Afghanistan: It's The Heroin After All

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November 22, 2007: The UN estimates that drug production is now a $4 billion a year business in Afghanistan. That's up 27 percent over last year. Since the Afghan GDP is $7.5 billion, that makes the illegal drug trade the source of more than half the national income. This money is not taxed, and is generally controlled by men who have little interest in supporting a national government. The drug lords tend to remain loyal to their tribes, thus increasing the power of the tribes against the central government. Only about a third of the population is involved in the drug trade. About 90 percent of those people (mainly the farmers) receive 25 percent of that drug income. That's several times what they would make with traditional endeavors (frowing wheat). The other 75 percent goes to the government and tribal officials (for bribes) and the drug operation leadership. As a result, thousands of Afghans are getting very rich, but illegally. These guys consider themselves above the law, and have the guns, cash and loyal followers to make that happen.

The Taliban and the drug lords have common cause in keeping the government weak. The Taliban have let it be known that, if they regain control of the government, it will be like the old days (the 1990s) when the Taliban let the drug lords run free, as long as they paid taxes and played by Taliban rules (keep all "vice" indoors or otherwise out of sight). But many drug gangs oppose the Taliban, because they see a return to Taliban rule as once more using Afghanistan as a base for al Qaeda. These drug lords are not stupid, and they realize that al Qaeda is nothing but trouble. Ideally, the drug gangs would just like to get some kind of pliable tyrant running the national government, so the drug business can proceed unhindered. The drug lords look for an arrangements similar to what the Chinese warlords had in north Burma until the 1980s (when the Burmese and Chinese governments finally moved in and shut down most of the world's heroin production), or Colombia during the 1990s (when the cocaine gangs controlled large portions of the country). The druggies have a shot at that, because Afghanistan's normal condition is divided into tribal territories, with a "national government" whose main job is to deal with foreigners, and keep them out. For centuries, the world was willing to live with that. But now that Afghanistan is shipping out heroin and Islamic terrorism, the world has an incentive to interfere in Afghan affairs. That is not easy, as the usually quite poor Afghans are quite happy with all the cash they get for the heroin. The Taliban are another matter, and are there to represent for a few Pushtun tribes that are too religious and too intent on running the country. The Taliban are a big deal mainly for foreign journalists. For most Afghans, it's the heroin, stupid!

November 21, 2007: A Pakistani tribal leader, Nawabzada Balach Marri, was killed in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province, along with several aids and bodyguards. Marri was prominent in the Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA), which seeks autonomy, or independence for southwest Pakistan. There, the Baluchi tribes (cousins of the Pushtun tribes) dominate. Many of the Baluchi tribes support the drug trade and the Taliban, although the Baluchi are not as into the Taliban customs, or establishing a religious dictatorship.

November 20, 2007: The government is continuing to shut down private security companies, many of which are actually criminal gangs using the "private security" thing as a front. For the moment, legitimate security firms, primarily the nine that provide security for UN and other international organizations, will be allowed to operate. Another 80 firms, many run by Afghans, will be driven out of business.

 

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