Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Central Asian Nexus Part 5

We continue from Part 4, finishing our review of Makarenko's 2002 paper entitled Crime, Terror and the Central Asian Drug Trade (numerals in [brackets] are footnotes; see original):

Future Prospects

The extent that drug mafias have asserted their control over the illicit narcotics trade through Afghanistan and Central Asia is a cause of great concern because of the negative repercussions that it has on the region.[42] Few signs indicate that the ongoing "war on terrorism" will target opium poppy crops before they are cultivated this spring and summer. On the contrary, given current evidence of the production of a bumper crop this year, criminal networks are preparing to secure their production and trafficking operations. The political frailty of the Afghan interim government, combined with the apparent shortsightedness of US military operations in Afghanistan, suggests that drugs will continue to plague Central Asia. This situation will undermine any attempt to build a stable long-term peace in the region.

This paper was from 2002. As far as I know, the opium poppy crops have never been targeted, even though US allies, especially the UK, have pointed out the havoc being wrought by Afghanistan's poppy fields among civilian populations back home. It is as if the welfare of Afghanistan's poppy farmers is being placed above the welfare of the people that the coalition military forces are sworn to defend.

Indeed, finishing the first year of US and allied control of Afghanistan, a bumper crop was expected, and this was predicted to "undermine any attempt to build a stable long-term peace in the region" -- and here we are, five years later, and there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

Despite an international military presence, it does not appear that drug mafias have been deterred from their business, due to a number of reasons. First, despite intelligence indicating the locations of drug production laboratories and alleged stockpiles, the international coalition did not destroy these targets. The failure to directly confront drugs as an essential component of the "war against terrorism" signaled to those engaged in the drug trade that the international community has no serious intentions of destroying their business. Second, the involvement of high-ranking Afghan and Central Asian officials in the trade ensures that drug traders are able to operate with relative impunity, although some risk will remain as governments are obliged to make sporadic confiscations to appease Western observers. Third, given existing political sensitivities, the international coalition does not appear willing to directly disrupt the drug trade with military force.[43] Once again, this inactivity gives traders additional freedom to continue with their illicit operations. Fourth, although the international coalition has officially voiced its concern over the drug trade, it has made a concerted effort to avoid direct involvement in counter-narcotics initiatives.

In a way, it is worse than is portrayed here. Since narcotraffickers have corrupted the various governments involved, the sporadic confiscations often wind up being government action, instigated and influenced by one drug cartel, against the assets of another cartel. Government forces have become merely pawns in the mob war to control the heroin trade.

In an attempt to appear as though they are dedicated to the eventual destruction of the trade, however, the coalition forces have taken alternative actions. Supported by the United Kingdom and the US, the interim government has attempted to entice farmers into destroying their opium poppy crops in exchange for US$350 per 2,500 square meters. However, this initiative has merely frustrated farmers trying to recovering their losses last year as a result of the Taliban's opium ban. The monetary alternative does not even cover the expenses incurred by farmers in growing their crops. In most drug-producing regions of Afghanistan, farmers normally receive up to US$3500 per 2,500 square meters of opium poppy cultivated.[44] Finally, because Afghan heroin does not supply the US market, it is difficult for the US government to commit their military forces to counter-narcotics operations. Considering that the US has had a difficult historical record with counter-narcotics initiatives in Latin America, it is unlikely that similar efforts would work in Afghanistan.

What Makarenko is pointing out here are merely excuses being made.

By having an inadequate program in place, the US government can say it is doing something, even though the people in charge of this know that what is being done will have no real impact on the heroin trade.

Furthermore, by saying that Afghanistan is not the source of heroin in the US market (even though heroin from Afghanistan does show up here, though in smaller quantities than heroin from other sources), it makes things a little more palatable to the people that these policymakers are supposed to represent.

Failure to cut off the heroin trade is failure to dry up a source of funding for our enemies.

With our enemy's bases secure in Pakistan and their funding from the heroin trade secure, any chance of victory has been denied to our troops who have been sent into battle against our enemies. It is a guaranteed stalemate, ensuring the need for US troops in the region for a long time to come.

This is convenient, because, as I repeatedly point out, the instability of the war facilitates the heroin trade, and, as I point out in Part 3 of this series, there has been a big growth in the heroin industry under de facto protection of the US and allied troops.

Furthermore, a guaranteed stalemate is ideal for those who provide weapons, equipment and supplies to our troops and those of our allies.

It is almost as if someone making policy in Washington is deliberately trying to promote the growth of the heroin industry, while helping friends in the military-industrial complex.

Sibel Edmonds' allegations involve both the heroin trade and the military-industrial complex.

Even if international forces do act in the short term to deter drug mafias, or directly seek to eliminate opium poppy crops and drug stockpiles, the potential for the regional drug trade to take advantage of conditions in Central Asia remains. Estimates suggest that the former Soviet Union now produces at least 25 percent more hashish than the rest of the world combined.[45] Within Central Asia, over 4.5 million hectares of hemp is planted in the Chuy Valley – an amount capable of producing approximately 6,000 tons of hashish annually.[46] In addition, it was estimated in 1997 that 2,000 hectares of opium poppy were planted in Kazakhstan, capable of producing 30 tons of opium annually.[47] Although this is not a great amount, areas in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are ideal for the widespread cultivation of opium poppy. As part of the Soviet Union, the Issyk-Kyl valley in Kyrgyzstan used to supply 95 percent of the raw opium for the Soviet pharmaceutical industry.[48] Since then, sporadic anecdotal evidence has emerged suggesting that some heroin production laboratories exist in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – allegations that both governments have officially dismissed.

The genie is out of the bottle.

The spread of opium poppy crops to Central Asia could be facilitated by the vast network of domestic drug mafias and transnational criminal groups that currently operate from within every state in the region. Not only have these networks established important relationships with official law enforcement, security and government agencies, they have also secured numerous means and routes used for trafficking illicit shipments. The importance of the "Northern Route," rampant corruption, and deteriorating political, economic and social environments have made the Central Asian republics inseparable from the regional drug problem. The only thing standing in the way of already calling Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan "narco-states" is their rhetorical commitment to Western-led counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism pressures and their ability to suppress information.

This rhetorical commitment is obligatory, although Tajikistan has made progress since then. What are they going to say? "We promote the heroin trade because the drug cartels pay us off."

"Not only have these networks established important relationships with official law enforcement, security and government agencies, they have also secured numerous means and routes used for trafficking illicit shipments."

Don't for a moment think those relationships are only among the countries over there.

And those routes that have been secured run through the Balkans to Western Europe. In the Balkans, we have supported narcotics-trafficking Islamic terrorists with ties to Al Qaeda in their wars against legal governments since the 1990's.

Does this now place King George's Kosovo policy of supporting the wrong side into context?

Anything other than a coherent anti-narcotics policy that simultaneously targets the entire region will merely result in the spread of poppy cultivation. Seccombe suggested that drug smuggling "is like a balloon: squeeze it in one place and it bulges out elsewhere."[49] Afghanistan and Central Asia thus require a carefully formulated response and commitment by the international community.

Policy Options

The importance of analyzing the Central Asian drug trade in the context of the crime-terror nexus is two-fold: first, it highlights the role of the myriad of players involved in drug operations; second, it reveals the relationships between actors. This type of analysis demonstrates that few groups control the trade from field to international market, and most are forced – at one point or another – to interact with other actors. It also dispels the myth (increasingly common post-September 11) that the Taliban and Al-Qaeda single-handedly controlled the Afghan drug trade.

True, but this does not go far enough. There are government agencies that have a budget because they have a problem to deal with: the heroin trade. To some extent, there is politics-as-usual involved.

More importantly, though, there are individuals within those agencies who receive a secret budget -- bribes -- for making sure those agencies are not overly effective battling drugs.

There are also legitimate businesses that make money providing weapons, equipment and supplies for a war that will never end.

It is not just a "crime-terror nexus" that threatens us. We are under attack from an entire Shadow Realm.

Based on these perceptions of the Central Asian drug trade, several implications for the development of international policy in the region can be highlighted. To begin with, an understanding of the various components of the crime-terror nexus and how they interact with one another suggests that international policy aimed at Afghanistan and Central Asia cannot simply focus on insurgent/terrorist groups. In the context of Central Asia, such a limited approach has legitimized government oppression of opposition movements, thus ironically sowing the seeds for terrorism rather than destroying them.[50] In addition to considering the role of terrorist groups in the trade, it is imperative that the role of transnational crime not be overlooked. Besides the central role they play in the illicit drug trade, transnational criminal groups are also responsible for teaching terrorist groups new operational and organizational techniques.[51] Authorities can learn more about the changing dynamics of terrorist groups and the international drug trade if they understood the evolving nature of transnational crime. Any "war on terrorism" in Afghanistan and Central Asia is incomplete without integrating both a "war on drugs" and a "war on crime".

Indeed, we have been distracted by a "war on terror" from seeing the complete picture.

An effective war on crime and drugs would have greater impact on terror than any effort against terror will have on crime and drugs. In fact, an effective war on crime and drugs would have greater impact on terror than a war on terror.

But that wouldn't please the people who pay the bribes, now would it?

Second, in light of the crime-terror nexus and the adverse affect it has on national security and regional stability, a comprehensive understanding of the relationship between crime, drugs and terrorism must be attained if effective security policies are to be developed and implemented in the region. The role of non-military threats in compounding regional security situations needs to be acknowledged, especially given that domestic drug mafias and transnational criminal groups already have experience with armed engagements against government forces to secure their criminal operations.

And you will never have a thorough understanding of that relationship among crime, drugs and terrorism as long as your government is crippled by drug money and riddled with traitors and corrupt officials.

Sibel Edmonds has been gagged by corrupt government officials who are tied in to narcotics trafficking and influence peddling; the reason for the gag is so she cannot tell us about the connections to narcotics trafficking and influence peddling.

The drug cartels and certain elements in the military-industrial complex have co-opted our government to do their bidding by compromising key officials.

Third, the concept of the crime-terror nexus gives government, law enforcement and security agencies (in the region and in the West) more tools to address the threats of transnational crime, terrorism and the drug trade. It highlights the necessity that official crime, drug and terrorism policies must work together if they are to be successful. Moreover, these policies require national, regional and international interagency cooperation. Although this may appear to be a tall order, it is only the first step that needs to be taken to curtail the relative freedom enjoyed by transnational criminal organizations and terrorist groups.

First we need to clean up the corruption.

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