As for growing drugs and trafficking, Afghanistan is one of the world`s top countries – it is a number one in growing opium, the basic ingredient of heroine. Afghanistan is leading in yet another sad affair: after the attacks on the Twin Towers it became the first target of Bush`s war against terrorism. As the main reason they stated that the ruling Taliban movement supports terrorist groups. According to the US government sources, there were terrorist bases of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan operating with support from the Taliban government, where the warriors were trained for attacks on the USA and their allies. Therefore in their opinion the attack was essential.
The second reason to legitimize the attack on Afghanistan, preferred by the British, was the drug issue. As Tony Blair stated a few days before the attack on Afghanistan in October 2001, the Taliban pays for their weapons by the lives of young Brits who buy drugs in British streets. Thus the objective of the USA, Great Britain and their allies was to overthrow the Taliban movement, which they hold responsible for terrorist actions as well as for drug production and trafficking, since the money gained is used for arming.
The effort of the Afghan elites to prohibit opium growing appeared already before the military Operation Enduring Freedom. Without an actual alternative of subsistence for farmers and without taking certain measures also in other spheres, it did not have long-term effect. Although Afghanistan is a Muslim country with a large number of orthodox Muslims, even the fatwa (a legal pronouncement of a Muslim expert concerning controversial issues), declaring that opium growing was anti-Islamic, was ineffective. As some observers ironically remarked, the religious leaders themselves live on illegal drug growing and in public they do not try to deplore it. Moreover, the Afghans defend themselves that Islam does allow growing if one`s subsistence is concerned, similarly as in case of eating pork when one is in danger of starvation.
In July 2000 the ruling Taliban movement banned growing opium poppies despite the protest of farmers. It was strictly followed also because of the redoubtable police. Violating the prohibition was punished even by execution, therefore the success of the initiative was no surprise. In the provinces controlled by the Taliban (approx. 85% of the territory) the opium growing decreased from 3500 tonnes to only 185. It continued only in the regions ruled by the Northern Alliance (the United Islamic Front), the opposition of the Taliban supported by the West. Unlike the Taliban, the Northern Alliance has not managed to enforce such a ban, although it was passed already in 1999.
However, there are some doubts about the sincerity of the Taliban representatives in dealing with the drug problem. Some sources say Afghanistan only wanted to appease the foreign countries putting increasing pressure on the Taliban in order to solve the problem in question. The reason was also the Taliban`s effort to win recognition in foreign countries and a seat in the UN General Assembly, where Afghanistan was represented by an opposing Northern Alliance representative.
The second reason mentioned especially by the US representatives implies a deliberate economic move. The prohibition of growing drugs decreased the supply on the market, therefore the price of heroine naturally increased. That enabled selling out the Afghan stock for much higher prices. According to the USA, it was the Taliban who was to make profit on that. However, Bernard Frahi from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says that is a nonsense, neither the Taliban nor the farmers profitted from the increased prices, as they supervised only growing and processing drugs. The profit went more likely to narcobarons and local dictators, who were in charge of the most profitable trafficking and the trade as such.
Thus during the ban the drug business survived only thanks to the US ally – the Northern Alliance, which controlled a part of Afghanistan independently on the central government in Kabul. The money made on opium were then used for buying weapons. This fact was confirmed under oath also by Wendy Chamberlin, former US Ambassador in Pakistan. Thus he confirmed that in the war against terrorism and the Taliban, the Northern Alliance was supported – besides the financial boost from the US government – by the profit from opium trade. A political problem has come up: on one hand, the USA prefer the prohibition of growing and selling opium in the whole Afghanistan, on the other hand they do not want to lose the allies who helped them defeat the Taliban, and who still use the money made on drugs as a source of income for their families.
The truth is that also the Taliban made profit on opium growing, since they levied Islamic taxes zakhat and usher on opium. Zakhat (2.5%) is one of the pillars of the Muslim religion, it is a help for the poor, the first estate or the government. Usher (tithe) is a 10% tax levied on all crops, and thus naturally on opium crops as well. 50% of the usher goes to the poor and the second half to religious leaders and rulers, i.e. at that time to the Taliban. That is one of the reasons why the USA begun to draw a connection between the fight against terrorism and the fight against drugs, and why they constantly search for relations between politically motivated violence and drug trafficking. The term is narcoterrorism and according to the DAE (the US Drug Enforcement Administration) representatives, the connection of the Taliban, the Gulbuddin Hekmatyar`s fundamentalist Hezb-e-Islami Party, or Al-Qaeda with drugs is obvious. The DEA defines the narcoterrorist organization as an organized group cooperating in activities related to drug trafficking in order to support deliberate and politically motivated violence against civil targets with the intention to influence decisions of governments.
According to the US Ministry of Foreign Affairs, up to 12 terrorist organizations out of 28 on the black list of the Ministry gain money from drug trafficking. As for Afghanistan, the US administration say it is especially Al-Qaeda and their leader Osama bin Laden.
Yet the connection between drugs, terrorism and individual groups is unclear. In relation to the Taliban and the Hezbi Islami, there is actual evidence that they at least turned a blind eye to black economy, or they gained money from opium growing through taxes. For instance, the Hezbi Islami finances the fight against the post-Taliban and pro-American Karzai administration with profits from the drug trade, just as they used to do when fighting against the Soviets in the 1980s. In this case, it is necessary to percept the difference between global terrorism (a representative of which is e.g. Al-Qaeda) and the revolutionary fights in Afghanistan. The US government does not take this fact into consideration. The Hezbi Islami uses guerilla tactics in the fight against the USA, the US bases and the non-governmental organizations only because of the US presence in Afghanistan, not because of hatred of everything “liberal and unbelieving” as Al-Qaeda does worldwide. The priority of the rebels is to gain control over the territory, not to threaten the civil population, as is the aim of the terrorists. Moreover, the Americans themselves in the 1980s termed the Mujahideen units “freedom fighters”, since they fought against the Soviet occupation. Today, when they fight against the US presence in Afghanistan, they suddenly appear on the list of terrorists. The connection of this group and terrorism is therefore questionable.
The Taliban did use to strenghten their power in the country by means of profit from drug trade, but according to analytics drugs served only as a complement of the financial boost from the Al-Qaeda network, with its leader bin Laden leading a contended life in the Afghan mountains with a support of the movement. It follows that Al-Qaeda supported the Taliban, not vice versa. It is unlikely that the Taliban used money from drugs directly for financing terrorist operations in the world. It was probably used for buying the weapons that the Taliban used to fight for their control over individual provinces. The fact that the money from drugs was used for financing terrorist actions in the world was not confirmed, therefore it is unclear whether we can speak about the Taliban as narcoterrorists.
Unlike the Taliban or the Hezbi Islami, Al-Qaeda is a terrorist group beyond any doubt. Yet the connection of Al-Qaeda and drugs is rather a wish than a fact. The US government state as their reasons mainly the facts that a ship with drugs was seizured in the Persian Gulf with Al-Qaeda members on board, or that there was a smuggler arrested, who had contacts with individuals suspected of terrorism in satellite telephones. On that account they assume that members of the organization do not smuggle themselves, but they do take care of protection of the smugglers and storehouses. The US Congressman Kirk went even further: he wants the government to re-evaluate their policy towards Al-Qaeda and to focus on drugs as a source of their income, rather than on Islamic foundations and family bank accounts. The French Secretary of Defense Michčle Alliot-Marie is of a similar opinion: she believes that the Afghan opium trade is the main source of income for Al-Qaeda.
However, as the US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld admitted, all these facts come from the information services that are unable at least to clarify in what ways and to what extent would Al-Qaeda use the illegal drug trade. What is more, according to the results of the investigation of the committee dealing with the attacks on the WTC in New York, the Al-Qaeda do not trust people working in the drug trade, therefore they recommended their members not to participate in the trade. Thus Islamic charities and support from rich tribes are still more important income for terrorists, just as the US secret service claim. Therefore as for Al-Qaeda, the connection between terrorism and drug trade is not at all as obvious as some of the US Senators try to suggest.
What is the Current Situation in Afghanistan?
After the defeat of the Taliban, the blossoming of drug growing and trade tends to be explained by the lack of political stability, security and legitimacy of the government. Despite the fact that functioning of Loya Yirga (tribal council) has been reestablished, respecting of women rights has been strenghtened and international support for the new regime has been secured, the problem with opium growing has not been solved – the situation has become even worse. As general Mohammad Daud (Afghan Deputy Interior Minister) said, despite the initial unsuccess the country has only two options: either it accepts democracy, or it turns into a narcotic state.
According to the up-to-date research from 2004, up to 87% of the world opium production is grown in Afghanistan. In comparison with 2003, the increase by 11% is considerable. In total figures it means that 4,200 metric tonnes of opium is grown annualy. UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa said Afghanistan reached a double record in 2004: the greatest extent of opium growing in the history of Afghanistan and the largest in the world. The fact that the amount of opium has not hit the record-breaking year 1999 was caused only by worse weather conditions – insufficient rain and cold weather. The opium poppies were grown on 131,000 hectares, which sets an all-time record in the history of the country. The growing expanded into 32 provinces of Afghanistan.(according to United Nations Drugs Office Reports from November,2004) Not even the USA and the allies are able to prevent growing in the regions controlled by their Afghan co-fighters.
The fact that up to 2.3 million Afgan citizens (out of total 23 million) live on the illegal trade confirms that drug economy is not a marginal problem. With its 2.8 billion dollars it comprises 60% of Afghanistan’s 2003 GDP. (http://www.unis.unvienna.org/unis/pressrels/2004/unisnar867.html)
The fight against drugs remains a delicate social and economic issue. It is the only way of subsistence for a number of farmers and a source of financing army for local dictators. For instance, according to figures from 2003, the overthrown Taliban earned 10 million dollars on growing and selling drugs. Therefore it is likely that money made on drugs is used by Afghan tribes and groups to maintain or gain control over territory in the unsettled Afghanistan.
Despite some progress, democracy is still at the outset and unable to change these figures. Furthermore, overthrowing the Taliban divided the power in the country, except the central government, among ten local dictators. Observers point out that the Karzai administration posesses control only over Kabul and its environs, and it is unable to influence events in other regions, including opium poppy growing. The local leaders try to make the best of drug trade. Despite ethnic dissentions, drug trade is a field where enemies are able and willing to cooperate. While up to now they profitted mainly in opium poppy growing, at present they want to take part also in (the most profitable) processing, smuggling and trade. This course of situation is confirmed by the fact that while ten years ago only 20% of opium would be processed in Afghanistan, at present it reaches 80%.
Corruption and clientelism are yet another problem. Narcobarons are able to pay off the police, governors or common officials. Also the workers responsible for eradicating opium fields fail in a similar way. The people in provinces who are in charge of anti-drug policy are in permanent danger from the local military groups or individual farmers. There are some examples of governors who had to flee to Kabul because of their strict anti-drug policy. Yet general Daud says the situation is improving – an Afghan counter-narcotics unit was established in connection to the plan of fighting against narcotics. This institution can be proud of destroying 80 tonnes of opiates, 30 tonnes of chemicals and 70 laboratories in 3 months. It is trained and materially equipped by the Brits, who are specifically interested in reducing the opium poppy growing in Afghanistan. When justifying the attack on Afghanistan, the British Prime Minister Tony Blair said 90% of the heroine in the British streets come from Afghanistan. Thus the issue of opium growing is turned over to the whole Europe including the Slovak Republic.
Narcotics and Europe
There are two main directions how drugs from Afghanistan enter the European market. Each direction includes dozens of interlaced routes, since the main objective of the smugglers is to convey the goods in the most secure, not the fastest way possible. In unsettled regions the smugglers prefer to cooperate with local leaders, who are able to quarantee their security. The police is a problem in the settled regions, and so the smugglers use help from the underworld.
According to the UNODC, approximately 65% of the opium (heroine) from Afghanistan is directed to the world via Iran (the Eastern or Iranian route). Although Iran tightened the drug policy in the country and considerably strenghtened the border with Afghanistan after the revolution in 1979, the number of drug addicts (1.2 million) and the amount of smuggled heroine is still high. The second route runs through the states of the former USSR in Central Asia. The Iranian (Eastern) route leads further through Turkey and continues in Europe via the Balkan route leading to our country. According to the Ministry of Interior of the Slovak Republic, the Slovak market is supplied via this route and primarily by Albanian smugglers. Still Slovakia is rather a transit country – from Slovakia the drugs proceed further West, where – considering the extent of market – the demand for heroine is higher. Moreover, according to the statistics, there is higher demand for the Czech drug pervitine than for heroine in Slovakia.
Even within the Balkan route there is a number of various directions creating a perfectly interlaced network. Some of the more important are e.g.the route via Bulgaria, Romania, former Yugoslavia, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech republic to Germany. Another alternative goes further south via former Yugoslavia, Albania and Italy or Slovenia to Austria. Let us not forget the less frequently used sea route beginning in Turkey and across the Mediterranian Sea all the way to Italy, Spain and Great Britain, or even to the USA and Canada.
Drugs are conveyed to Europe also via the Northern route – through Central Asian states (the former USSR), i.e. Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. After desintegration of the USSR, the advantage of this route is its security, since the ethnic unrest, fighting over territories, corruption or high crime rate draws water to the mill of other criminal elements conveying drugs. Moscow, the capital of Russia, is one of the stops on this route, and with a great number of drug addicts. According to the RF Ministry of Interior, there are up to 3 million heroine addicts in Russia. The route proceeds further via Ukraine, which – again together with Russia – reaches a high percentage of drug addicts suffering of AIDS, as they use heroine mainly by non-sterile needles, not smoking as it is common in Afghanistan or Pakistan. Via Poland and Germany the drugs are conveyed to the centre of Western Europe.
The Best Solution…
The issue of opium poppy growing, or of drugs as such, has to be solved in a complex way according to the majority of observers. A ban of opium growing will not do, as the uninitiated think, or as the Taliban did. According to analytics it had rather tragic consequences on drug addicts as well as on the society. On one hand, the prices of a daily dose that drug addicts depend on increased. On the other hand, various alternatives compensated for lack of heroine, and these are of more lethal effect to the consumers than heroine itself. The ban of growing has also socially knocked down the farmers, who have no other way of subsistence. Moreover, a farmer earns twelve times more on a hectare of opium poppies than on a hectare of wheat. The government has to solve this problem delicately in relation to oncoming elections in September. The 10% of the Afghan population growing opium is a rather considerable number of votes, who can be easily put off by radical measures of the government to such an extent, that they may incline to the Islamic opposition. This would stop the whole democratizing process in the country.
General Daud points out that everything has to be interconnected. The government has to offer different ways of living for farmers and to inform them of the unlawfulness of opium growing. From the point of view of security, cooperation of the Ministries of Defense, Interior and Justice is necessary, who – together with religious leaders – are able to secure following of the ban. Last but not least, it is essential to solve the high corruption rate in the police and state administration, and gradually gain control over the territory, at present controlled by local dictators.
The current Karzai administration is set in the right direction. They are willing to deal with the problem and the foreign countries are helping as well. In 2003, the European Union gave almost a billion euros in order to help democratic Afghanistan. European and US experts train the army, the police or special antinarcotic units. The aid from Europe is directed also to Iran and Central Asian republics – they are supposed to prevent the transit of drugs into Europe. The Afghanistan-Iran border is one of the best protected ones in the world, however it constantly needs equipment of higher quality against sophisticated smugglers. Therefore the European Union offers material aid.
The anti-terrorist operations in Afghanistan had a clear objective: to overthrow the Taliban, who supported terrorists, and at the same time to cut them off the income from the drug trade. Although the Taliban is not in power any more, terrorist attacks in the world continue with the same intensity. The drug issue has not been solved either, opium production has even increased. The hypothesis that drug trade is one of the main sources of financing international terrorism has not been proved. It is probable that the finance from drug trade go to local dictators and narcobarons, who do not participate on terrorist actions in the world, but fight over control in the territory of the unsettled Afghanistan. Therefore international terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda prefer to rely on the income from the so-called Islamic charities, or on the wealth of family clans – not on the drug trade.
The increased opium production in Afghanistan directly endangers Europe, where the heroine coming from this country is sold. Target countries are predominantly the Western European states, where the demand for drugs is higher. The European Union spends annually millions of euros on aid for Afghanistan and for protecting the Afghanistan-Iran border.
As for heroine, Slovakia is still merely a transit country. However, Albanian mafia operates in Slovakia and here it distributes a part of the supply. Therefore from the security point of view, Slovakia should be concerned in reducing the drug growing and trade to minimum.