Three Views on the Debacle in Afghanistan

September 25th, 2006 - by admin

Canadian Labour Congress & Globe and Mail & – 2006-09-25 00:47:54

Who Are We Defending in Afghanistan?
Ken Georgetti / Canadian Labour Congress

(September 8, 2006) — In recent months, Canadians have been the recipients of a fierce selling-job on our military’s role in Afghanistan. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has claimed our mission is both honourable and just, and I have no doubt this echoes the sentiments of our troops.

Prime Minister Harper has said Canada won’t “cut and run” in Afghanistan, and suggested other “weak-kneed” parliamentarians fall in line. Hordes of pundits have agreed, and suggested dissenters are damaging our troops’ morale and Canada’s role in the “War on Terrorism.”

Canadians have seen this movie before. It went something like: “You’re either with us, or you’re with the terrorists.” Currently, that view of foreign policy earns about 36% support of the US electorate. Surely Canadians deserve a better explanation about why we’ve committed to our largest military deployment in 50 years.

Simply put, Prime Minister, whose interests are we defending in Afghanistan?

I am told it is a democratically-elected government engaged in a war with “brutal insurgents.”

Many human rights groups have begged to differ, however, and it is time Canadians got a fuller appreciation of this story.

Human Rights Watch authored a chilling report called Blood Stained Hands: Past Atrocities in Kabul and Afghanistan’s Legacy of Impunity. The Senlis Council in Britain followed with its own study, Canada in Kandahar: No Peace to Keep. Carol Off produced a thought-provoking documentary on CBC’s The National in March 2006 entitled The Warlords Take Office.

All of these studies reveal disturbing information most Afghanis know well, and when the lives of Canadian soldiers are on the line, it’s best not to mince words.

At the moment, Canada is sending its troops to support a parliament that is already half-dominated by drug-trafficking warlords, many of whom have committed atrocities against their own people during Afghanistan’s civil war in the early 1990s.

These warlords — like Abdul Rashid Dostum, who is now Afghanistan’s Deputy Minister of Defence — killed thousands of innocent Afghanis, and now drape themselves in the language of democracy.

Making matters worse, billions of dollars in development funds pledged by nations worldwide have gone missing, while palatial homes and posh developments are under construction in Kabul, many of which are connected to warlords in parliament.

The US military strategy adopted by NATO hasn’t brought peace, reduced poverty, stopped heroin production, or helped reconstruct Afghanistan.

Over 1,600 Afghanis have died in the last four months alone. The heroin trade is fielding a bumper crop. Afghanis are mired in terrible poverty, while brothels have sprung up in abundance to service foreign contractors in Kabul.

In these conditions, it is hardly surprising that an Afghan resistance movement has emerged. These forces, which include Taliban elements, refer to Hamid Karzai as “the mayor of Kabul”, or “assistant to the American ambassador”. They are increasingly supported by Afghanis grown weary from NATO and Karzai’s broken promises.

That’s right Prime Minister. At the moment, our military isn’t fighting the forces of corruption, violence and the heroin trade. We’re supporting them, and this is never told to the thousands of Canadian soldiers sent to the battlegrounds of Kandahar.

But don’t take my word for it. Talk to Malalai Joya, the Afghan parliamentarian who has faced death threats for daring to spotlight the abuses perpetrated daily by warlords in the Karzai regime.

Prime Minister, I fully support our troops, that’s why I don’t want them engaged in a fight that only benefits a government chock full of despots and heroin-runners. I urge you again to heed the words of Malalai Joya, who had this to say about the prospects for peace in her country:

“The situation in Afghanistan and conditions for women will not change positively until the warlords have been disarmed and both the pro-US and anti-US terrorists are removed from the political scene in Afghanistan. And it is the responsibility of the Afghan people to accomplish this goal.”

Ken Georgetti is president of the Canadian Labour Congress, the largest trade union federation in Canada, representing three million workers.

Inspiring Tale of Triumph over Taliban Not All it Seems
Graeme Smith / Globe and Mail

(September 23, 2006) — The official story of Operation Medusa has been repeated many times in recent days, after NATO declared success with its biggest offensive to date in Afghanistan.

In speeches from Kabul to Washington, military commanders described the two-week campaign as a simple, clear-cut triumph: The Taliban entrenched themselves in a swath of terrain, terrorizing local villagers; Canadian soldiers led a massive assault, killing more than 1,000 Taliban and routing others; and now villagers are welcoming the return of government rule. Military officials say the operation may have destroyed up to one third of the insurgency’s hardcore ranks.

It’s an inspiring tale, as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization calls on members for more troops and struggles to gain support for the war.

But interviews with tribal elders, farmers and senior officials in the city of Kandahar suggest a version of events that is more complicated, and less reassuring.

Many of the fighters killed — perhaps half of them, by one estimate — were not Taliban stalwarts, but local farmers who reportedly revolted against corrupt policing and tribal persecution.

It appears the Taliban did not choose the Panjwai district as a battleground merely because the irrigation trenches and dry canals provided good hiding places, but because many villagers were willing to give them food, shelter — even sons for the fight — in exchange for freedom from the local authorities.

The government has regained control of this restive district southwest of Kandahar city, and has promised to muster donations from Canada and other countries to rebuild. The Canadian military says it will help local security forces establish a new base to make sure the Taliban do not return to Panjwai.

But there are troubling signs that the area may be sliding back toward the same conditions that sparked the violent revolt.

Unconfirmed reports suggest that Taliban fighters continue to lurk around the district, and that police in the area have resumed the abusive tactics that originally ignited local anger. Farmers say gangs of policemen, often their tribal rivals, have swept into Panjwai behind the Canadian troops to search for valuables. They have been described ransacking homes, burning shops and conducting shakedowns at checkpoints.

“This is a case of bad governance,” said Talatbek Masadykov, head of the United Nations mission in southern Afghanistan.

“Maybe half of these so-called anti-government elements acting here in this area of the south, they had to join this Taliban movement because of the misbehaviour of these bad guys,” Mr. Masadykov said, referring to undisciplined local police.

Police commanders in Kandahar city declined to be interviewed. The allegations from local farmers are difficult to confirm, because it has been only two days since Panjwai was deemed safe enough for civilians to return home, and the area remains too dangerous for Western journalists to visit.

But even politicians who generally support the government concede that the situation in Panjwai was aggravated by the missteps of local authorities.

The most notorious of the blunders was the case of Abdul Razik. Last month, concerned about the growing number of Taliban on the doorstep of Kandahar city, the provincial government assigned Mr. Razik to clear insurgents from Panjwai. Mr. Razik serves as a police commander in Spin Boldak, near the Pakistani border, but his fighters have a reputation as a kind of militia, all drawn from the same tribe: the Achakzai, a branch of the Pashtun ethnic group.

In the borderlands, the Achakzai often feud with another Pashtun tribe, the Noorzai. The two tribes also dominate the strip of farmland in Panjwai where Mr. Razik was dispatched, although the tribes have usually co-existed peacefully — until the arrival of Mr. Razik. Word spread quickly through Panjwai that the police commander intended to kill not only Taliban but any member of the Noorzai tribe; true or not, Mr. Razik soon found himself facing an armed uprising. His men were ambushed southwest of the village of Panjwai District Centre, and many of their bodies were left rotting on the road as Mr. Razik retreated to the borderlands.

But having fought off Mr. Razik, the local Noorzai tribesmen soon ended up fighting his more disciplined colleagues from the police and Afghan National Army.

“This was a bad idea, to bring Abdul Razik,” said Haji Mohammed Qassam, a provincial council member in Kandahar with responsibility for security issues.

“One village had 10 or 20 fighters against the government before he came, and the next day, maybe 200.”

It was only one example among many complaints cited by people from Panjwai as they described the deteriorating relations between locals and the government. Well before Mr. Razik’s arrival, villagers say, they were subject to police stealing their cash, cellphones and watches. Even motorbikes and cars were seized by police patrols, locals say.

Abid, 32, a farmer from the Pashmul area, roughly 15 kilometres southwest of Kandahar, said the thievery by police got so frequent that his friend tried a novel tactic when he encountered a checkpoint two months ago.

Rolling toward a roadblock on a motorbike in the late evening, he said, his friend turned off the motor and started coasting toward the police.

“He took the keys out of the ignition and threw them into the bushes, so they couldn’t steal it,” Abid said. “This made them angry. They beat him, took his money and his watch. But he kept his bike.”

The depredations stopped as the Taliban gained control of the area, villagers said. The insurgents imposed a strict order; some reports suggested they had returned to their habit of cutting off thieves’ hands.

Abdul Ahad, 44, a wealthy farmer and landowner from the village of Sangisar, said he appreciated the Taliban, despite the terror he felt every time he passed through one of their checkpoints.

In a recent interview, Mr. Ahad removed a black leather diary from his breast pocket and showed a reporter where he had scribbled a few numbers for government officials. Those numbers could have got him killed, he said, if the Taliban had found the diary during their regular searches at checkpoints, because the fighters would have assumed he is a spy.

Still, risking death at the roadblocks was better, he said, than the random thievery and beatings meted out by the Afghan police.

“The Taliban didn’t take any tolls at the checkposts,” Mr. Ahad said. “Even when they came to my farm, they did not eat my grapes without permission.”

The Taliban also endeared themselves to the locals by returning to their roots as a protest movement. The name Taliban first gained notoriety in Afghanistan in 1992, after a group of religious students started attacking the roadblocks in Panjwai to remove the corrupt jihadi commanders who once waged holy war against the Soviets but had settled into gangsterism after the Soviet withdrawal.

“Policemen [now] are like jihadi commanders in the past,” said Mr. Masadykov, at the UN office in Kandahar.

“They are misbehaving sometimes, looting, going to search and at the same time stealing everything in the houses. We are receiving a lot of complaints about it. We have to work on it.”

Mr. Qassam said the government has learned from its Panjwai experience and will try to avoid repeating it. Taliban are now infiltrating the Khakrez district, he said, but the government will try sending more disciplined Afghan forces to maintain order, rather than requesting an onslaught of NATO power.

Mr. Qassam also emphasized an aspect of NATO’s story about Operation Medusa that few people in Kandahar question: The city itself now feels a little more secure.

The encroaching insurgency had left the educated city dwellers feeling unsafe. Housing prices, and even vehicle prices, were depressed in recent months. Some locals reported rental fees falling as much as ten times lower than last year’s rates.

Merchants in the city were even sending packages of phone cards and cash to the Taliban in Panjwai, hoping to curry favour with the insurgents in case they overran the provincial capital, Mr. Qassam said.

“When the Taliban were in Panjwai, all the people in this area were worrying: ‘Where will I move my family?'” Mr. Qassam said. “They are more relaxed and happy now.”

Who Benefits from the Afghan Opium Trade?
Michel Chossudovsky /

(September 21, 2006) — The United Nations has announced that opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has soared and is expected to increase by 59% in 2006. The production of opium is estimated to have increased by 49% in relation to 2005.

The Western media in chorus blame the Taliban and the warlords. The Bush administration is said to be committed to curbing the Afghan drug trade: “The US is the main backer of a huge drive to rid Afghanistan of opium… ”

Yet in a bitter irony, US military presence has served to restore rather than eradicate the drug trade.

What the reports fail to acknowledge is that the Taliban government was instrumental in implementing a successful drug eradication program, with the support and collaboration of the UN.

Implemented in 2000-2001, the Taliban’s drug eradication program led to a 94 percent decline in opium cultivation. In 2001, according to UN figures, opium production had fallen to 185 tons. Immediately following the October 2001 US led invasion, production increased dramatically, regaining its historical levels.

The Vienna-based UN Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that the 2006 harvest will be of the order of 6,100 tonnes, 33 times its production levels in 2001 under the Taliban government (3200 % increase in 5 years).

Cultivation in 2006 reached a record 165,000 hectares compared with 104,000 in 2005 and 7,606 in 2001 under the Taliban (See table below).

Multibillion Dollar Trade
According to the UN, Afghanistan supplies in 2006 some 92 percent of the world’s supply of opium, which is used to make heroin.

The UN estimates that for 2006, the contribution of the drug trade to the Afghan economy is of the order of 2.7 billion. What it fails to mention is the fact that more than 95 percent of the revenues generated by this lucrative contraband accrues to business syndicates, organized crime and banking and financial institutions. A very small percentage accrues to farmers and traders in the producing country.

(See also UNODC, The Opium Economy in Afghanistan, , Vienna, 2003, p. 7-8)

“Afghan heroin sells on the international narcotics market for 100 times the price farmers get for their opium right out of the field”.(US State Department quoted by the Voice of America (VOA), 27 February 2004).

Based on wholesale and retail prices in Western markets, the earnings generated by the Afghan drug trade are colossal. In July 2006, street prices in Britain for heroin were of the order of Pound Sterling 54, or $102 a gram.

Narcotics On the Streets of
Western Europe

One kilo of opium produces approximately 100 grams of (pure) heroin. 6100 tons of opium allows the production of 1220 tons of heroin with a 50 percent purity ratio.

The average purity of retailed heroin can vary. It is on average 36%. In Britain, the purity is rarely in excess of 50 percent, while in the US it can be of the order of 50-60 percent.

Based on the structure of British retail prices for heroin, the total proceeds of the Afghan heroin trade would be of the order of 124.4 billion dollars, assuming a 50 percent purity ratio. Assuming an average purity ratio of 36 percent and the average British price, the cash value of Afghan heroin sales would be of the order of 194.4 billion dollars.

While these figures do not constitute precise estimates, they nonetheless convey the sheer magnitude of this multibillion dollar narcotics trade out of Afghanistan. Based on the first figure which provides a conservative estimate, the cash value of these sales, once they reach Western retail markets are in excess of 120 billion dollars a year.

(See also our detailed estimates for 2003 in The Spoils of War: Afghanistan’s Multibillion Dollar Heroin Trade, by Michel Chossudovsky, The UNODC estimates the average retail price of heroin for 2004 to be of the order of $157 per gram, based on the average purity ratio).

Narcotics: Second to
Oil and the Arms Trade

The foregoing estimates are consistent with the UN’s assessment concerning the size and magnitude of the global drug trade.

The Afghan trade in opiates (92 percent of total World production of opiates) constitutes a large share of the worldwide annual turnover of narcotics, which was estimated by the United Nations to be of the order of $400-500 billion.

(Douglas Keh, Drug Money in a Changing World, Technical document No. 4, 1998, Vienna UNDCP, p. 4. See also United Nations Drug Control Program, Report of the International Narcotics Control Board for 1999, E/INCB/1999/1 United Nations, Vienna 1999, p. 49-51, and Richard Lapper, UN Fears Growth of Heroin Trade, Financial Times, 24 February 2000).

Based on 2003 figures, drug trafficking constitutes “the third biggest global commodity in cash terms after oil and the arms trade.” (The Independent, 29 February 2004).

Afghanistan and Colombia are the largest drug producing economies in the world, which feed a flourishing criminal economy. These countries are heavily militarized. The drug trade is protected. Amply documented the CIA has played a central role in the development of both the Latin American and Asian drug triangles.

The IMF estimated global money laundering to be between 590 billion and 1.5 trillion dollars a year, representing 2-5 percent of global GDP. (Asian Banker, 15 August 2003). A large share of global money laundering as estimated by the IMF is linked to the trade in narcotics.

Legal Business and Illicit Trade are Intertwined
There are powerful business and financial interests behind narcotics. From this standpoint, geopolitical and military control over the drug routes is as strategic as oil and oil pipelines.

Moreover, the above figures including those on money laundering, confirm that the bulk of the revenues associated with the global trade in narcotics are not appropriated by terrorist groups and warlords, as suggested by the UNODC report. In the case of Afghanistan, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that a mere 2.7 billion accrues as revenue within Afghanistan.

According to the US State department “Afghanistan drug profits support the Taliban and their terrorism efforts against the United States, its allies and the Afghan government.” (statement, the House Appropriations foreign operations, export financing and related programs subcommittee. September 12, 2006)

However, what distinguishes narcotics from legal commodity trade is that narcotics constitutes a major source of wealth formation not only for organized crime but also for the US intelligence apparatus, which increasingly constitutes a powerful actor in the spheres of finance and banking. This relationship has been documented by several studies including the writings of Alfred McCoy. (Drug Fallout: the CIA’s Forty Year Complicity in the Narcotics Trade. The Progressive, 1 August 1997).

In other words, intelligence agencies, powerful business, drug traders and organized crime are competing for the strategic control over the heroin routes. A large share of this multi-billion dollar revenues of narcotics are deposited in the Western banking system. Most of the large international banks together with their affiliates in the offshore banking havens launder large amounts of narco-dollars.

This trade can only prosper if the main actors involved in narcotics have “political friends in high places.” Legal and illegal undertakings are increasingly intertwined, the dividing line between “businesspeople” and criminals is blurred. In turn, the relationship among criminals, politicians and members of the intelligence establishment has tainted the structures of the state and the role of its institutions including the Military.

Related Article: The Spoils of War: Afghanistan’s Multibillion Dollar Heroin Trade, by Michel Chossudovsky, July 2005

Table 1

Opium Poppy Cultivation in Afghanistan
Year Cultivation (hectares) Yeild (tons)

1994 71,470 3,400
1995 53,759 2,300
1996 56,824 2,200
1997 58,416 2,800
1998 63,674 2,700
1999 90,983 4,600
2000 82,172 3,300
2001 7,606 185
2002 74,000 3400
2003 80,000 3600
2004 131,000 4200
2005 104,000 3800
2006 165,000** 6100**

** estimates.
Source: United Nations,,

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Centre for Research on Globalization. © Copyright Michel Chossudovsky,, 2006