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Afghanistan’s Drug Bonanza

“[Afghanistan must] be a country that doesn’t export drugs. I don’t know if you know this or not, but the Taliban government and al Qaeda – the evil ones – use heroin trafficking in order to fund their murder. And one of our objectives is to make sure that Afghanistan is never used for that purpose again.

– George W Bush, Crawford High School, November 15, 2001.

“The US government estimates that poppy cultivation [in Afghanistan] exploded from 150,000 acres in 2003 to 510,000 acres in 2004 – much higher than an earlier U.N. estimate of 324,000 acres. That works out to potential profits of up to $7 billion, says Rep Mark Kirk (R-Ill) . . . “We have a record opium production that needs to be lowered because so many of the profits are used to finance Bin Laden and his operation,” Rep Kirk said

– Los Angeles Times, January 2, 2005.

George W Bush has spent three years directing the US military occupation of Afghanistan, in which period it would have been practicable, given well-considered strategy, to deal with heroin trafficking and initiate international judicial process against the vermin who trade in drugs.

So here is a question for Bush : How many murders can be funded from each billion dollars of al Qaeda’s heroin profits for 2004?
Further question for Bush : Why, in three years, have you done nothing about heroin trafficking in Afghanistan?

American citizens are beginning to discover, perhaps too late for their own future well-being, that Bush talks big but produces little. In no way is this more tellingly illustrated by his inertia concerning the drug bonanza in Afghanistan, which will result in more and cheaper heroin in the US. Why has Bush done nothing?

The Bush approach to the intricacies of domestic and international affairs is summed up in his arrogant pronouncement that “I’m the commander. See : I don’t have to explain why I say things. That’s the interesting thing about being the president. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don’t feel like I owe anybody an explanation.”

The man in the most powerful position in the world, with thousands of nuclear weapons and untold quantities of chemical and biological agents at his disposal, whose word – a mere indication of mood – can condemn human beings to indefinite imprisonment without charge, trial or hope, believes, to the depths of his ego, that he does not “owe anybody an explanation” for any decision he makes. His attitude is reminiscent of the Middle Ages’ concept of the Divine Right of Kings, although it has to be said that Bush is hardly a figure on the scale of even the tiniest monarchs of yesteryear. He is, alas, a second-rate, bully-boy, bumptious politician who has been elevated to a post of enormous power without having the remotest idea how to exercise it responsibly.

When faced by a catastrophe Bush retreats into blank-faced denial until roused from cataleptic torpor by zealous minions who are proudly referred to by Bush as “the most objective sources I have . . . [the] people on my staff who tell me what’s happening in the world.” So what have his paragons of virtue, these personal trainers of the soul, told Bush about Afghanistan’s drug bonanza? It couldn’t have been a great deal, because for three years nothing has been done by the Bush administration to carry out his promise to curtail it.

To judge by the election last November there are some sixty million Americans who believe in Bush and his promises, in considerable part because he epitomizes the peculiar brand of religiosity and abrasive bigotry affecting so many of them. This may explain why the his administration is a curious amalgam of the Second Coming and the Third Reich, with a dash of papal infallibility thrown in. Bush Washington is dedicated to selected Biblical injunctions ; it boasts a brutal determination to impose its will on lesser beings all over the world ; and it is absolutely convinced that whatever it does must be Right. He was reported by the Washington Times on January 11 as saying, “I don’t see how you can be president without a relationship with the Lord”, but in the case of Bush versus Afghan heroin production there is remarkable lack of Christian conviction and a strange reluctance to follow through to meet the commander’s objective of ensuring that Afghanistan is not used for drug trafficking.

Bush didn’t mean what he said three years ago about the drug crisis in Afghanistan because he did not (and does not) understand the nature of the shambles. It isn’t entirely his fault that drug use has reached a level that actually threatens western civilization, such as that might be, because he relies solely “on people on my staff” to inform him of domestic and world affairs. When they don’t tell him about events, he has no means of knowing about them. He does not read newspapers (as he told Fox News on October 17, 2003) and watches television only for the football. (The vice-president, on the other hand, considers himself well-informed because “I end up spending a lot of time watching Fox News, because they’re more accurate in my experience, in those events that I’m personally involved in, than many of the other outlets.” – Washington Post, April 30, 2004.) Mind you, I’m inclined to agree with Groucho Marx on the subject of television, which he found educational because “Every time somebody turns on the set I go into another room and read a book.” But Bush doesn’t read books, either.

George Bush does nothing about his inconvenient promises because he is incapable of admitting that most of his policies are faith-based rather than practical. He is not really a wicked person : he is just a silly, well-tailored, vain and happy little man who rejoices in imperial pomp and ceremony but is out of his depth in the real world and tries to overcome his incapacity by declaring “I don’t feel like I owe anybody an explanation.”

On June 15 last year President Karzai of Afghanistan met with Bush at the White House, and the dog and pony show that took place in front of the media was killingly funny when it wasn’t banal to the point of absurdity. Here is one riveting exchange of views between the presidents :

BUSH: . . . Under your leadership, Afghanistan’s progress has been dramatic. Three years ago, the Taliban had granted Osama bin Laden and his terrorist al Qaeda organization a safe refuge. Today, the Taliban has been deposed, al Qaeda is in hiding, and coalition forces continue to hunt down the remnants and holdouts. Coalition forces, including many brave Afghans, have brought America, Afghanistan and the free world its first victory in the war on terror. Afghanistan is no longer a terrorist factory sending thousands of killers into the world. Three years ago, 70 percent of Afghans were malnourished, and one in four Afghan children never saw their 5th birthday.

KARZAI: Yes.

BUSH: Today, clean water is being provided throughout the country, hospitals and clinics have been rehabilitated, and millions of children have been vaccinated against measles and polio. Three years ago, women were viciously oppressed and forbidden to work outside the home, and even denied what little medical treatment was available. Today, women are going to school, and their rights are protected in Afghanistan’s constitution.

KARZAI: Yes.

There was no mention of the fact that vaccinations were carried out entirely by the United Nations in the shape of the Children’s Emergency Fund and the World Health Organization (because the UN cannot be mentioned in other than a contemptuous and denigrating fashion), and there was no mention that infant mortality in 2000 was 149 per 1000 births, and that in 2004 it was 165 per thousand. Life expectancy in 2000 was 45 years, but an Afghan born in 2004 can expect to live only to age 42. These facts are provided in the CIA’s World Factbook, and confirmed by the (whisper) UN. But facts are unimportant to Bush, no matter what their source.

Afghanistan has no more clean water (except in foreign military bases, aid officials’ compounds, and in palaces, mansions and hotels in the capital, Kabul) than it had before the US invasion. Women’s rights may be “protected in Afghanistan’s Constitution”, as stated by Bush, but they are not protected by anything or anyone else, and most Afghan women exist in the same dire circumstances as Afghan women have always lived, and always will live. Where was Mrs Zenat Karzai when her husband was visiting the Bush family in the White House? As a good Afghan wife must do, she stayed home. Five years ago her marriage to Hamed Karzai was arranged by their families in the traditional way, without taking into account any preference she may have had for a husband.

Zenat Karzai is a really good person : a medical doctor who devotes her time to helping female refugees, but, as recorded by an observer of Afghanistan, she lives “within the restrictions of a culture that prevents her from having contact with men who are not her relatives.” Is this an indication that the Bush claim concerning rights of women in Afghanistan is a load of rubbish? As Karzai might say : “Yes”.

The intriguing thing about the press conference was that Bush did not once mention the menace of heroin production in Afghanistan — the curse he undertook to eradicate when he promised to “make sure” that “Afghanistan is never used for that purpose again.” This was left to Karzai. “Afghanistan has problems, too”, he said. “Among the problems is the question of drugs. The Afghan government is adamant, the Afghan people are adamant to fight this menace, to end it in Afghanistan and receive your help in that.” There was no rousing support by Bush ; no acknowledgement of Karzai’s plea by the man who declared that heroin trafficking funds murder by al Qaeda’s vicious loonies.

Drugs are being produced and trafficked in vast quantities in Afghanistan. It is stated that al Qaeda still exists in some form. According to Bush, the first funds the second, which is a major enemy of his country. So why does Bush avoid mention of the drug bonanza in Afghanistan? Why is there no grasping of the nettle?

US defense secretary Rumsfeld went to Afghanistan eight weeks after the Bush-Karzai meeting and the Washington Post of August 12, 2004 reported that “Rumsfeld suggested that drug trafficking could present a far more serious threat to political stability and freedom in Afghanistan, the world’s largest producer of opium poppies. ‘The danger that a large drug trade poses to Afghanistan is too serious to be ignored,’ Rumsfeld said, adding that . . . ‘It is increasingly clear to the international community that to address the drug problem here is important . . . for the people of Afghanistan’ as well as for victims of drug abuse abroad, he said.” Rumsfeld, for once, was absolutely right.

But neither Bush nor Rumsfeld has done anything about the explosion in Afghan drug production. They talk a lot, but there is no action by Washington. Britain is involved as lead representative of the G-8 nations (which include the US) in an effort to try to control or at least reduce heroin production and trafficking. It has authorized special forces to destroy laboratories, and these squads have been “aggressive about picking targets all over the country”, according to the US State Department ; but unless there is practical US commitment to the UK’s program it is doomed to fail.

The White House has produced a 5200-word propaganda sheet on “Rebuilding Afghanistan” which has all the usual buzz-words : “Freedom and Dignity”, “Progress for Women”, “Health”, and so on. But in that entire screed there is only a single paragraph about the drug menace, and no mention of the ‘heroin trafficking’ that Bush, three years ago, told the children of Crawford High School he wants to stop. – “Although poppy cultivation and opium production continue to be a problem, since October 2003 Afghan Special Narcotics Forces have destroyed 36 labs and seized over 35 tons of opiates. The US will continue to support the counter-narcotics efforts of the Afghan government and the UK-led international program by expanding Afghan security services, providing resources the government needs to control its territory, and supporting the Afghan eradication effort aimed at reducing the 2005 opium crop.” If this is all that the most powerful country in the world can offer, it is not surprising that there has been a mammoth increase in drug production and trafficking in Afghanistan.

On October 20, 2004 the Boston Globe reported US LtGen David Barno as saying “We’re assessing exactly how the military’s role may be reshaped as we go into this coming year, given the significant threat that drugs is [sic] making to the future of Afghanistan. We’re assessing right now how the military will be able to . . . provide further assistance in that fight.” Nothing has come of his assessment. There is talk of an eradication campaign in February, but if this goes ahead by a combination of spraying poppy fields and physical destruction of the crop there will be a surge of anti-western hatred that will be welcomed by bin Laden and other vile thugs.

The strategy of the Bush administration is to condemn, confront and crush whoever may disagree with it or oppose it in any way, but this doesn’t work in Afghanistan. (It hasn’t worked in Iraq, either, which is another story of hubristic failure.) What is needed is painstaking negotiation and reasoned firmness – and certainly not the swaggering, smash-them-bash-them aggression of cocky and exultant superiority which is so evident in Bush and his circle. In September 2001 Bush said “Americans are asking “Why do they hate us?”.” He need look no further for an answer than his own bellicose, confrontational, jingoistic rhetoric.

Stubborn pride, downright ignorance, obsession with the use of brute force, and self-righteous refusal to admit that the Bush administration could ever be wrong about anything make a poor recipe for successful implementation of US policy. But then, if you consider yourself to be beyond criticism by anyone in the entire world — well, who needs policies? The mixture of the Second Coming, the Third Reich and a dash of papal infallibility will see Bush through until the whole shoddy edifice of deceit and self-deception collapses. But meanwhile, thanks to George Bush, Afghanistan will continue to produce lots of heroin.

BRIAN CLOUGHLEY writes on military and political affairs. He can be reached through his website www.briancloughley.com