Blogs > Liberty and Power > The Birth of a Narcostate

Jun 13, 2004

The Birth of a Narcostate

I've discussed the role of Drugs and Terror and the fact that even with the best of intentions, a US invasion of Afghanistan (which I supported) can lead to unintended consequences of monumental significance. In the aftermath of that invasion, Taliban elements still exist, Bin Laden is still at large, and Afghanistan itself is inching ever closer to becoming a major Middle East Narcostate.

This morning, on"Meet the Press," Tim Russert interviewed Afghanistan President Karzai on the reality of opium production in that country. Russert quotes from the US General Accounting Office.

MR. RUSSERT:"Opium production threatened stability. The illicit international trade in Afghan opiates threatened Afghan's stability during fiscal years 2002-2003. The drug trade provided income for terrorists and warlords fueling the factions that worked against stability and national unity. In 2002, Afghan farmers produced 3,442 metric tons of opium, providing $2.5 billion in trafficking revenue. In 2003 opium production in the country increased to 3,600 metric tons, the second largest harvest in the country's history. Further, heroin laboratories have proliferated in Afghanistan in recent years. As a result of the increased poppy production and in-country heroin production, greater resources were available to Afghan criminal networks and others at odds with the central government. The International Monetary Fund and Afghanistan's minister of Finance have stated that the potential exists for Afghanistan to become a 'narcostate' in which all legitimate institutions are infiltrated by the power and wealth of drug traffickers.'"
PRES. KARZAI: That is quite possible. We have a serious problem because of drugs on our hands. We began to work against drug production three years ago, as soon as we came into government, but the first year of passing the government, we made the mistake. The mistake was that we went and paid farmers in return for destruction. This encouraged everybody else to grow poppies, thinking that if they grow poppies, we will go to destroy it and pay them for it. And if we don't go to destroy it, they will have the poppies. So we made that mistake. And last year we recognized it, and we began to destroy poppies. This year, again, we have gone and destroyed poppies.
But this is not a simple problem. We are talking of a country in which there was 30 years of war, in which there were six years of horrible drought. When I moved into Afghanistan three years ago, I saw with my own eyes an orchard of pomegranates that was turned into poppy fields; that's how serious the problem is. But we recognize and so do the Afghan people that this is a problem that can cause Afghanistan to go into serious danger. This production of poppies supports terrorism. It trivializes the economy. It undermines institution building in Afghanistan. Afghanistan will have to destroy it for the sake of the Afghan people and, also, because of the world.
But we cannot do this alone. We will destroy the poppies, but next year they will come again; therefore there has to be a plan together with the international community to provide alternative livelihood, alternative economy and better reconstruction in Afghanistan on a sustainable manner so that we over time get rid of the problem. The Afghan people don't want it. They know it is illegitimate. Our clergy, our religious community, our tribal chiefs, the government, the institutions are working against it on a daily basis, and we will succeed because we have to succeed.
MR. RUSSERT: But if 80 percent of the 27 million people in Afghanistan live in poverty and the warlords want to maintain their power, why won't the warlords allow opium to be raised because it provides money to the farmers and keeps them in power?
PRES. KARZAI: We began two and a half years ago where there was no government. The institutions were completely destroyed. In two and a half years' time, we have had the bond process. We've had the grand council, the Loya Jirga, to elect a government. We've had the grand council to create a constitution, which we did. We are now going to the next stage, which is elections. This country is moving forward. But this country has problems, too, to overcome, and we will continue to have many, many problems as we keep building ourselves.
Drugs is one of the most serious problems that occur in Afghanistan. Warlordism, as you said, is another serious problem that we have in Afghanistan. We, the Afghan people, want to get rid of them. The common Afghan man and woman that come to see me every day in my office, they ask me to get rid of these difficulties for them, especially the drugs and warlordism. And I hope the international community will stand stronger with us on both these problems.
MR. RUSSERT: But with the warlords and the drug traffickers, but for the United States' government, could you possibly stay in power?
PRES. KARZAI: Without the presence of the United States forces in Afghanistan, without the presence of the international community in Afghanistan, without the presence of the ISAF in Afghanistan, Afghanistan will not be in good shape. That is why the Afghan people keep asking for more of the International Security Assistance Forces in Afghanistan. That is why the Afghan people are asking for the deployment of NATO coalitions. That's why the Afghan people have embraced the arrival of the United States of America in Afghanistan for its liberation, because they know that we need international assistance in order to build our institutions over time, in order to build a national army, in order to build a national police. And before Afghanistan can stand on its own feet, it will be many years from now.

Whatever the validity of taking out the Taliban, because of its ties to Al Qaeda, it is clear that no thought was given to the long-term consequences of US intervention. The complicity of the US in the emergence of a warlord-dominated Narcostate in Afghanistan to"stabilize" that regime is a sobering lesson. The lessons yet to come from"nation building" in Iraq might make the Afghanistan experience pale in comparison.

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More Comments:

Keith Halderman - 6/14/2004

Also, I think that we need to take claims that all of this new opium money is supporting Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and terrorism in general with a large dose of salt. Before 9-11 it was areas controled by the Northen Alliance where the poppies were grown. The Taliban cracked down on the trade in the areas they controled. Why all of a sudden would the money be going to them?

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 6/14/2004

Classic, classic Long. LOL Just classic.

And you're right, Sheldon... exactly what I said in my "Drugs and Terror" post---nothing could do more damage to Narcostates, the world over, than to decriminalize drugs across the board.

Sheldon Richman - 6/14/2004

No doubt about it, it's time for some aggressive action against the Afghani poppy growers: full decriminalization of all drugs in the United States.

Roderick T. Long - 6/13/2004

The Birth of Anarcho-State? Sounds like a contradiction to me. We always knew where this dialectical stuff would lead ....