Monday, May 18, 2009

The Drug War: NYT Clueless on Afganistan

By Gretchen Peters, author of Seeds of Terror: How Heroin Is Bankrolling the Taliban and Al Qaeda

LINK - From The New York Times

So far, Western-led efforts to fight the opium trade in Afghanistan have focused mainly on eradicating poppy crops, a policy that has done little to hamper the drug lords and simply victimized poppy farmers and poor sharecroppers who work the land. As the Obama administration overhauls strategy in Afghanistan, installing Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal as the top commander, the focus of antidrug efforts should be on the smugglers and drug processors.

First, there must be stepped-up efforts to take down powerful traffickers like Mr. Khan and to cut off the Taliban’s opium profits, which the United Nations calculates to be worth $400 million a year. Their greatest earnings don’t come at the farming level, but from protecting shipments leaving farm areas and taxing drug refineries.

A good start would be using air attacks to destroy drug convoys carrying opium on smuggling trails toward the Pakistani border, using the same infrared technology employed along the Mexican border to avoid hitting civilian vehicles. Working with local law enforcement, NATO forces must also establish checkpoints along major arteries and border crossings and search all vehicles for drugs — even those belonging to senior Afghan government officials and their relatives. Taliban warriors may be able to slip over the mountainous borders in secret, but large drug shipments often go by road.

In October, NATO gave its commanders a mandate to destroy drug refineries, but many have been reluctant to do so. Not only should they take the offensive, but they should put an emphasis on arresting the chemists and other specialists operating the labs, who are difficult to replace. Some NATO nations in the Afghan coalition have placed restrictions on their troops that prevent them from participating in American-led counternarcotics operations. That’s short-sighted, given that Afghan heroin tends to end up on European streets. Until such restrictions are dropped, troops from those nations should be deployed to provide security, freeing up American and Afghan soldiers for combat linked to the opium trade.

In addition, until Afghanistan’s notoriously weak judiciary and police can be reformed, we should bring any major smugglers to the United States for trial, as was done with Mr. Khan.

Stopping the drug flow is only half the battle: the money flows along separate routes from the opium, and disrupting financial flows may be tougher. To that end, Washington should subsidize efforts to regulate both Afghanistan’s bank transfers and the informal hawala network, the subcontinent’s unregulated version of the Western Union. Most hawala transfers are legitimate — Western aid groups in Afghanistan, for example, use it to send funds to rural field offices. But the system also moves drug money. The Treasury Department has put together a sound proposal that would not add costs for those using the hawala system but would allow the authorities to track who sent how much money, and to whom.

My Letter To The Editor:

I am extremely disappointed The New York Times decided to publish the opinion of Gretchen Peters regarding The War on Drugs in Afganistan. Despite travelling to the country in question and attempting an interview, she fails to provide any insight or new information about the subject. What she does provide, however, is a disturbing rehash of the failed policies we have employed in the War on Drugs in this country. That somehow, by using gang war tactics ("A good start would be using air attacks to destroy drug convoys") we can bully the growers and sellers and distributers of narcotics into ceasing their operations and going and getting a job at Walmart instead.

But Afganistan doesnt have a Walmart. It doesnt have almost any of the hallmarks of a 21st Century, 1st world society - including a solid educational system or a strong job market. The idea that somehow we can bully these people into giving up the one trade that pays for everything - and has for hundreds of years - is preposterous. We cant win The War on Drugs in our own country - a 21st century society with all the trimmings - so what, besides hubris, makes Gretchen Peters think we can win it in Afganistan, where its becoming increasingly obvious that we cant control anything?


Chronic said...

Do we bomb drug smugglers in America? How can someone even suggest something so ridiculous? That solid police inforcement can somehow be replaced with military might? That criminals and terrorists can somehow be fought with planes and bombs and ships?

Newsflash: you cant just kill everybody you dont like. Even if what they are doing is illegal and you are morally opossed to it for whatever reason, there are sound, sane, legal, and moral ways of dealing with these people which dont involve a guided missle being judge, jury and executioner.

Beyond all that, its a War which simply cant be won - no matter what tactic we use. The past 30 years of law enforcement in the US, Mexico and Columbia has proven that beyond all refute. Afganistan has to grow as a country culturally and economically before we see the importance of opium on its bottom line decline.

If we really want to help the AFgans, we need to help them grow their economy as fast as possible. What that means is simply education. They need to increase the number of highly educated, trained and skilled young men and women and that requires new schools and new teachers - with new ideas.

Rather than throwing money and people and weapons at a problem that cant be solved - we should try to fix the source of them problem - a weak local economy and disheveled educational system. If we cant eliminate the drug trade, we should at least show people that there are viable, profitable alternatives to it.


Her plan to have the Tresury Dept regulate the hawala system is perhaps the most ridiculously preposterous. Thats like having the IRS do the accounting for your illegal numbers game. Could a person possibly be more naive to suggest such a thing? Im appalled the New York Times published her opinion, so I wrote them to let them know how I feel.

His Noodly Appendage said...

In Turkey, nearly a million poppy farmers are supported by a regulated market where they sell their product to pharmicutical companies. Farmers caught selling their product on the black market face a lifetime ban. This clearly is a better solution than predator drones.

Just imagine the uproar if Mexico started using drones to take out suspected dealers in the US claiming these people are funding the drug cartels in their country. Instead Mexico has taken the opposite approach and is close to legalizing small possession of all drugs.

Obama's admin seems to be doing nothing but re-branding the failed drug war. They are paying lip service to those that favor treatment and harm reduction over punitive law enforcement solutions, but their budget shows the exact opposite priorities.