Heroin's Ugly Role In Afghanistan

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Mon Dec 24 17:30:27 MST 2001

> From The New York Daily News of December 10, 2001
> Heroin's Ugly Role In Afghanistan
> By Pete Hamill
> We've seen the images of kids flying kites again in Kabul, and brave
> women baring their faces, and shopkeepers offering satellite dishes made
> from tin cans. We've seen the statesmen in Germany smiling as they named
> an interim government. We've seen the bombing of Tora Bora and the white
> flags of surrender in Kandahar. We've heard hourly bulletins about the
> search for Mullah Omar and Osama Bin Laden.
> But nobody yet has used the one word that is crucial to understanding
> Afghanistan.
> The word is heroin.
> Afghan fighter against the Taliban guards in Spinboldak, across the
> border from Pakistan, yesterday.
> The various warlords now sporadically killing one another in different
> parts of the country - and on the streets of Kandahar - are almost
> certainly fighting to control the heroin racket. Forget about such
> marvelous abstractions as freedom, liberty and democracy. The true goal
> is far more familiar to those of us who have lived in a major heroin
> market for five decades. They're killing for the same reasons that mob
> families have killed for two generations: to control the supply of
> smack.
> The great prize for the warlords is supposed to be hidden in those
> endless networks of caves in the north and west of the ruined country.
> According to the UN, the British Home Office and the Drug Enforcement
> Administration, some of it is pure morphine base. Some has been
> processed by Afghan labs into heroin. Tons of hashish are there, too,
> say the experts, ready to flood the postwar domestic market.
> Up to 100-Pound Busts
> Nobody is certain. So far, says Steven Casteel, the DEA's assistant
> administrator for intelligence, seizures have been small, between 40 and
> 100 pounds. Over the weekend, he said of the Taliban: "They are not
> dumb. This is their savings account, and for that reason obviously a lot
> of them have made every effort to move that savings account to a safe
> haven outside the country."
> But even Casteel is uncertain about the basic information. Some of the
> stockpile might have been destroyed by American bombs aimed at Afghan
> and Arab fighters. Some must await the end of the shooting war.
> Certainly, the sheer numbers of potential profits reduce the $25 million
> reward for Bin Laden to tip money. Last year, the State Department
> estimated that the Afghan crop was 3,656 metric tons, which was 72% of
> the world's supply (Myanmar/Burma was a distant second.) The United
> Nations estimated in 1999 that the value of the Afghan opium crop was
> $265 million as it left the poppy farms, and that the Taliban extracted
> from that sum about $40 million in taxes. A recent BBC report by Richard
> Davenport-Hines stated that the profit margin for Afghan drug
> traffickers is about 300%. We are talking here of potential profits in
> the billions.
> Stashing it Away
> Last year, under pressure from UN development agencies, the Taliban
> banned the growing of poppies. They actually took some steps to enforce
> the ban, but first permitted the creation of a strategic reserve. They
> stashed many tons of drugs in caves in northern and western Afghanistan.
> The intent was clear: to supply the outside world while keeping prices
> at a high level.
> But in the late summer of this year, the puritanical students of Mullah
> Omar made a big shift. On Sept. 2, the Voice of Shariat - run by the
> Taliban - announced that the ban on poppy growing was over. This might
> have been because Mullah Omar and his fellow holy men had been tipped
> about what would happen nine days later. We won't know for many months.
> But there was a practical short-term reason for the lifting of the ban.
> The planting season for poppy farmers would begin in late September and
> they needed to buy seeds.
> Meanwhile, through the years of Taliban domination, the drug trade
> flourished. Their rivals, the heroic freedom fighters of the Northern
> Alliance, had a piece of the action. On some levels, the exchange was
> simple: You give us guns and we'll give you heroin. Trucks arrived with
> food, dropped off their humanitarian cargoes, and nobody asked what
> might be hidden in wheel casings when the vehicles left Afghanistan.
> Certainly, by all reports, every border was corrupt.
> Millions of Addicts
> In spite of the war, smuggling routes still exist. One western route
> drives into Iran, which has 3 million heroin addicts of its own among a
> population of 60 million. From Iran, after local markets are served, the
> cargo is eventually dispersed into Turkey, Europe and the United States.
> Iran says it has lost 15,000 dead soldiers and policemen trying to stop
> the Afghan drug trade, an additional reason for its fierce opposition to
> the Taliban regime. The smuggling continues.
> The southern route pushes into Pakistan, which also contains an
> estimated 3 million addicts in its cities and refugee camps (with twice
> the population of Iran). Supplies of morphine base and refined heroin
> are often taken to ships operating out of Karachi on the Arabian Sea for
> movement to the West. Corruption is general, on high levels and low.
> The northern route moves easily through the Central Asian republics -
> with our ally, Tajikistan, a virtual narcorepublic. The shipments are
> often guided by Muslim gangsters from Chechnya toward Kosovo-Albanian
> syndicates, or to the hard men of the Russian Mafia. In turn, according
> to the Drug Enforcement Administration, heroin passes through Bulgaria,
> the Czech Republic, Romania or Hungary on its way to the lucrative
> markets of the West, including America.
> 80% From Afghanistan
> Through these complicated, shifting routes, much Afghan heroin finds its
> way to the drug supermarkets of Amsterdam, where the DEA says it is
> auctioned among British, Irish, Israeli, Turkish, Nigerian and Kurdish
> gangsters. By all accounts, heroin addiction is spreading in Europe,
> with 80% of the supply traced by drug agents to Afghanistan. And, of
> course, New York gets it share.
> So far, we've heard no reports of the bombing of existing poppy fields
> in Kandahar or Helmand provinces. We haven't heard about a single major
> drug seizure in opium storage caves around Darunta, Bhesud or anywhere
> else. No significant drug busts have been made along Afghanistan's
> porous borders.
> All of which creates a ripening odor. As Afghan warlords fight one
> another in Kandahar for the spoils, we still don't know what private
> arrangements were made by the U.S. to create its anti-Taliban alliance.
> We certainly don't know if the continuity of the heroin trade was part
> of the deal. If it was, we will live with the terrible exports of
> Afghanistan long after Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Omar are tossed into
> the rubbish heap of history.
> E-mail: phamill at edit.nydailynews.com

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