and keep growing coca.


The Uribe government deployed helicopters spraying toxic herbicides across rural regions to destroy coca plants. That prompted human rights groups and the Wall Street-funded media to launch a joint campaign against the use of “deadly chemicals”. Because of such attacks from powerful interest-groups, Uribe’s campaign had to be curtailed long before it could achieve its objective. However, even that short-lived campaign did manage to reduce Colombia’s coca-terrorists’ control over state’s affairs. As a result, Colombia’s economy began to revive, and some began to make serious investments. The coca is very much there in Colombia and the FARC is far from being finished. But, Uribe’s determination, which was undermined by the bankers and the NGOs, did create some space for economic development.


“Uribe also expanded the size of the armed forces and tightened their links with local communities, another way of building up intelligence about the enemy to make attacks more precise and effective. By the end of his tenure in 2010, war-related civilian death rates were down by half. Colombia was beginning to enjoy an economic renaissance made possible by greater foreign investment and the return of many businessmen and other economic leaders who had fled the country.” (“The Success Story in Colombia”, Brookings Institute, Michael E. O’Hanlon and David Petraeus, Sept. 24, 2013). It is likely that Colombia would have been economically better off if Grasso’s people had not used their international power to handcuff Uribe’s hands.


In Myanmar, there was no Uribe. Southeast Asia’s Golden Triangle, a tri-state region that straddles the borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar, is notorious for drugs. The poppy fields in this region alone have made Myanmar the world’s second principal source of heroin. Instead of a leader who would take on the drug, Myanmar has an army that has no stomach to govern the region and tame the drug-producers and traffickers. In addition, a section of the military has long been corrupted by the easy and plentiful heroin money, in the same way that the opium/heroin money is corrupting the entire body of Afghanistan’s socio-political system.


According to an United Nations estimate last year, 550,000 acres of poppy-growing land was accommodated in the tri-state region. The southern mountainous backcountry is controlled by longtime adversaries of the central government, the southern faction of the Shan State Army, a group that like many other upland ethnic groups has been fighting for autonomy from the central government. Known as a “black zone,” the area is beyond the government’s control and generally off-limits to foreigners, Thomas Fuller of the New York Times reported last January. The Myanmar military, which is battling a number of ethnic armies even as the government professes peace, is wary of cracking down on drugs, fearing it could jeopardize tenuous alliances it has built with other militias, he reported. “You have various militia groups that are allowed to carry on because the government needs them,” said Mr. Whalen, who is now a director at Search, a Singapore-based consultancy. (“Myanmar Returns to What Sells: Heroin”, Thomas Fuller, New York Times, Jan. 3, 2015).


As a result of maintaining the poppy-growers, Myanmar’s military government has forsaken control of large chunks of land where the drug-traffickers, their militias and various armed insurgents from bordering countries have proliferated. One such group is the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), based in the Kokang area on the Chinese border. This group is well-known for drug production and trafficking. Under pressures from China and the lure of securing developmental money from China, military authorities cracked down heavily in the Kokang area in 2009. Yet, the drug traffickers are very much in business today.


The main townships -- Namkham, Mantong and Namhsan -- in Northern Shan State are fully under government control, with the Myanmar Army battalions in the main towns, and pro-government militia controlling the rural mountainous areas. Yet poppies are blooming all over the area. Evidently, the military is receiving the drug money and protecting the drug-traffickers. In Namkham, an influential ethnic Chinese Pansay militia, based in the hills south of the town of Namkham, is well-known for opium production and trafficking. Reports indicate Palaung villagers have turned to opium production, giving up their traditional livelihood of tea-growing. These are just a few examples of how the drug trade has corrupted the lot in Myanmar, making the country’s stability a distant dream.


What Ghani Fears


In 2001, when President George W Bush invaded Afghanistan to eliminate the murderous Taliban, the total area under opium poppy cultivation was an estimated 8,000 hectares, according to the United Nation’s Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC). During the 13- years of occupation by US and NATO troops, the area under cultivation increased 28-fold to an all-time high of 224,000 hectares recorded in 2014. One could say that Bush-Blair’s war on terror failed to tame the Taliban, but they have succeeded resoundingly in making Afghanistan a cash-cow producing hundreds of billions of US dollars’ worth of heroin sold in the streets all over the world.


Afghanistan was not a narco-state. The year the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, opium production was recorded at 200 tons and by the time the Soviets  troops went back home through the Salang Tunnel, opium production had grown to 1,200 tons. Then came the US and Pakistan-aided mujahiddeen warlords, the Taliban, and the ground was set to make opium Afghanistan’s main cash crop. In 1999, ten years after the Soviet Army left, Afghanistan produced close to 4,200 tons of opium.


The American and European troops have not met with a great deal of success in eliminating hordes of Taliban, al-Qaeda and other varieties of insurgents that have chosen to terrorize Afghanistan since, but they have done rather well in protecting the interests of the drug banks, such as the HSBC, Barclay, and a host of Dubai-based offshore banks who launder the drug money, and all others in the long line of heroin-trafficking chain. Can this really be true?


Here is the answer. In 2002, the first spring opium was harvested after the US invasion of Afghanistan, and the Bonn Agreement that chose Hamid Karzai to serve a six-month term as chairman of the interim administration, Afghanistan produced 3,700 tons of opium. As soon as the foreign troops’ boots were firmly settled on the Afghan soil, poppies began to bloom like never before. In 2007, as the City of London-Wall Street’s financial bubble lost trillions of dollars of phony money, Afghanistan, to the relief of the bankers, delivered 8,200 tons of opium. Even if one considers that only 50 percent of that opium was converted into heroin, the heroin production from that opium harvest would be about 400 tons or a tad more. The street value of that amount of heroin in Europe and the United States would be close to $ 400 billion. Much of that unaccounted for cash naturally showed up in the banks, those that were too “big to fail”, but were hollow inside. Being a part of that system once, President Ghani is aware of this and would not do anything to draw attention to this 800- pound gorilla that is backed up by a formidable cavalry of banks.


Opium/heroin also helps to generate a nifty profit for other outfits that have been contracted to eliminate it. For instance, according to the US inspector general for Afghanistan “reconstruction”, Academi (the company earlier registered as “Blackwater” and then as “Xe”) received $569 million from US taxpayers for “training, equipment, and logistical support” to Afghan forces conducting counter-narcotics, such as “the Afghan National Interdiction Unit, the Ministry of Interior, and the Afghan Border Police.” That amounts to 32 percent of the $1.8 billion the Pentagon has devoted to the job since 2002. (“Former Blackwater gets rich as Afghan drug production hits record high”, The Guardian, Spencer Ackerman, March 31, 2015). Going by the result that Western “training, equipment, and logistical support” produced over the years, it is fair to say that it has been a well-organized rip-off, helped by the burgeoning fields of poppy.


But Afghan drugs not only created a load of illegitimate money and hordes of criminals, it is killing many, mostly youths. Heroin does not discriminate. It kills black, brown, white and all other shades of skin in-between. It kills the rich; it kills the poor, and cuts across all ethnic and religious groups. It feeds cash to the Fat Cat bankers, politicians, military and security personnel,  and bureaucrats, just as it feeds the Taliban, ISIS, al-Qaeda and Chechen, to name a few.    

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