• Saleem Qamar Butt

Afghanistan Peace Dialogue: Malicious Protuberance of ‘Drugs Narrative’



The latest round of talks between the United States and the Taliban ended on March 12th, 2019 in Doha without a formal agreement, but with cautious optimism on both sides with main discussion revolving around observing a general cease-fire, withdrawal of US and allied forces, commencement of dialogue between Taliban and the Afghan government and a pledge by Taliban to harbour no foreign terrorist organizations on Afghan soil. In the backdrop of these ongoing negotiations, a new narrative is being projected subtly by some Western writers that the prospective deal with Taliban should also address Opium/ drugs production that is being used as a main source of funding for the Taliban and other terrorist organizations operating in Afghanistan. Is it simply a much delayed wakeup call or an admission of failure to address this menace as US, Allies and Afghan Government have been laying claims for control on more than 60% of the area plus effective defeat of AQ and ISIK etc since long; or else the fresh narrative is aimed at something different. Some analysts believe that the peace negotiations are unlikely to achieve Washington’s main national security objective in Afghanistan i.e. preventing the formation of a terrorist safe haven, if they do not include a plan to directly address the country’s opium problem.

Reportedly, the United States has spent almost $9 billion to stem narcotics production over the course of the war. The most recent UN survey reports that opium cultivation in Afghanistan is at its second-highest level since 1994. Largely based in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, along the irrigated shores of the Helmand River, this multi-billion-dollar trade has turned the country into the “opium capital of the world.” The industry makes up half of Afghanistan’s GDP and provides roughly 85 percent of the world’s opium. According to the given estimates, the drug trade makes up 65 percent of the Taliban’s revenues, besides filling pockets of several other groups that the U.S. State Department has designated as terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda, the Taliban called Haqqani network and an anti Pakistan proxy named the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan.

The above data raise quite a few questions: Why Helmand and Kandahar despite remaining under effective US/ Allies control in the last 17 years remained under poppy cultivation? Why former Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s brother and other War lords that formed the Afghan government during the same period kept thriving on drugs production and trade right under the American nose? How about allegations by Russian and Central Asian Republics’ (CARs) intelligence and think tanks on CIA running drug business through CARs in connivance with Afghan war lords? Why this issue is being raised now after 18 long years....fear of losing or changing the controlling beneficiaries’ hands to opponents (Taliban) who had otherwise effectively controlled drugs and opium production during their rule? Why project at the moment that Afghanistan’s terrorism problem cannot be separated from the opium that is its lifeline? Why forecast now that a sustainable peace agreement cannot pass this issue over? Why emphasize at this point that any future U.S. negotiations with the Taliban must include a long-term, multilateral counter narcotics strategy that tackles the issue at its political and economic roots? Or is it yet another attempt to further complicate the prospects of success of ongoing peace dialogue as if main disagreements over four interconnected issues (including the Taliban breaking off ties with groups designated as terrorists by Washington, the timetable of a U.S. military withdrawal, a cease-fire in Afghanistan, and an intra-Afghan dialogue that would include the Taliban and government representatives) were not enough to support US’ deep state’s desire to prolong the agonizing stay till fulfilment of their cherished hidden goals?

Reportedly, in 2004, Khalilzad, then the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, and Ashraf Ghani, then Afghanistan’s finance minister, both opposed Secretary of State Colin Powell’s aerial defoliation plan, warning that it would likely aggravate “widespread impoverishment.” It was thought at that juncture that a more sustainable strategy would gradually shift Afghanistan’s agricultural output to high-value alternative crops such as rice and tap into the country’s undeveloped mineral resources, but strangely it was never seriously followed up in next 15 years. Moreover, instead of getting help from border sharing Pakistan that had effectively eliminated opium production from erstwhile tribal areas along Pak-Afghan international borders; maliciously India was propped up to do some magic in Afghanistan that only created more and more proxies to wage a covert war in Pakistan from the West, applying triple squeeze strategy, though in vain. Therefore, picking up the much ignored argument now that the appeal of large swaths of ungoverned land and a high-margin, illicit cash crop is hard to beat is fallaciously ominous and most probably linked to finding a space for India to find a lingering role in Afghanistan and CARs in the garb of providing alternative economic lure and promotion of TAPI versus CPEC. Hence, China, Pakistan and CARs have to read in between the lines for untimely protuberance of a malicious narrative.

26th March, 2019

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