Counter-Terrorism: Drugs, Religion and the Secret Empires

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July 12, 2008: With so many major nations cooperating against terrorism and illegal addictive drugs, more intel agencies and political leaders are coming to accept that the two scourges are interlinked, and a global problem.

First, the extent of the problem. The most widely used drug is marijuana (and it's refined version, hashish). There are about 170 million users of these products worldwide. Many live in rural areas where marijuana grows wild and legal restrictions are not energetically enforced. But in many urban areas, marijuana is a major source of income for gangsters, and some terrorist groups. Not as profitable as cocaine and heroin, and harder to smuggle (because of the bulk), but it is still a major threat because it has such a large market.

More debilitating drugs like heroin and cocaine are more expensive, more potent and have less than 20 percent of the market of marijuana and hashish. Cocaine and heroin are more likely to disable users, including much higher risk of accidental death. The 30 million cocaine or heroin users (about 60 percent of them for the easier to use and less debilitating cocaine) are actually dwarfed by the slightly larger number of addicts for synthetic drugs (everything from methamphetamine to Ecstasy and especially prescription drugs). But cocaine and heroin come from farm crops (coca for cocaine, poppies for heroin) that are very profitable for poor farmers in places like the South American highlands (coca) or Central Asia (Afghanistan at the moment). In both these places, the illegal crops account for the majority of the supply for that illegal drug on the planet. In the case of cocaine, the drug is largely produced by gangsters, with some help from political outlaws (mostly leftist groups). There is some terrorism, but it is all local.

The big danger is the heroin trade, where Islamic terrorists have partnered with tribe based drug gangs to produce most of the world's heroin. For decades after World War II, most of the heroin came   from the remote Burma (now Myanmar)-China border area. But both of those nations eventually cracked down on that business, and it moved to Pakistan for a while, but was forced, by a violent government reaction, across the border into Afghanistan.

The Afghan government is reluctant to shut down the heroin trade, partly because many senior government officials are being bribed, and partly because it would cause more tribal warfare (most of the tribes oppose the heroin trade, and only a few of the Pushtun tribes in the south control most of the heroin production). Moreover, there is the likelihood that the poppy growing and heroin production would just move to another Central Asian nation. The Islamic terrorists would follow. So the problem really is to crush, or otherwise neutralize, the Taliban, al Qaeda and other Islamic radicals who are sustaining their violence via drug profits.

It is interesting that the two major illegal drugs are both produced in small regions, areas that are dominated by outlaw armies and a general absence of law and order. Illegal empires for illegal drugs, and it's been that way for quite a while.

 


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