Tag Archives: Afghanistan

Illegality of Drugs Begets Violence

US/NATO forces guarding poppies.

US/NATO forces guarding poppies.

Drug Policy Expert and former Green Party Candidate for Governor (and personal friend) Cliff Thornton, regularly harps this in my ear:  You can connect the “War on Drugs” to anything—and Tom Condon does a good job at connecting it to “place.”   In my advocacy work at the Capitol, I stress this, too.  In introducing his argument, Condon brings up the history of “a once-prominent Hartford crime figure.” Tony Volpe, who presided over illegal gambling and the crimes associated with it.  Once the mob’s business was “eviscerated” by legal gambling, the crime disappeared.  Condon posits, “Could the same thing happen with drugs?”

Yes, and for a number of reasons:  the main idea is based on the idea that the lure of a means of income (and drugs can come at a markup) attract individuals who would otherwise be forced to find legal work.  Supporting this idea is John McWhorter, an African American author, linguist, and politics, who believes that changing our drug laws would “eliminate in a generation” what he calls “the “black problem” or ‘black malaise” in America.” Idle or (currently) “criminal” individuals would migrate to other, “positive” income avenues out of necessity.

“The black male community would no longer include a massive segment of underskilled, drug-addicted ex-cons churning in and out by the thousands year after year, and thus black boys growing up in these communities would not see this life as a norm. They would grow up to get jobs, period.”

If drugs were legal, Condon surmises, “these boys would not grow up with a bone-deep sense of the police—and thus whites—as an enemy.”  Racism and violence have no place in a healthy community.  If it is not safe, people will not choose to live there, given in the example of a New Jersey developer who purchased and restored buildings on Bedford Street in the North End. At a cost of 5 million dollars, he had “all kinds of trouble renting them because of drugs and related gunplay in the area.”

Not only does the “War on Drugs” just “cripple” the city of Hartford and other American cities. It funds international terrorism of the most vicious variety in places such as Mexico, where narco-terrorism has been responsible for tens of thousands of civilian deaths, including children.  This has had such a disruptive effect on the Mexican economy that we face another planning issue in the matter of “illegal immigration.”  But alas, what these people are running from is an inevitability here, unless a radical change in drug policy is considered.  Like prohibition of alcohol, repeal reduced mob proceeds.  It can do the same with the repeal of drugs.  With time, one can envision McWhorter’s revival of culture and community, not just among African Americans, but across all Americans, once we’ve moved forward from laws that do more harm than good.  As Condon says, “the whole thing is crazy…What other crime has an organization of police officers, judges and prosecutors, such as Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, working for its repeal?”

inspiration from:

Legalizing Drugs Would Stop The Bleeding, by Tom Condon—Hartford Courant, 9 January, 2011

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REVIEW: “The Bookseller of Kabul”

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Asne_Seierstad_The_Bookseller_of_KabulThe bookseller: Sultan Khan

Both professionally and at home, Sultan Khan is cold and demanding.  When discussing the issue of the carpenter who stole postcards from his shop, Khan is unsympathetic to the plight of his former employee.  While the rest of the Sultan’s family feels that the carpenter had faced punishment enough in the shame that he has brought upon himself, Khan sees little need for mercy, expecting more than just the beatings that the man received from his father.  When his son Mansur asks him over the phone if the carpenter can be released, the Sultan maintains that he has been insulted, shouting, “He wants to ruin my business, undermine my prices.”  This is not true; as the carpenter’s primary motive for the theft was to help feed his children, not the ruination of Khan or his business.

Khan continues to play the victim in the ordeal, still blind of reality saying, “I paid him well.  There was no need to steal.  He’s a crook.” The carpenter stole because the wages he received were inadequate to support his family—in such dire circumstances, there was a need to steal.  Khan, though, refuses to see this perspective and show mercy and he quickly judges the carpenter guilty. He feels “the truth will have to be beaten out of him” by police interrogation.[1]

Even after the carpenter implicates others, Khan’s son feels badly, remembering the interrogators promise of allowing the man to return to his family if only he confessed.  Mansur knows that the promise will likely remain unfulfilled, recalling his father’s final words before he had left for business in Pakistan: “I’ve worked my tail off to try to create something…and a bloody carpenter comes and tries to usurp my life’s work.  He will be punished.”[2] He ignores the concerns of his family and wife who hope that he will “show mercy” before subjecting the man to a prison sentence.  They are concerned that they will be responsible for the death of the carpenter’s children, should he not be around to feed his family.  They also worry that he could die during the six year sentence, saying that “many never make it through the six years” because the prison is “riddled with infection, tuberculosis, and lots of other illnesses.”  When Mansur mentions to his father that the carpenters children could possibly be dead by the time the six years was up, Khan responds with antipathy saying “If he gets sixty years, I couldn’t care less.  He is going to suffer…”[3]

Khan is ever the master of his domain, and his word dominates above all others in his household and family.  The family accepts this treatment with (mostly) silent and resigned indignation. Khan’s sister accepts his “moods,” crying the whole day when he sends her son Fazil home from the bookstore job that the child had performed so well.[4]  The boy had worked twelve hours per day, under Khan’s promise to his sister to feed and shelter his nephew. However, one day, before the end of the arrangement, Khan scolded the boy, saying, “I’m fed up with you.  Go home.  Don’t show yourself in the shop anymore.” Meanwhile, no explanation was given to the both the heartbroken mother or the boy for the banishment from the bookstore.[5]

The author of The Bookseller of Kabul, Åsne Seierstad, puts it best when she describes the Sultan’s role in the family, likening him to a king who took over “the throne” after the death of his father.  She says “not only does he lord it over the household, but he also tries to rule over the siblings that have moved away.”  She describes Khan’s relationship with his brother, who “kisses his hand when they meet.” Khan demands respect from his younger brother and Seierstad falls short of hypothesizing when she says “God help (the brother) if he even dares contradict the Sultan or, even worse, lights up a cigarette in front of him.”  She suggests that when scolding and hitting no longer work for the Sultan, “the next punishment is rejection,” as was the case with another brother, Farid, who defied his older brother in setting up his own book shop.  Baring rare exception, Khan gets what he demands from his family, or they are disowned.  “Farid’s name is no longer mentioned” as if “he is no longer the Sultan’s brother.” “His word is law,” Seierstad says, and “anyone who does not obey him will be punished.”[6]

[1] P.237

[2] P.244

[3] P.244

[4] P.200

[5] P.187

[6] P.114-115

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USA: Backup for Afghan Drug Lords

RAWA: Since 2001 the opium cultivation increased over 4,400%. Under the US/NATO, Afghanistan became world largest opium producer, which produces 93% of world opium.

RAWA: Since 2001 the opium cultivation increased 4,400%. Under the US/NATO, Afghanistan became world largest opium producer, producing 93% of world opium.

In his article In Bed with Warlords, Walter Russell Mead discusses the New York Times drug trafficking allegations and CIA connections of Ahmed Wali Karzai, brother of Afgani President, Hamid Karzai.  The allegations should come as no surprise, Mead says, when considering the warlords that America has to deal with in Afghanistan.  He believes that in a “country that’s been involved in chaotic civil and international conflicts for thirty years, the people who have scrambled to the top of the bloody heap are unsavory.”  Because of the power structure in Afghanistan, the United States has been forced into “cutting dirty deals with nasty people.” If not one set of corrupt Afghan officials, we’d “working with other Afghans who’ve clawed their way to the top in the same murderous scrum that gave us the Karzais.”  Mead feels that “whether we stick with the Karzais or find another clan to back, we are going to be forking out a lot of money to a lot of shady types.”  He doesn’t see any way around this; that American forces need allies in the region.  “In Afghanistan there are bad guys who, maybe, we can work with, and bad guys who, definitely, don’t want to work with us.  If we could afford to leave the crummy place alone and let it go to hell in its own way, we would have done that long ago.”

But are we forced into these deals?  Mead is resigned to the status quo; he brings up the standard litany of hawkish reasons for the presence of US troops…with almost nonchalant treatment to the subject of the opium trafficking itself.[1]  The heroin is definitely part of the problem, as Jeremy Hammond of Foreign Policy Journal reports.  Afghanistan supplies 90 percent of the world’s opium and it would be foolish to treat that fact lightly, considering the players along the money trail.  He cites a newly announced US strategy for combating the drug problem: “placing drug traffickers with ties to insurgents —and only drug lords with ties to insurgents — on a list to be eliminated.”  There is a vicious double standard in this, according to Hammond; “the vast majority of drug lords…are explicitly excluded as targets under the new strategy…to put it yet another way, the U.S. will be assisting to eliminate the competition for drug lords allied with occupying forces or the Afghan government; assistance which could theoretically help people like the Karzais “to further corner the market.”[2]

Drug dealing is also easier when you have someone else to take the punishment.  Although 97 percent of the drug trade in Afghanistan is controlled by traffickers other than the insurgents, the insurgents still get blamed. In The Poppy Trail, Reese Erlich says that the “mainstream media largely ignored…government officials…instead spreading the myth that the Taliban controlled most of the drug trade.” There have been numerous instances of drug corruption throughout the Afghan government; former Defense Minister Marshal Muhammad Qasim Fahim, Karzai’s vice presidential candidate, “shipped his heroin to Russia in a government cargo plane, which then returned stuffed with cash” while Ahmed Wali Karzai has “taken control of the heroin trade in Kandahar.” And while the US government and Afghani officials have given lip service to curbing the spread of opium, they continue to place blame mostly on the Taliban.[3]  The $70 million that the Taliban make every year from opium only accounts for two percent of estimated profits from the Afghan drug trade; the other drug lords make almost $3.4 billion.  Before 9/11, the Taliban were allies in the American war on drugs and were “actually awarded…for its effective reduction of the drug trade,” receiving “$43 million for its anti-drug efforts.”[4]

The reason that our troops are in Afghanistan should be put more succinctly to the American public.  If the true purpose of our presence in Afghanistan is to assist in a particular warlord’s monopolization of the heroin trade, then it must be announced in the interests of transparency; otherwise, it needs to be refuted outright, with evidence to support that claim.  The fact that the heroin trade has escalated since 9/11 on our watch and after our puppet was installed, cannot be denied.  American leaders must accept responsibility for their complicity in allowing the world’s prime source of heroin to grow.  They should not blindly holler “9/11,”“women’s rights,” and “democracy” as justification for lingering in Afghanistan. These buzzwords have been grossly misrepresented and are used to sell an idea of the country that isn’t grounded in reality.  The real issue at play is the control of the heroin trade and it is that truth that should be acknowledged in the media.  Mead suggests we “drop the phony outrage over the CIA hiring a suspected drug dealer in Kabul’s first family.” This is something that our intelligence service was probably most intimately aware of, and an issue worthy of mainstream attention.  Mead is correct in his observations that the Karzai/opium connection’s exposure in the media might serve to straighten out the Afghani government. He suggests that we use the press to put “all the pressure we can on the people now wretchedly misgoverning Afghanistan in order to get them to be a little less sickeningly corrupt and incompetent.”[5]   It should go further than that, with the American people asking about their own government’s motives:  Considering how we have knowingly and tacitly supported the Karzai family’s connection to the opium trade, what are our intentions, first, with the Karzais, and second, all the opium?  Why do the poppies continue to grow under a Karzai regime, when, just a decade ago, the United States was paying the Taliban millions of dollars to eradicate it?

[1] Walter Russell Mead, “In Bed with Warlords,” The Daily Beast, 28 October 2009. (accessed 19 November 2009) http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2009-10-28/our-dangerous-liaisons/full/

[2] Jeremy R. Hammond,Ex-ISI Chief Says Purpose of New Afghan Intelligence Agency RAMA Is ‘to destabilize Pakistan’,” Foreign Policy Journal, 12 August 2009.  (accessed 19 November 2009) http://www.foreignpolicyjournal.com/2009/08/12/ex-isi-chief-says-purpose-of-new-afghan-intelligence-agency-rama-is-%E2%80%98to-destabilize-pakistan%E2%80%99/

[3] Reese Erlich, “On the Poppy Trail,” The Progressive, November Edition. (accessed 19 November 2009) http://www.progressive.org/erlich1109.html

[4] Hammond
[5] Mead

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