Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Sword of Allah, Part 6

We continue from Part 5 reviewing Is Afghanistan a Narco-State?:

But Karzai did not care. Back in January 2007, Karzai appointed a convicted heroin dealer, Izzatulla Wasifi, to head his anticorruption commission. Karzai also appointed several corrupt local police chiefs. There were numerous diplomatic reports that his brother Ahmed Wali, who was running half of Kandahar, was involved in the drug trade. (Said T. Jawad, Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States, said Karzai has "taken the step of issuing a decree asking the government to be vigilant of any business dealing involving his family, and requesting that any suspicions be fully investigated.") Some governors of Helmand and other provinces — Pashtuns who had advocated aerial eradication — changed their positions after the "palace" spoke to them. Karzai was lining up his Pashtun allies for re-election, and the drug war was going to have to wait. "Maybe we taught him too much about politics," Rice said to me after I briefed her on these developments.

That is an interesting comment coming from Condoleezza Rice, The Warrior Princess -- maybe they "taught him too much about politics".

Of course, what makes her think that the Bush Administration's neocons (and the neolib Clintonites before them) have the market cornered on corruption and influence peddling?

(I remember the 2000 election. I voted for President Bush, and was so happy as the court cases were finally decided in his favor -- I thought I was helping restore honorable government to the White House after eight ghastly years of Clinton. Little did I realize.... The neolib Clinton Administration was far and away the most corrupt, most treasonous Presidential Administration in American history, until Bush came along with his heroin-trafficking and war-profiteering neocons.)

Karzai then put General Khodaidad (who, like many Afghans, goes by only one name) in charge of the Afghan counternarcotics efforts. Khodaidad — a conscientious man, competent and apparently not corrupt — was a Hazara. The Hazaras had no influence over the southern Pashtuns who were dominating the drug trade. While Khodaidad did well in the north, he got nowhere in Helmand and Kandahar — and told me so. Karzai had to have known this would be the case.

I wonder what some of these people would think if they found out a new U.S. Administration was backing Khodaidad to take Karzai's place after the 2009 election? Unfortunately, both Obama and McCain are too beholden to heroin interests for that to happen, regardless of how the 2008 U.S. election turns out.

But the real test for the Afghan government and the Pentagon came with the "force protection" issue. At high-level international conferences, the Afghans — finally, under European pressure — agreed to eradicate 50,000 hectares (more than 25 percent of the crop) in the first months of this year; and they agreed that the Afghan National Army would provide force protection.

The plan was simple. The Afghan Poppy Eradication Force would go to Helmand Province with two battalions of the national army and eradicate the fields of the wealthier farmers — including fields owned by local officials. Protecting the eradication force would also enable the arrest of key traffickers. The U.S. military, which trained the Afghan army, would assist in moving the soldiers there and provide outer-perimeter security. The U.S. military would not participate directly in eradication or arrest operations; it would only enable them.

Of course, we know that wasn't going to happen -- the question, for those who don't already know the story, is how did this get derailed?

But once again, Karzai and his Pentagon friends thwarted the plan. First, Anthony Harriman was replaced at the National Security Council by a colonel who held the old-school Pentagon view that "we don’t do the drug thing." He would not let me see General Lute or Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, when the force-protection plans failed to materialize. We asked numerous Pentagon officials to lobby the defense minister, Abdul Rahim Wardak, for immediate force protection, but they did little.

Consequently, in late March, the central eradication force set out for Helmand without the promised Afghan National Army. Almost immediately, they came under withering attack for several days — 107-millimeter rockets, rocket-propelled grenades, machine-gun fire and mortars. Three members of the Afghan force were killed and several were seriously wounded. They eradicated just over 1,000 hectares, about 1 percent of the Helmand crop, before withdrawing to Kabul.

They came under "withering attack" and lost some guys -- that'll learn 'em!

Meanwhile, Karzai can say he's serious about narcotics -- look at all the losses his people are taking in the eradication effort!

That's how politics work -- and don't think the very same thing isn't happening in London and Washington with the "War on Terror"!

This spring, more U.S. troops arrived in Afghanistan. They were effective, experienced warriors — many coming from Iraq — but they knew little about drugs. When they arrived in southern Afghanistan, they announced that they would not interfere with poppy harvesting in the area. "Not our job," they said. Despite the wheat shortage and the threat of starvation, they gave interviews saying that the farmers had no choice but to grow poppies.

At the same time, the 101st Airborne arrived in eastern Afghanistan. Its commanders promptly informed Ambassador Wood that they would only permit crop eradication if the State Department paid large cash stipends to the farmers for the value of their opium crop. Payment for eradication, however, is disastrous counternarcotics policy: If you pay cash for poppies, farmers keep the cash and grow poppies again next year for more cash. And farmers who grow less-lucrative crops start growing poppies so that they can get the money, too. Drug experts call this type of offer a "perverse incentive," and it has never worked anywhere in the world. It was not going to work in eastern Afghanistan, either. Farmers were lining up to have their crops eradicated and get the money.

On May 12, at a press conference in Kabul, General Khodaidad declared the 2008 anti-poppy effort in southern Afghanistan to be a failure. Eradication this year would total less than a third of the 20,000 hectares that Afghanistan eradicated in 2007. The north and east — particularly Balkh, Badakhshan and Nangarhar provinces — continued to improve because of strong political will and better civilian-military cooperation. But the base of the Karzai government — Kandahar and Helmand — would have record crops, less eradication and fewer arrests than in years past. And the Taliban would get stronger.

We need to consider carefully our choice to back a guy whose powerbase is right where the Taliban first came on the scene in Afghanistan.

Despite this development, the Afghans were busily putting together an optimistic assessment of their progress for the Paris Conference on Afghanistan — where, on June 12, world leaders, including Karzai, met in an event reminiscent of the London Conference of 2006. In Paris, the Afghan government raised more than $20 billion in additional development assistance. But the drug problem was a nuisance that could jeopardize the financing effort. So drugs were eliminated from the formal agenda and relegated to a 50-minute closed discussion at a lower-level meeting the week before the conference.

The last part of Is Afghanistan a Narco-State? is comprised of recommendations on how to battle opiate production in Afghanistan. Before we review that, we shall consider other aspects of this topic; next up, a glance at the impact of Afghanistan heroin on Australia, as The Sword of Allah continues.

1 comment:

anticant said...

Ironic, isn't it, that traditionalists in the UK still wear Flanders Poppies on 11 November Armistice Day] to commemorate those who died in the killing fields of the 1914-18 war!