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September 6, 2006 - San Francisco Chronicle (CA)

Column: Poppy-Rich Afghanistan Is No Model

By Robert Scheer

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

THE GOOD NEWS, for drug fiends, is that Afghanistan has just harvested its biggest opium crop ever, up a whopping 59 percent from last year and big enough to cover 130 percent of the entire world market. The street price for illegal heroin, 92 percent of which now comes from Afghanistan, should be way down from Bangkok to London, and for those shooting up in the back alleys of Chicago. The bad news, for the rest of us, is that in Bush-liberated Afghanistan, billions in drug profits are financing the Taliban.

Remember them, the guys who harbored the al Qaeda terrorists, who gifted us with the 9/11 attacks five years ago, that President Bush promised to eliminate?

Well, it turns out that while he was distracted with Iraq, the patrons of terrorism were very much in business back where the 9/11 attack was hatched, turning Afghanistan into a narco-state that provides a lucrative source of cash for the "evildoers" Bush forgot about.

The Bush administration has, for half a decade, celebrated its overthrow of the Taliban and subsequent national elections in Afghanistan, but if this is democratic nation-building, then the model must be Colombia, the narco-state where the political process masks the real power held by drug lords and radical insurgents.

Afghanistan is dominated not by the government in Kabul, but by a patchwork of warlords, terrorist groups and drug traffickers completely addicted to the annual poppy harvest's profits.

Or perhaps the model is post-invasion Iraq, because Afghanistan is now statistically as deadly for American soldiers, according to the New York Times, while in both countries suicide and roadside bombings are on the rise and women are retreating to the burka to avoid persecution by armed zealots.

In any case, reported the United Nations this week, "opium cultivation in Afghanistan is out of control" despite the expenditure of billions of dollars by the West to fight it. Intelligence estimates of the Taliban's cut of this lucrative trade, which represents more than a third of the entire Afghan economy, range up to 70 percent, according to ABC News.

"The political, military and economic investments by coalition countries are not having much visible impact on drug cultivation," reported the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in its authoritative annual survey.

"As a result, Afghan opium is fueling insurgency in Western Asia, feeding international mafias and causing 100,000 deaths from overdoses every year."

"The southern part of Afghanistan [is] displaying the ominous hallmarks of incipient collapse, with large-scale drug cultivation and trafficking, insurgency and terrorism, crime and corruption," added Antonio Maria Costa, the agency's director.

Yet on Tuesday, the White House was once again trumpeting that "we have deprived al Qaeda of safe haven in Afghanistan and helped a democratic government rise in its place." Considering that Osama bin Laden is still reputed to be hiding somewhere along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and Afghan President Hamid Karzai is desperately dependent on the support of drug lords and warlords to prevent renewed civil war, such claims are a blatant fraud.

The senior British military commander in Afghanistan recently described the situation in the country as "close to anarchy" and said NATO forces were "running out of time" to salvage the situation. "The narcotics industry accounts for over one-third of Afghanistan's gross domestic product and poses a threat to that country's stability and emerging democracy," carefully admits a recent U.S. State Department fact sheet.

What the Bush administration will not confront in Afghanistan, or in Iraq, is that its ill-conceived and disastrously executed nation-building schemes are sinking into the swamp of local and historical realities.

Enamored of American military might but having little understanding of the world beyond, Bush and his team have ignored Gen. Colin Powell's reported "you break it, you own it" warnings, floundering after initial military victories and ultimately strengthening the hand of local and international terrorists.

Rather than take care of business in Afghanistan after 9/11, Bush and clueless U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld allowed bin Laden to slip out of the Tora Bora caves to plan more attacks and the Taliban to regroup.

Instead, Bush and Co. threw the bulk of our military and aid resources into a disastrous attempt to remake oil-rich Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11, into an American puppet state.

With U.S. midterm elections around the corner, embattled Republicans are now desperately claiming to be the only thing standing between us and a bogeyman they are calling "Islamo-fascism," and ridiculously comparing the "war on terror" to the fight against the Nazis. Fortunately, if belatedly, two-thirds of the American electorate now recognize that our president is all hat and no cattle, as they say in Texas, a leader much better at starting wars than winning them.

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