Thursday, February 25, 2016
Popular Poppies Pay Petulant Poisonous Politicians
According to Transparency International, an NGO dedicated to tracking and measuring corruption nation-by-nation, among the 176 countries that it analyzes, Afghanistan has been either the second or third most corrupt nation on earth for the past few years. Yup, that same government we put in power when we deposed the Taliban a decade and a half ago. Fortunately, that government only controls capital Kabul and its environs plus the occasional region that it invades and holds until its soldiers move on to another province. Unfortunately, the land not controlled by the Kabul-based government is under the jurisdiction of either a regional warlord, or, more probably, the Taliban. Where the government does hang onto distant holdings, you can bet your bottom dollar that the region is rich in opium poppies.
Every political power group depends on the opium trade for cash, whether for Swiss bank accounts and a luxurious lifestyle, or to buy weapons to use to expand their control. And most (over 70%) of the world’s opium – which is usually converted to heroin – comes from Afghanistan. Crop yields have risen in recent years.
“The United States spent more than $7 billion in the past 14 years to fight the runaway poppy production that has made Afghan opium the world’s biggest brand. Tens of billions more went to governance programs to stem corruption and train a credible police force. Countless more dollars and thousands of lives were lost on the main thrust of the war: to put the Afghan government in charge of district centers and to instill rule of law.
“But here [in Garmsir, in southern Afghanistan] in one of the only corners of Helmand Province that is peaceful and in firm government control, the green stalks and swollen bulbs of opium were growing thick and high within eyeshot of official buildings during the past poppy season — signs of a local narco-state administered directly by government officials.
“In the district of Garmsir, not only is poppy cultivation tolerated, the local government depends on it. Officials have imposed a tax on farmers practically identical to the one the Taliban uses in places they control. Some of the revenue is kicked up the chain, all the way to officials in Kabul, the capital, ensuring that the local authorities maintain support from higher-ups and keeping the opium growing. And Garmsir is just one example of official involvement in the drug trade…
“More than ever, Afghan government officials have become directly involved in the opium trade, expanding their competition with the Taliban beyond politics and into a struggle for control of the drug traffic and revenue. At the local level, the fight itself can often look like a turf war between drug gangs, even as American troops are being pulled back into the battle on the government’s behalf, particularly in Helmand, in southern Afghanistan…
“The administration of President Ashraf Ghani has made fighting corruption a central promise. A spokesman for his government, asked about official involvement in opium trafficking, including in Garmsir, insisted that there was ‘zero tolerance’ for such behavior. ‘The president has been decisive in acting on information that indicates involvement of government officials in illegal acts, including taxation of opium,’ said the spokesman, Sayed Zafar Hashemi. [Wink, wink!]
“But in Garmsir and other places in the Helmand opium belt, the system is firmly in place and remarkably consistent… It relies on a network of village leaders and people employed by farmers to manage the water supply, men known as mirabs. These men survey the land under cultivation and collect money on behalf of officials, both in district-level government and in Kabul.
“The connections run deeply into the national government, officials acknowledge privately. In some cases, the money is passed up to senators or assembly members with regional connections. In others, employees in the Independent Directorate of Local Governance, the agency that oversees provincial and district governments, pocket the payoffs, officials said. Some of the most important regional police and security commanders, including allies of American military and intelligence officials, are closely identified with the opium trade.” New York Times, February 15th. Former President Hamid Karzai wasn’t given much of a salary during his tenure, but he is a very rich man. He always told the world how he was fighting the heroin trade too. Is Ghani following in his footsteps?
Again, our recent stupid invasions seem to be the “gifts” (note in German, ‘das Gift’ means ‘the poison’!) that just keep on giving… or we could recommit hundreds of thousands of troops for an indefinite (but lengthy) period… and find yet another way to sap our economy and make us even more unpopular with the Islamic world. Why not just paint a bull’s eye our backs and enjoy what we have sown? Your tax dollars at work!!!
I’m Peter Dekom, and I love the vast difference between what the politicians who made these fateful decisions promised… and what we got and will have deal with for the foreseeable future.