- The Washington Times - Monday, July 7, 2003

Europe, from France to Russia, Central Asia, including all the former Soviet Muslim republics, the Middle East and South Asia are awash in Afghan heroin. The 13 warlords who now control Afghanistan have divvied up the moolah from a bumper crop of some 5,000 tons of opium that generates almost $100 million a year. Opium becomes heroin in purification labs in neighboring Iran, Turkey and Eastern Europe. Street value at the final point of sale is worth several billion dollars.

President Hamid Karzai’s writ does not extend much beyond Kabul. His directives to the warlord-governors are promptly ignored. International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops are confined to the capital and U.S. Special Forces are too busy chasing Taliban and al Qaeda operatives who have reinfiltrated from Pakistan to worry about warlords feeding expensive drug habits in other parts of the world.

Under the medieval Taliban regime of flat-Earth clerics, an Afghan family in opium poppy cultivation averaged $750. For its first four years in power, Taliban used the poppy to buy the allegiance of warlords and fund its own activities as well as al Qaeda’s. It suddenly banned all poppy cultivation in 2000. Warehouses were full and the price was dropping. U.N. inspectors confirmed that poppy fields lay fallow and somewhat naively concluded Taliban was responding to international pressure. This didn’t seem to work when Taliban decided to blow up a giant statue of Buddha at Bamiyan, which the Taliban denounced as idolatry.

Today, that same poppy farming family is averaging $6,500 per annum. What the Kabul regime is now offering farmers to abandon drugs and substitute other crops is a fraction of what they’re making. President Karzai doesn’t have the resources to improve the payment. All donor nations have fallen far short of the $5 billion in pledges made in the wake of Taliban’s defeat. In fact, intercity highways are yet to be rebuilt; a normal six-hour trip can take three days.

A ranking Afghan official, speaking privately, said: “The drug trafficking has corrupted everything in today’s Afghanistan, from the central Transitional Authority in Kabul to the warlords who really run the country. There is only one way to prevent Afghanistan from dying again: America must depose the warlords, and launch a massive, well-funded, crop-substitution campaign.”

Britain has taken on the assignment of coordinating international counternarcotics programs in Afghanistan. The objective is to cut back opium production 70 percent by 2008 with a view to total eradication by 2013. To make this remotely possible, an estimated $384 million would have to be earmarked for crop substitution, This does not include any enforcement mechanism, such as a multinational U.N. heroin police.

Apart from its ravenous appetite for injectable-quality heroin, Europe also appears to be emulating America’s cocaine habits. Illegal narcotics trafficking from Colombia now satisfies the needs of both continents.

Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom and the global manhunt for al Qaeda terrorists have clearly hurt the U.S. war on drugs in Latin America. Coca production is rising in Bolivia, Colombia and Peru. Eradication in Colombia does not appear to be working. No sooner is one plantation blasted from the air with chemical sprays than another piece of land is cleared and a new crop planted.

Colombia’s Marxist guerrilla groups (FARC and ELN) and the right-wing paramilitaries are both deeply involved in narcotics trafficking, from production to protection. If eradication were working, the street price in the U.S. and Europe would be spiking.

For years, U.S. administrations believed that effective elimination of coca growing was a prerequisite to defeating FARC. Now the Bush administration has it right — the defeat of FARC comes first.

In Bolivia, coca growers have become a major political force. The leader of coca farmers, Eva Morales, came within half-a-length of winning last year’s race for the presidency. He is now garnering support in non-coca regions. The coca planters have come together under the banner of an anti-U.S., neo-Marxist nationalist ideology that rejects free markets.

The Peruvian government has also backed down from advocating coca-eradication. The Brazilian government is looking for political and business leaders, narco-traffickers and terrorists who have laundered some $30 billion in ill-gotten gains, Much of this staggering amount came from Brazil’s border with Paraguay and Argentina, the triborder area the CIA believes funds terrorist activities.

Washington’s anti-drug policies are in serious trouble from Afghanistan to Bolivia to Colombia (the ABC countries). Terrorism and embryonic guerrilla warfare in Iraq and the need to recruit two to three divisions from reluctant allied and friendly countries to share the Iraqi policing duties, have not drained the administration’s energies. But no one wants to raise another crisis that might detract from the present focus and add more red ink to the federal budget.

What is happening — or rather not happening — in A, B & C should be put into a global context for the president’s morning intelligence briefing. Mr. Bush understands it’s a global contest. But some dots have to be connected.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large for The Washington Times and for United Press International.

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