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. 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.”
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. 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.”
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.” 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?
 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/
 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/
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