US and Britain accused of creating heroin trail
War on terrorism: Drugs Trade
By Raymond Whitaker in Islamabad
06 October 2001
uit de Independent van 6 oktober

Pakistan's hapless army of three million drug addicts has found that the
price of oblivion has halved since the world was thrown into crisis on 11
September. Some of the purest heroin in the world, produced just over the
border in Afghanistan, can be had in the streets of Peshawar, Quetta and
other cities for as little as 20p a gram.
The sudden torrent of heroin, opium and hashish is being described as the
Afghan regime's ultimate weapon. Afghanistan is already responsible for
three-quarters of the world's heroin exports, and the Taliban have
threatened that if they are attacked, they will lift a ban on opium poppy
production in the areas they control.
But as Tony Blair may have discovered during his visit here yesterday, few
issues in this region are simple, least of all the drugs trade. When they
banned poppy growing, the Taliban were accused of cynically attempting to
manipulate the drugs market by squeezing supplies. Now, it is claimed, the
Afghan regime is flooding the market. The price of a kilogram of opium in
Pakistan soared from $44 (30) to $400 after the ban and before 11
September. Immediately afterwards, it surged further to $746 before slumping
Asked to explain the sudden fall in the street price of heroin, a narcotics
official said it could indicate sales by terrorists needing to finance their
operations because their bank accounts had been frozen across the world. But
at the same time, he added, it was the probable result of a market decision
by thousands of smaller players seeking to sell stocks while they could.
"Drugs are a currency in Afghanistan and border areas of Pakistan," he said.
"Farmers, traders and ordinary people keep drugs in their homes rather than
money in the bank. Today we are in a war situation, so what do people do?
They go to the market and sell their assets to realise cash, just as people
in the West sell shares."
Britain has just released a detailed indictment of Osama bin Laden, his
al-Qa'ida network and their Taliban protectors, which accuses them of
jointly exploiting the drugs trade. American officials agree, and have
leaked a sensational though thinly substantiated claim that Mr bin Laden's
group tried to develop a "super-powerful" brand of heroin that would enslave
Western addicts yet further. They admit, however, that proof that either the
Taliban or al-Qa'ida actually control the trade is hard to find.
When the Taliban swept to power in Afghanistan in 1996, the drugs industry
was already well established. The movement imposed taxes on poppy
cultivation, just like the ones that existed for other crops, and charged
fees for narcotics production, which brought in $15m to $27m annually,
according to a United Nations report. Just over a year ago it finally
fulfilled its promises to stamp out poppy growing, reducing production from
3,100 tons in 2000 to virtually nothing in the first half of this year,
again according to the United Nations.
But the criminal gangs in charge of refining and distribution remain
powerful, and the Taliban did nothing to stop the production and export of
heroin from existing stockpiles. The threat to allow poppies to grow again
could be a sign of the movement's weakness rather than its strength,
observers say. It may be seeking to regain lost support from farmers angered
by the ban. One source said confiscated weapons had been returned to farmers
in an effort to enlist them in a struggle against any US-led attack.
Before the present intelligence offensive, attempts to link Mr bin Laden
directly to drugs had been vague. Congressional staff in Washington who had
seen the files said he did not actually traffic in drugs, but made money
from the trade by hiring out his fighters to guard refineries and escort
convoys on their way out through Iran. The Taliban rake off money from drugs
in similar ways. A report to the House of Commons accuses them of protecting
stockpiles - but the narcotics official scoffed at the idea of "mullahs
selling heroin".
There is also the uncomfortable fact that almost half the heroin flowing out
of Afghanistan is thought to come from areas controlled by the Northern
Alliance, the West's putative partner in the campaign to oust the Taliban.
Any expansion of the alliance's territory could see an increase in the drugs
In his meeting last night with Mr Blair, Pakistan's military President,
General Pervez Musharraf, would have been entitled to point out to his
visitor that the drugs trade had its origins in the war against the Soviet
occupiers of Afghanistan in the 1980s. The Afghan mujahedin, with the full
knowledge of the intelligence agencies of America, Britain and other allies,
refined and exported heroin - previously unknown in this part of the world -
to finance their struggle. Evidence even exists that the CIA encouraged the
spread of hard drugs to demoralise Russian troops.