Tuesday 22nd Jan 2019
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THE HYPOCRISY UNVEILS US Responsible for Drug Trade in Afghanistan

Book Review


Julien Mercille

Pluto Press


Pages: 192

Price: $ 24.56 (Paperback)



We live in a world where appearance and reality, most of the time, are exactly opposite of each other. There is always something more gigantic and appalling than what meets the eye in almost all the cases. It is the constant psychological warfare that is being waged by the elite that hides the reality and presents only what suits its interests. Moulding of the facts and concocting stories is what the elites bank upon in order to generate and maintain the public opinion in their favour and hence remain in power. Julien Mercille, lecturer in the School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Policy at University College Dublin, Ireland, in his book, Cruel Harvest: US Intervention in the Afghan Drug Trade breaks one of the most fantastically propagated myths that the United States is trying its level best to contain and restrain drug trade in Afghanistan.

Instead, the book unveils the fact that it is the US and its military which is responsible for the skyrocketing drug trade in Afghanistan as the drug lords enjoy the full backing and support of the military and other officials there who deliberately avoid the crackdowns on the drug money laundered through the Western Banks. The book argues and proves that the US drug policy does nothing but provides a convenient reason for the US to continue its war against Afghanistan and takes the covering off from one of the dirtiest lies of the 21st century which the US disseminated with all its might. The book further argues that the Taliban completely eradicated and banned the opium production during the year 2000-01 and the revival of drug trade started once again when the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001.

The saga of drug trade in Afghanistan dates back to the Soviet invasion during which the United States supported the Mujahideen wholeheartedly. During this period some of the fighters were involved in the drug trade but the CIA provided them with protection and support as at that moment they were only interested in defeating their enemy, the Russians, under their objective “bleed the Russians.” This support by the CIA led to the expansion of the drug industry in Afghanistan so much so that the total production of opium increased from 200 tons in 1980 to a whopping 1600 tons in 1990. This 800 per cent increase was witnessed in just a decade when the cold war was turning into hot war. The production further increased to 3100 tons in another four years, in 1994.

However, the Taliban brought down the level of opium production to almost nil before the US invasion. So it becomes very clear that the objective on the pretext of which the US invaded Afghanistan was already complete and had it been the only concern of America, which obviously was not, it would have not slapped sanctions on the country and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) would not have withdrawn its hands to provide financial assistance for the country which was implementing narcotics control programme. The opium production skyrocketed in 2001 only when the US entered Afghanistan and it is the US and the NATO that share a large part of the responsibility.

Mercille writes: “For instance, they capture only about 5 per cent of the total drug revenues in Afghanistan, while the remainder of the funds goes to government officials, traffickers, police and local commanders, many of which are either supported or tolerated by Washington.”

The hypocrisy comes to the surface when we see the statement of the then US President George W. Bush where he said,

“You know, I’m asked all the time, “How can I help fight against terror? What can I do, what can I as a citizen do to defend America?” Well, one thing that you can do is not purchase illegal drugs. Make no mistake about it, if you are buying illegal drugs in America, it is likely that money is going to end up in the hands of terrorist organisations. Just think about the Taliban in Afghanistan: 70 per cent of the world’s opium trade came from Afghanistan, resulting in significant income to the Taliban, significant amount of money to the people that were harbouring and feeding and hiding those who attacked and killed thousands of innocent Americans on September the 11th. When we fight drugs, we fight the war on terror.”

The book runs through 192 pages and is divided in eight chapters, each dealing with a specific phase. Mercille also mentions the media industry which jumped the gun and started narrating the events as dictated by the government. The nexus between the insurgency and narcotics trafficking was repeated so exhaustively that it made the false story sounding true. The statements by the high military officials from the US like, “When I see a poppy field, I see it turning into money and then into IEDs, AKs, and RPGs” and “Drug money has been the oxygen in the air” reinforced the belief that the US was indeed fighting a tough battle in Afghanistan and the poppy cultivation was really the resource for the Taliban and they are using it judiciously and wisely to fight the Americans. Various books were written on this topic, each narrating the US side of the story and worldly renowned newspapers and magazines like New York Times, Washington Post, National Geographic came up with the stories of the nexus between insurgency and the drug traffickers and how the Taliban is using the funds generated from them to fight the war with America.

The book mentions accounts of many of CIA chiefs and officers during the times of the cold war who themselves had confessed the CIA hand in the drug trade. Milton Bearden, CIA station chief in Pakistan in 1986-89, once said in an interview, “Did I know there was a drug problem in Afghanistan?... Of course there is, of course there was … Did we devote our resources to fighting the narcotics problem? No … it would possibly detract from accomplishing what was an overwhelmingly large mission, that is, driving the Soviet army out of Afghanistan.”

The third chapter of the book ‘Rise to Prominence’ traces at length the history of the drug trade including its history in the golden triangle. It further explains how the cold war changed the dynamics of the drug trade and how the US concentrated only on defeating the Soviets and in turn accelerated the drug trade. In the fourth chapter ‘From Forgotten State to Rogue State,’ Mercille divides the period between the end of the cold war and the September 11 attacks into two. He considers the first phase as the first half of the 90s where the end of the cold war led to the struggle for power among the different factions of the Mujahideen. He takes the second phase when the Taliban came to power in the year 1996, which eventually led to the banning on the production of opium in the year 2000-01.

During the first phase the US did not care about Afghanistan and disengaged from it as their main task, which was to defeat the Soviets, was already fulfilled. However, during the second phase America tried to re-engage with Afghanistan but the non-compliance of Afghanistan over some issues raised by the US made the latter dub the former a “rogue state.” It is interesting to note that in both the phases the American foreign policy was not influenced, even by the measurement of an iota, due to the concerns over drug.

Mercille argues that paramount reason for declaring Afghanistan as a rogue state had hardly anything to do with the much hyped women and human rights, rather it had more to do with the American prospects of laying pipelines across Afghanistan. Immediately after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the aid stopped and Afghanistan was left devastated and in ruins. The condition was so horrible that there was no leadership, no government and the economy was in tatters. It was at this time that the diverse agricultural system, on which the economy of Afghanistan was dependent, started to shift towards the drugs by leaps and bounds. However, the US never cared and disengaged with Afghanistan.

The book mentions the comment of Thomas Friedman, an American expert on Afghanistan, which he made in 1995, precisely when the country was totally destroyed because of the internal strife for the struggle for power. Friedman said, “Most people in the US Government have long since come to the conclusion that our objectives for Afghanistan are pretty limited…What we basically want is an Afghanistan that does not destabilise its neighbours, like Pakistan and the Central Asian republics, where we really do have important interests. We don’t want a boiling Afghanistan exploring radicalism to the Central Asian republics when they are just coming of age.”

The interest in Afghanistan grew mainly because of the growing interest in the Caspian region as it had the large oil reserves stashed under it and Afghanistan was being seen as a new transit route through which energy would be transported to the different parts of the world. The reason for invasion on Afghanistan was not women’s rights or human rights; rather it was invoked just as rhetoric, whereas the actual policies got shaped by the political and economic factors.

In the end, in the chapter ‘Washington and the Afghan Drug Trade,’ Mercille takes a dig at the role of the US in supporting and bolstering poppy cultivation in Afghanistan. Generally, it is argued that it is the south of the country where the cultivation is more concentrated as the government has less control over this region; however Mercille asks that there is enough of drug money in the northern regions of the country as well, where not only the Afghan government but the foreign troops also have a fair amount of control. He further questions the US drug policy which it implemented in Afghanistan and says that the policies that were implemented were bound to produce no effect. He makes an interesting note that during 2001-2005, the drugs control was never the part of the agenda of the US as many of the local Afghans were allies of the US and they were involved in trafficking. Hence the US initially did not want to disturb its allies. One of the diplomats said, “Without money from drugs, our friendly warlords can’t pay their militias. It is as simple as that.” It is only after 2005 that the US started to talk about the drug control and counter narcotics operations. The book further argues that the Obama administration used its policies to attack its enemies rather than eliminating the drugs per se. Excerpt:

“…Indeed, in 2009, his (Obama) administration presented its new approach to narcotics and elaborated a target list of 50 ‘major drug traffickers who help finance the insurgency’ to be killed or captured by the military. Therefore, if traffickers help the Taliban, they will be attacked – but if they support government forces, they apparently will be left alone. This suggests that the drug war is used to target enemies.”

The book is a must read for the students of politics and international relations as it displays how the interests and political and economic benefits transforms the dynamics in any region. Mercille takes into account the arguments regarding the geographic location of Afghanistan which makes it a key player in today’s world, because of the ever growing energy demands and the constant threats by Iran to block the Straits of Hormuz and the Chinese assertion over the whole of the South China Sea, makes Afghanistan one of the most viable energy routes linking the energy rich Caspian region.

Finally, the book reinforces the belief that in today’s world one cannot take the news as it comes; rather there is a need to unearth the reality behind it.

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