Getting Afghanistan together
President Asif Ali Zardari is supposed to have told the visiting US Assistant Secretary of State, Mr Richard Boucher, that the growing production of drugs in Afghanistan was having ill effects in Pakistan since the terrorists were now being funded increasingly with drug money. He said one reason terrorism had increased was Pakistan’s interdiction of the drug routes in Pakistan, and if the war against terrorism had to be won the allied forces in Afghanistan must stop drug production in Afghanistan. This was important, he argued, because the battle in Pakistan was turning and local tribal lashkars were increasingly taking on the intruders.
There are differing accounts of the scale of poppy production in Afghanistan, which is later turned into heroin and smuggled out of Afghanistan. The total money thus made in Afghanistan is said to be around $4 billion, out of which a trickle coming into the hands of the terrorists in Pakistan is enough to tilt the scales. According to Pakistan, 28 out of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan are producing poppy, but the British Foreign Secretary Mr David Miliband says only 16 are still involved in it. Whatever the right figure, some money from drugs is coming into the coffers of Al Qaeda from this sector. Of course, this is not the only source of income the terrorists have. The Taliban run their own government, taking their cut from the smuggling activity going on in the area under their control.
The flaw lay in the early US policy in Afghanistan when the Americans wanted as many Afghan elements on their side as possible because of the Rumsfeldian policy of having a minimum of American soldiers on ground. The warlords, already notorious for changing sides and amassing illegal wealth through smuggling and kidnapping for ransom, were actually bought off with millions of dollars. Later these warlords allowed massive cultivation of poppy in areas under their control and began another round of global circulation of heroin with Afghanistan marked on it as country of origin.
This has affected governance in Afghanistan. The warlords have jealously guarded their territories and not allowed the Karzai government to extend its outreach from the city of Kabul. What is worse, the government has got involved in the smuggling of drugs or facilitating it for a cut because funds are scarce or are monitored so strictly by the donors that the rulers have problems of personal liquidity. As we have seen from the attitudes bred by heroin-smuggling in Pakistan in the early 1990s, the rulers in Kabul might actually be looking at heroin as Afghanistan’s “response” to what they see as neglect on the part of the international community.
What is worse is that Britain has set another trend that must demoralise the Karzai government and everyone else. Two important British personages in Afghanistan have stated that the war in Afghanistan cannot be won and that the only way to solve the problem of terrorism was to negotiate with the Taliban. As The Economist put it: “Two reported sets of comments by senior British figures — the ambassador to Kabul, Sherard Cowper-Coles, and the recently-departed British military commander (of the Helmand province), Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith — have raised concern that the British are tiring of the fight”. Now both gentlemen are saying that they were “misrepresented”, causing more confusion.
The Pakistani establishment must detect a trend in allied thinking that cannot encourage it too much. The Americans have come down very hard on Pakistan every time it has engaged in dialogue with the militants and made “peace” deals with them. In fact the claim was that each deal made in the Tribal Areas had led to the escalation in the Taliban forays into Afghanistan. But now the British have set off a new “retreating” opinion which is being repeated by the Americans commanders too because they know that the Bush Administration is about to leave the scene. The joint UK-US line is that the time to leave for them will draw near as the Afghan army and police get on with the job in sufficient numbers. Mr Miliband is looking forward to the day the Afghan army will increase from its present strength of 65,000 to 134,000 by 2012.
The war in Afghanistan is for the long term. Both Afghanistan and Pakistan have to fight it and both will have to be helped by the international community if it doesn’t want to become hostage to the global strategy of Al Qaeda. The year 2008 is crucial because this is where the global economy will demonstrate its ability to survive. This is also the year when Al Qaeda will have to be taken on in real earnest. Or the economic survival of Afghanistan and Pakistan will be negated by the anarchic dominance of the terrorists. (Daily Times)