Monday, April 7, 2008

To reopen the broken Stilwell Road or to use the existing low level all weather excellent Lohit Valley road to China for trade

Implications of the bridge over Lohit at Parsuramankund :

People from the North East keep talking about reopening the Ledo Road also known as the Stilwell Road to Kunming, China via Myktina in Myanmar for trade and tourism. They obviously do not know that there is a low level motorable road right up to the China Border along the Lohit river.
Read on.
Last June, a bridge over the Lohit river near the famous Parsuraman Kund in Wakhro district of East Arunachal Pradesh was opened. This bridge took more than 20 years to build, and for the past three months has already been making making life easy for the people of this hitherto marooned district in Aruanchal Pradesh. People from Lohit can now visit markets, educational and medical centers in Upper Assam throughout the year. Avoiding a 4 hour journey over two pontoon bridges and one ferry and over a 20 kms sand bed in the non rainy season. With the Namsai bridge over the Dihing this bridge is the last link to complete the now all weather road right up to the Indo-Tibet border at Kahao beyond Walong from Dibrugarh in Upper Assam. From Sama, the Tibetan village just across there is a good road deep into Tibet and all the way to Chengdu in Sczchewuan.
The border is around 400 kms from Dibrugarh. International trade possibilities are limitless, provided quick and right decisions are made regardless of the security phobia that usually scuttles such optimism.

There is bound to be an improvement in the economic lives of the Mishmis and Megyors (of Tibetan origin in and around Walong) and in their health. They will be able to market their vegetables and colourful sarongs easily in Upper Assam and later perhaps in adjoining Tibet. The large quantity of vegetables that are grown in the Mishmi Hills will not rot. There is a Mishmi Ladies Economic Welfare Society, amongst many others, that was preparing for just such an opportunity. The maintenance and stocking of Primary health centers and schools will also improve. This district till now used to be cut off from the neighbouring districts of Arunachal for about 5 months in a year. Five years back I had seen, in April, exam papers being ferried across the Lohit on elelphant back. It will no longer be the most cut off district in Arunachal and the North East.

The Lohit valley and hills are a continuation of the precious stones rich Precambrian rocks of Mogok range of Myanmar. Near Walong traces of pyrite and calc silicate have been found raising hope for commercial exploitation. Then there are huge amounts of limestone around Tidding just off the Tezu – Hayuliang Road. Marble deposits have been found in the Doloi valley near Tezu, Hayuliyang and Walong. Other metals that have been detected in this district are graphite, and molybedite. Their exploitation can soon bring sorely needed employment to the youth of this area, who were leaving this district for better prospects

This belt from Chowkham till Walong is also an increasing illicit opium cultivating belt. Even after 60 years of independence opium is still being used for medicinal purposes by the Mishmis of the hills and the Khamptis of the plains from Dirok till Namsai as Public Health Centres are not dependable. With this all weather road enforcement will be easy and so will giving medical attention to all who need it thus hopefully spelling an end to this evil. With new economic opportunities available some of these youth cultivating opium will not need to depend on this noxious weed as their sole source of support.

A very important possibility that this bridge provides is that Arunachal and Upper Assam will have the quickest link to Tibet along the entire Indo-Tibet border. The economic benefit of such a link can accrue only when a brave policy decision is taken. Till 1952 there was a Tibetan Trade Agent posted in Tezu (before the 1950 earthquake he was in Sadiya) and an Indian one in Rima (Zayui as it is now called). With an all weather connection to Tibet available there is no reason, strategic or econominc, that these links can not be resumed. Kahao (India) is the lowest point (about 1600 m only) along the entire Indo-Tibet border and for this reason access to Tibet can be assured around the year. A few days may be lost during monsoons when there are landslides on some portions of this road. The Walong-Kibithoo (Kahao)- Zayui (2325 m) border crossing can be the most important one along the entire border 5000 kms long border. This low altitude road is a very convenient link with Eastern Tibet which being Tibet's most populous side also has the largest network of roads in all Tibet, and it is expanding too. The interior of Tibet is high altitude and getting supplies in winter is difficult. In winter Upper Assam and Lohit district can send fresh vegetables, fruit, meat etc to Eastern Tibet. It is also a much more accessible route to Kunming than the Stilwell Road, which has limited capabilities. In contiguous areas of Upper Assam are enormous deposits of low ash content coal. Sending this coal to Kunming by the Stilwell Road as many people had suggested is a pipe dream as Kunming has similar variety of coal. But to send it to Eastern Tibet is easier as they will have ready use for it. Tar for road building is an easy extract from this type of coal and with the intensified road building activity in that part of China the market for this coal will be literally at both door steps.

The closest town in Tibet is Rima or Zayui (also the Tibetan name for River Lohit). It is about 50 kms from the border. Chengtu, in the Central Chinese province of Szechwan and also the important E. Tibetan town of Qamdo can now be more accessible for Indian goods, which the resource rich industrial center of Kunming can not be. The trade possibilities are immense for both sides. From Bangda, half way to Qamdo from Zoyul a road goes to Chengdu and another to Kunming. If a route to Kunming is required this, although longer one, would be easier and cheaper than the Stilwell Road, 1300 kms of which will have to be widened and strengthened at immense cost.

For these plans to fructify political and bureaucratic will is necessary. On the 19 th of May, 2006, while addressing a press conference in Guwahati the Minister of State for Commerce, Jairam Ramesh, dismissed the opening up of the Stilwell Road as strategically unfeasible. He had given the wrong reason for the right decision. The 1700 kms long Stilwell Road linked Upper Assam with Kunming in Yunan, China during the last days of World War II. It was a one way road and was used only twice before military planners realized that supplying by air was much more effective. To reopen it would be an economically disastrous proposal. To use security as the main reason is short sighted and a weak kneed policy. What is the Indian Government worried about? That China or Myanmar will encourage insurgency? Even without their help the insurgents in the North East have survived. Do they fear that insurgents will be able to use the road to further their nefarious purposes? Insurgents will not use a patrolled road, unless security men have been bought over, and would prefer to cross through jungles.

If refineries and huge power plants can come up close to the Indo-Pakistan border in Punjab and more and more road and rail links opened to that country, why can not trade with China be resumed along the Dibrugarh-Tezu-Kahao-Rima (Zayui) road? Are the policy makers scared of Chinese goods flooding the markets in the North East? If they could only walk in any market any where in the North East and many in the rest of the country they will see that Chinese goods are in abundance in any case, and most of them have been smuggled in. A trans border road will channel this trade and at least some duties can be collected from it. Hopefully, more people in the entire belt from Jorhat-Dibrugarh upwards will improve economically and not just a few, who keep benefiting from such improvements usually. I must add that while we are too strict about even Indians visiting Walong and beyond, the Chinese have no qualms at all about letting foreigners roam at will in Zayui and even upto the border. It is the way that one looks at a situation is the key difference. For the Chinese development is the key word, while for us it is suspicion and irresponsible bureaucratic arrogance that delays inevitable change.

Strategic reasons, which no one defines or describes, should no longer be the excuse for blocking economic regeneration of the North East. With fairer distribution of resources even insurgency may be finished.

The two pictures at the beginning of this blog are of the road to Pangsau Pass via Digboi and Jagun, and the view of Shibwiyang Lake in Burma from Pangsau Pass. The two lower pictures are of the Lohit Valley road to Kahao (Kibithoo) on the Tibet Border . Compare the two roads. I needn't write more!

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Romesh Bhattacharji

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Afghanistan's Narcotics dilemma- a possible solution

Afghanistan: Galloping opium production and insurgency. .. A solution ….#2

The problem in Afghanistan is narcotics. That it supports the Taleban insurgency is no longer a secret. Even to the Americans. US Army Genl Dan K McNeil and ISAF Commander in early 2007 admitted “I don’t believe that we can deal with the insurgency in a complete fashion without taking on the issue of poppy.” The latest UN Rapid Survey for 2007 has projected 8200 tons of opium, an increase of 34% over the previous year. This means that in 2008 the rebels will cause more mayhem. During the days of the much maligned Najibullah Government of the 80s the average area under opium cultivation was around 10,000 hectares annually, but when its fall became imminent it shot up to 25,000 in 1987 and 32,000 in 1988, after which it continued leaping. There is such a glut that opium prices have started to fall. The whole sale retail price of opium after has fallen from $ 94 per kg in 2006 to $ 86 per kg in 2007. The farmer gets about $ 35 per kg as he has to pay protection money to the Taleban and hush money to Anti Narcotics officers. Not very encouraging for a billion dollars spent annually. The narcotics trade is about 53% of Afghanistan’s GDP of $ 7.5 billion.

Illicit opium cultivation increased when the Americans encouraged the Mujahideen in the late 80s and the Taleban in the 90s to fight against the Najibullah Government. It bankrolled that war. These links, still alive, have made it impossible for the Karzai Government to even reduce opium production.

This intimacy has ensured the appointment of many ex-Mujahideen and ex-Taleban as officials in the Karzai government despite 9/11. Without American patronage this could never have happened. And it is not that the Americans are innocent of reality. In Dec 2005 from the house of the then Governor of Helmand, Sher Muhammad Akhundzada, an ex-Taleb, 9 tons of opium were seized. As he was too precious for the American and British Military Intelligence and diplomats to be punished he was installed as an MP in the Afghan National Assembly. With such splendid collaboration with narcotic traffickers there can be no reduction in the opium production in Afghanistan. Collusion and corruption are the reasons for Karzai Government’s failure in curbing opium cultivation.

There are other such shocking instances. In 2001 the West and the UN certified that the Talban had kept their promise of preventing opium cultivation. They claimed only 185 tons had been produced. In 2000 and 2001 the Indian Government had monitored by satellite some poppy growing areas of Southern Afghanistan, and they learnt that it was drought that had reduced the opium as well as other crops, and not Taleban’s restraint. Pictures #1 and # 2 show the Achin area in Nangarhar in 2000 and 2001. These pictures do not show much difference in opium cultivation, but the an obliging team from 8 nations and the UN that was escorted there by Pakistani officials and Taleban soldiers in March 2001 to a nearby area said that there was no opium crop. In some areas of Nangarhar where there was little shortage of water opium production was almost normal. The West and its embedded correspondents were so eager to be deceived that they praised and are still praising the Taleban for their imagined abstinence in 2001. This refusal to cut off ties with these bigoted unruly hordes is what is maintaining them.

For the past three years reports have been increasing about US troops facilitating narcotics trafficking to Europe and Russia. They reportedly ferry it to their air bases in Kyrghystan, Turkey and Germany. This development was inevitable as opium cultivation has somehow led an improbably charmed life. Recently, Mr. Z. Kabulov, the Russian Ambassador to Afghanistan, publicly voiced his country’s concern about this trafficking by US forces.

One billion dollars a year are spent against narcotics trafficking in Afghanistan every year, and yet opium fields keep increasing. With that amount the entire opium crop could be bought easily. Iran which spends less than 1/6th this amount is thrice as successful in seizing drugs. They also loose at least 300 soldiers every year. Addiction in Iran to Afghan heroin is increasing as it has become the most important transit route for heroin to Central Asia, Europe and Russia. In 2007 Iran seized 231,352 kgs of Afghan opium as compared to Afghanistan’s 90,990 kgs. Afghanistan seized 9079 kgs of heroin while Pakistan seized 24,341 kgs, Iran 12,493 kgs and China 9085 kgs. Thus, Afghanistan which produces 93% of world’s opium and heroin seizes only 27% of opium and 10% of heroin.

In 2007 about 193,000 hectares of opium were cultivated from 21 provinces instead of 165,000 from 28 the year before. Not only is opium cultivation getting concentrated in a fewer provinces but the yield is getting higher. From 37 kgs in 2006 to 42.5 kgs per hectare in 2007. The production in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar continues to leap frighteningly every year. It more than makes up for the loss of opium from the so called opium free provinces. Now, Nimroz, the province in the SW that was only famous for producing heroin has produced 372 tons of opium in 2007 an increase of 301 tons over 2006!

There is a new Golden Triangle emerging. It covers contiguous territories of Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. Within this 70% of opium is produced, 90% of heroin and all most all of it is trafficked from here.

Afghanistan has a 920 kms long border with Iran. Most of it is easy to cross deserts. The Iranians have set up 70 forts on their side of the border and have also constructed 28 forts for Afghanistan. Despite these forts, latest wireless and arms, and smartest SUVs available anything can go across or be brought in. The trickle down effect from this Iran corridor has caused a phenomenal rise in addiction. More than 2 million in Iran, and the number keeps increasing.
The most sensitive province within this province is Nimroz. That is where India is building a more than 300 kms long road from Zaranj to Delaram, where most of this province’s opium is being cultivated now. The eastern line (Map # 1) of this Golden Triangle starts from Herat and joins Zhob in Pakistan’s NWFP. The western and 600 kms long southern lines are formed by the almost straight lines of the Afghanistan-Iran and Afghanistan-Pakistan borders.
Nimroz is Baluch area, as are the adjacent lands in Pakistan to the South and Iran to the West. This region is a series of deserts. Baluch run massive and numerous refining facilities openly flourish in Baramcha and Rudbar in SW Nimroz and close to Helmand. There is no law here. Though completely Baluch it has the protection of the Taleban, and except for a few superficial shows of force like silly ones of ISAF helicopters buzzing vehicles around Baramcha this town is largely left undisturbed in its work of producing high quality heroin. A Counter Narcotics Police offical told me in Zaranj that Baramcha has such big traffickers that they buy 5-6000 kgs of opium at a time. From here escorted convoys of 5-6 SUVs carrying heroin or opium machine gun their way to either Iran or Pakistan. A Police official of Nimroz mentioned that the big traders of Baramcha are Barahavi Baluch. One of the dozen largest traffickers is Juma Khan. He is a Baluch, and all his trafficking is done under the cover of a construction company called Rudbar, tauntingly named after a place called Rudbar near Baramcha. His huge high walled house in Zaranj is opposite the modest by comparison Governor’s office. The Governor Ghulam Dastgir Azad has his own militia that protects drug convoys too. At Kerta Post near the Iran border I was in a Border Police Convoy in Sept 2006 when it was fired upon by some of his militia. He charges India’s Border Roads Organisation for more than 1000 soldiers but provides only 360. His fondness for money has made him tolerant of narcotics smuggling. In November 2007 in a counter attack on him by Taleban supported traffickers one of his sons was killed. It is impossible with the prevailing corruption to do anything to dry the flood of opium, which is the only profitable industry and it employs 14% of the population.

The only narcotics pictures from Afghanistan the world sees are of opium poppy blooming or of opium fields. A few will be of the drugs market in Jalalabad. There is much more to trafficking than that. Opium has to be refined into heroin and then there is the dusty business of transporting it.

At Kurki, in North Nimroz’s Khash desert, I was surpised to see giant oil tankers drive in from Iran to fill up smaller tankers and thousands of lined up oil drums with petrol, diesel and kerosene. This was being done under the noses of gun toting Customs and Border Police officials, who were watching the operations from the roof tops of their posts. No one was interfering. As they were all profiting from it. In Herat to the north, border smuggling is not so open but is just as audacious. In post after lonely sand swept post I heard, from the soldiers no less, the familiar refrain of drugs being moved in cavalcades protected by anti tank rockets and heavy machine guns. Destitute Afghans too are trafficked in these convoys to Iran. In return come in precursor chemicals, arms, cars and POL.

I had lunch with some wealthy villagers of Khamona, a border village, from where several large seizures of opium and heroin have been made. They scornfully said that most of these seizures are actually tributes to the troops to show that they are doing their job. The main job of these forces is to make money. No matter how. All along this border I saw nothing to justify any hope. The soldiers and some of the strutting officers are illiterate. They have bribed to be recruited. Their low salary of $60/- is insufficient in a land where an egg costs 10 cents. Optimism is only for official reports so that more money can be wasted next year. The soldiers accuse their senior officers of being so wealthy that they own palaces in Kabul’s most expensive suburbs.

Smuggling on such a scale could not have been operated so confidently and openly without corruption. In Sherpur and Wazir Akbar Khan suburbs of Kabul numerous impossibly gaudy and extravagant million dollar mansions can be seen. A few such houses can also be seen in Herat, Kandahar, Lashkar Gah in Helmand, and Zaranj in Nimroz. The most popular joke in Afghanistan is this one: President Karzai was asked “When will corruption reduce in Afghanistan.” Karzai replies: “ How much will you give me to do that?” His own brother Ahmed Wali Karzai is reported to be the biggest benefactor and protector of all drug cartels. His tribe – Popalzai- are an opium growing tribe from South Kandahar. Hamid Karzai, once an ex-Taleb himself, has to, thus, tolerate such disgusting display of wealth in a country where most of his 28 million people earn less than $40/- a month.

Enforcement, Eradication, Training, Righteous Intentions, Contractors and a one billion dollar annual budget have failed. Might has not been right for the past 6 years. It is time to give other voices a chance.

Legalise the opium cultivation. This is what the Senlis Council’s Poppy for Medicine (P4M) plan is. Senlis is a think tank based in London and has offices in Kandahar and Helmand. After three years of research they found that enforcement has failed so far, and eradication targets only the hapless few.

By this plan the village council, known as shura, will supervise cultivation. It will have the power to delicense and penalize any farmer within its fold if he diverts opium. This will eliminate the venal Government. Profits will be shared amongst the village councils for development of their villages, and some sort of a tax kept for the Government. The State and Central Government will attend mainly to the security. Thus forming a Triad of sorts. The opium collected from a cluster of villages within a province will be converted into morphine. This will introduce technology and financial management amongst the village councils. Those farmers who do not give the minimum yield of opium fixed for their fields will not be allowed to grow opium next year. This aspect is borrowed from India’s experience in licit cultivation of opium.

Every year the Minimum Qualifying Yield will be raised, and thus gradually more and more farmers will be phased out. But they will be provided with other employment or alternative crops like artemisia, zafran, apples and walnuts etc. The farmer is the “least corrupt” of the entire society in Afghanistan. It is deprivation that has forced him to cultivate opium to such an extent that now 14% of Afghanistan’s population live on opium cultivation. With poverty and creditors banging at his door the farmer pays the Taleban for protecting his opium. Senlis found that most of the farmers want to be part of the legal economy. The biggest advantage of the P4M scheme (Poppy for Medicine) is that the Taleban will in a decade or so be starved of most of the funds that are sustaining them. It may sound too simple and idealistic, but it is possible, despite the all pervading problems of corruption and terror. It will take time. Since 2002 more than $5 bln have been utterly wasted on narcotics enforcement. In these 6 years opium production has increased by 230% from 74,000 hectares and 3400 tons to 193,000 hectares and 8200 tons.

All the opium produced is illegal and uncontrollable. Even at the shaky nascent stage, whatever legal opium is recovered will be more than the 180 tons of opium being seized annually. Here could be grounds for optimism.

The advantages of this practical plan is that the farmers will be happy, the entire opium produce will no longer go for illicit purposes, there will be more funds for development at the village level and every year there will be less farmers cultivating opium. Unfortunately, the Afghanistan government is against it because the billion dollar trafficking business is at risk. The US and British are against it as their highly paid consultants and contractors who are involved in eradication, enforcement and training will have to go. It will take many years for this project to stabilize. Diversion will always be there. It can be upto 30% judging from India’s experience. But it will be better than the present 100%.

The other motivation for this scheme comes from the fact that there is not enough cheap morphine –a derivative of opium- and the most efficacious pain killer, to go around. Just 8 countries of the world consume 80% of all morphine produced, whereas most of the 20 million cancer patients are in other countries. For most others it is too expensive. The Senlis Council has calculated that at least 140 tons of extra morphine is required to meet most of the current shortage. Ironically after the exit of Najibullah’s Government morphine consumption is presently zero after the .026 mg per head consumption in 1988. These days there are thousands of war wounded too. The claim that demand for morphine has reached saturation is hopelessly wrong. If it was so why should there be need for UK's pharma major Macfarlan Smith to grow about 2500 hectares of opium almost clandestinely. Now Canada is also thinking of growing opium to produce morphine!

Three pilot projects will test this scheme before it is adopted. They calculate that from 9.25 hectares a net profit of $20,000/- can be made after selling morphine. The morphine can be sold at a rate of $7.7/- per 10 mg in Brazil for instance, where US and UK firms sell it at about $ 60/- per 10 mg. This is the most important reason for the severe opposition from these two countries only. All I say is give Senlis a chance to disprove or prove their theory.

In India too the seizures of Afghan heroin in Punjab have increased by three times as much to about 500 kgs. The increasing opium production is a threat not only to heroin using countries like UK etc, but also pipeline countries like India. Along with the increasing amounts of Afghan heroin going through India the number of addicts in Punjab’s sensitive border areas are increasing. And the biggest threat is from the huge amounts of money that is being generated by this galloping opium production. Insurgency these days is a trans-national operation. Obscure, bigoted and ultra religious extremism are uniting similar sick minds the world over. They are being financed from lucrative narcotic deals, and are now a thorn in the sides of many countries around the world and especially in Iran, Pakistan, and India.
Romesh Bhattacharji

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Afghanistan's Narcs problem--- # 1

Narco-trafficking in Afghanistan as a threat to international security… #1

1. Afghanistan's booming opium prodcution is a headache for the whole world. Yet apart from spending money - billions of $- nothing is
being done to prevent it. Afghanistan epitomizes the profound implications that drug trafficking has for national, regional and international security. There are other examples from South Asia too. In the NE of India some insurgent groups extort money from drug trafficking organizations to fund their activities. There are similar reports about LTTE in Sri Lanka. These illustrate the clear ramifications that drug trafficking has for domestic and regional security.
2. There are three clear facets to the drug issue. The first relates to the trafficking of chemicals described as precursors, which are essential for the manufacture of drugs such as heroin and cocaine. The second is about the vast profits that the drug trade generates and the laundering of these profits. The third and perhaps the most relevant in the context of the present subject is the use of drug generated profits for the funding of terrorist activity.
4. Opium and cocoa producing countries are few, but countries that produce chemicals to refine these drugs are many. The heroin and cocaine producers of the nether world require these chemicals, known as precursors, e.g. Acetic Anhydride (AA) and Potassium Permanganate, to produce their noxious wares. To match the demand with adequate supplies criminal gangs with trans-national capabilities are necessary.
5. In the North East of India where I worked in the late 80s and early 90s we would hear of expected large opium harvests in adjacent Myanmar. As confirmation we would come across surreptitious orders for AA from India, which is a large producer of this chemical. These would be placed complete with detailed packing instructions. During that time there were many seizures, which eventually forced the criminals in Myanmar to get their supplies of AA from China. Narcotics were a significant reason for sustaining the insurgency in that region.
6. Picture # 1 shows 35 litre jerry cans of Indian Acetic Anhydride smuggled across in wooden crates. In Myanmar they would be tied below some of the boats that cross the Yu and Chindwin Rivers and taken to Kalemyo and Mandalay for dispersal to ‘refineries’.

7. I saw similar cross border business-like efficiency amongst the traffickers operating the drug routes to India through Pakistan from 1996 60 2003. Here too Acetic Anhydride would be booked many months ahead of the opium harvest in Afghanistan. The same modus operandi, but 2500 kms away. During this period the organizations I worked with were responsible for some large seizures of opium, heroin and precursor chemicals. The narcotics traffickers had easier access in the countries involved and were far more cooperative than any enforcement organizations.

8. The drug trade reacts to the changes in the world faster than Enforcement Agencies and is using the technological, financial and electronic wherewithal of globalisation to expand its reach over many countries. As an example of the traffickers being ahead of enforcement agencies there are reports of liquid heroin being seized from Central Asia. Their ruthless enterprise depends essentially on subversion of politicians and officials. Without them, continued criminal successes, despite ammending laws, would not be possible. It is a universally accepted axiom that less than 10% of all contraband is seized, and that too by the most alert enforcement agencies that have the advantage of the latest technologies and well trained men and women. It is not weaknesses in the laws but their ineffective implementation that is the problem.
9. Picture # 2 shows heroin packets thrown over the Indo-Pakistan Border fencing in India’s Punjab. They were supposed to have been picked up by an early morning border patrol, but Customs got there first. This was rather a crude way of smuggling heroin, but the traffickers would not have attempted it had they not been confident of the complicity of officials on both sides of the border.

10. Narcotics laws and rules of several countries, including those of Afghanistan, are all very practical and have been influenced by the various U N Conventions (1961. The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs ; 1971. The Convention on Psychotropic Substances ; 1988. The UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances). These Conventions have served as excellent lode stars. Some provisions of these Conventions require changes, and these will be considered by the next UN General Assembly Special Session on Narcotics in 2009.

11. It is the close knit relationship between criminal gangs and Governments which is preventing any resolution in Afghanistan. Every year the Taleban get richer and stronger. They can finance terror all over the world. Opium cultivation in Afghanistan is more lethal because most of it is exported. Every year production goes up and despite a billion dollars being spent on enforcement not a dent is made.

The drug mafia’s depredations are not restricted to the economy. It just as naturally enters politics, and penetrates into the Government. This criminalisation of political life is very marked in Afghanistan but can also be observed, for example, in all the 12 CIS counties. In several CIS countries banks and companies were involved in laundering criminal proceeds, including money from the illicit drug trade. In 1999 in Moscow investigators found that a “Sherkhan Bank”, established by Afghans, laundered millions of dollars out of Russia.

13. Afghanistan’s narcotics laws are just as good as any other country’s, but yet there is no let up in trafficking despite enforcement organizations having more money than they can handle. The fault lies in corruption and collusion.

14. During my visits to the posts on the Afghanistan – Iran border in Herat and Nimroz province I was surprised to find that apart from a sort of an attendance register and some kind of a wireless log book there was no other documentation in most of the Border Posts. There was no evidence of any control exercised by senior officers except rare visits. Most of the posts were manned by illiterate soldiers. Even the Commander of a Border Post in Herat was unlettered. Nearly all the soldiers were young. The old experienced, and literate, soldiers having been pensioned off under an ill advised scheme. They were thought to have been perhaps tainted by their association with the Najibullah Government, during whose tenure cultivation averaged 10,000 ha. Their replacements owed their employment to bribery. They now make money to pay off debts and feed their officers. Thus destabilization begins from the lowest rung. It is just as easy to buy off higher echelons with the huge assets that the narcotics traffickers continue to accumulate. A system which is so fundamentally flawed can hardly be expected to be effective against well organized and entrenched drug cartels.

15. The Afghan narcotics scene is dominated by corrupt officials, war lords, drug lords, and above all by the Taleban. While a soldier in the Government got in late 2006 the small amount of $ 40/-, a Taleban soldier got $300/- to begin with. And all his expenses were taken care off. Taleban have a very simple system. They would ask an area’s drug lord to pay for the entire upkeep of 10 soldiers including their arms. In return their business would be protected, as it has been so far. The poor farmer, the lowest in the drug chain and paradoxically the most honest, is the one who pays the most. From the UN stated farm gate price of about $86/- per kg, the opium farmer is left with only $40/- per kg after paying bribes and protection money. Thus the criminal juggernaut rolls on feeding on greed, exploiting the vulnerabilities of a compromised enforcement apparatus and working in tandem with terror outfits in a mutually beneficial arrangement.

16. Living conditions in the Border Posts on the 920 kms Iran-Afghan border are horrible. The border is a series of deserts. Only in the north of Herat province where the thin sluggish Hirai Rud (river) marks the border is there some precipitation that nurtures woeful patches of vegetation amidst sand dunes. Its extremely hot or cold and always dusty. There is no water and the generators do not work. The poorly paid soldiers are not trained or committed enough to take risks or be honest, and rarely spend nights at their posts. In most of the posts the kitchen had never been used. No wonder the Iranians, who have posts opposite them seize more than 3 times as much narcotics as the Afghans. And spend only 15% of the amount.
17. Picture # 3 is of the comparatively ‘fertile’ village of Buniyad in North Heart. The scrub of Hirai Rud is at the back and Iran beyond. Villages such as these are ever ready to help smuggle narcotics- for a price. That Toyota inside the village is an indication of the prosperity that the drug trade has brought to these deserted frontier villages.

18. The example that their officers set is far from inspirational for the men in drug law enforcement. Those with influence get themselves posted out within days, and many of them have garish palaces in Kabul’s posh suburbs of Wazir Khan and Sherpur.

19. During the war to remove the Najibullah Government the US supported the Mujahideen and then the Taleban. It was during these years that the area under opium cultivation continued to expand reaching 193,000 ha in 2007! Quite a large number of the ex-Mujahideen and ex-Taleban who were being supported by the US then are now in powerful positions in the forces. It is impossible to expect them to eradicate the opium crop when they themselves had allowed it to flourish and profit from it. The much publicized eradication programme targets only the helpless and the poor and can not eradicate more than 15,000 ha at most annually.

20. There is an another strange system that is followed in Afghanistan. The Governors and even officials like local police chiefs run private militias. Most of these militias are anti-Taleban but also protect opium cultivation- on payment. That is the reason that the Taleban fights them. The Governor of Nimroz, has his own militia like many others. Like all others he is venal. He takes payment for providing 1000 troops from an Indian Road building organization but provided them till recently with just 300. Only after 6 of these road builders were killed by the Taleban did the security improve. His militia exclusively guards some of the most used routes to Iran. Like the one at Kerta post in northern Nimroz .

21. Picture # 4 is of Kerta Border Post in Nimroz Province. The uniformed gentleman and the two in black are part of the Governor’s private militia. Such militias are part of the drug problem.

22. Is it possible for any one to sustain such a huge militia without massive financial support? In a land that has no industry or even agriculture to have so much money is improbable, unless it is from narcotics. From the house of Muhammad Akhundzada, the then Governor of Helmand, 9 tons of opium were seized in 2005 by the DEA, which is often at loggerheads with their own diplomats and intelligence agencies. As he had been a favourite of the US and UK nothing happened to him. He is an MP in the Afghan Parliament, and in late 2006 started a large militia of his own, ostensibly to fight drug trafficking!

23. These are acts of omission and commission that have compounded the Afghan problem. If there was no corruption and collusion on such a wide spread scale the problem would not have become so intractable. Drug money buys arms and explosives to fan insurgency not only in Afghanistan, but elsewhere in the region. India, apart from Pakistan, too suffers periodically from attacks paid for from the limitless coffers of the Taleban and their cohorts.

24. There are 110 routes, along which narcotics are smuggled out of Afghanistan. About 15% of them are to Central Asia, another 20% to Pakistan, 10% to China, and the rest are to Iran. In that unfortunate country the addicts alone have doubled in the past decade to reach 2.5 mln. They have financed the construction of 28 forts on Afghanistan’s side of their border in the hope that they too would be effective. There is no chance of that.

25. Picture # 5 is of an Iranian fort taken from the Afghan one of Thane Haji Jan in Northern Nimroz. Officers in the fort across had made several seizures in 2006, whereas none from this post.

26. At Kurki post in Nimroz every day several commodities are briskly smuggled into Afghanistan and a few smuggled out. The Customs and Border Police officials posted there are not bothered. Long tankers carrying petrol and arms from Iran openly cross the border to fill up smaller Afghan tankers right under their noses and in broad day light. What they take back is any one’s guess. Humans are one item. Narcotics are probably the main contraband to make this journey. It is low in volume and high on value, and is the easiest way to pay for this constant stream of tankers and trucks. Such a huge illegal market can not function without the nearby Iranians’ complicity too. This only shows that even in a determined country like Iran, which has stringent laws, there are pockets where money power is supreme, and the staunchest disciplinarians are powerless.

27. Picture # 6 is of Kurki Border Post on the Iran border, across which all those tankers and trucks at the back have come.

28. Iran seized 231,352 kgs of opium against 90,990 by Afghanistan the source country. And Iran, Pakistan, China, Turkey, Tajikistan and Russian accounted for 69% of all the heroin seized in 2005. Afghanistan, seized a mere 10% or 9079 kgs.

29. UNODC keeps talking, as indicators of success, that 13 provinces are now opium free, but over all Kandahar and Helmand which produce 65% of opium not only make up for this presumed loss, but also increase their production by at least 30% every year. Opium from as far as Badakshan is brought to Baramcha in Nimroz for quality refining by expert Baluch ‘pharmacists’. Proving that it is safer to move the cultivation to Kandahar and Helmand where there is minimal interference from law.

30. Baramcha in the South Eastern tip of Nimroz is very close to Helmand. Here the heroin producing facilities are numerous and brazenly visible. Yet law has not reached them. Most consignments of opium to Baramcha reach it safely, suggesting some kind of official safe passage. Baramcha and most of Nimroz is a Baluch area. The contiguous territories in Iran and Pakistan are also Baluch. Tribal affiliations protect their criminal acts. Taleban guard the routes. It has become the heart of a new golden triangle. Within this triangle more than 65% of all opium is produced, about 80% of it is refined here, and about 70% of all the routes out are from this triangle. The target of Afghan drugs is mainly Europe, followed far behind by Russia and China. The Governments of these nations can not be subverted easily, but none the less many of their institutions are threatened.

31. Protection guaranteed by paying the Taleban or by bribing Government officials ensures a dramatic annual increase in production of opium. 14% of Afghanistan’s population is engaged in this activity. The farm gate value of the entire production at the rate of $86/- per kg is estimated to be about $ 1 billion. As most of the produce is exported it generates about $4 bln, which is about 53% of Afghanistan’s GDP. These figures are from UNODC. From this exercise the Taleban alone are raking in more than a $ 100 mln annually. Then the individual drug lords also get quite a sackful. With so much money floating around no one in authority in Afghanistan is keen on a solution. And the virus of insurgency is being financed from Afghanistan to vex countries close by. The explosion in a suburban train in Mumbai that killed about 200 was financed by Al Qaeda. And the never ending violent unrest in Pakistan’s Wazirstan province is directly financed by the Taleban.

32. Now there is news- not unexpected- that US servicemen too are involved in ferrying drugs to air bases in Kyrghystan and Turkey. Commenting on such reports the Russian Ambassador to Afghanistan diplomatically said that this is possible. Former US Ambassador to the UN, Richard Holbrooke wrote in the Washington Post in January “government officials, including some with close ties to the presidency, are protecting the drug trade and profiting from it.” The President’s brother Ahmed Wali Karzai is reported to be the hub for many traffickers. In the same article Holbrooke described the US counter narcotics effort in Afghanistan as “the single most ineffective programme in the history of American foreign policy.”

33. What was once an essentially domestic problem has now become the head ache of neighbouring countries. Narcotics fuelled mayhem is being spread near and far. In South Asia, West Asia, and Central Asia. Pakistan in 2005 seized 27% (24,341 kgs) of all heroin. In 2002, Turkmenistan’s Prosecutor General Kurbanbibi Atadzhanova was arrested for narcotics trafficking. In Tajikstan in 2002 more than 3 tons of heroin was seized. In the last two months of 2007 about 1 ton of opium and heroin were seized from the CIS states. Those arrested have been from all over the world.

“Something new and significant is going on in the world drugs market. In last year's World Drug Report we made the argument that drug control is working and the world drug problem is being contained. This 2007 Report provides further robust evidence of this trend. For almost every kind of illicit drug - cocaine, heroin, cannabis and amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) - there are signs of overall stability, whether we speak of cultivation, production or consumption. Hopefully, within the next few years evidence to support this claim will become statistically and logically incontrovertible.”

This optimistic passage is from the introduction written by the Executive Director of UNODC to the World Drug Report of 2007. With 8200 tons of opium being produced in Afghanistan last year, a 34% increase over the previous year there is only “robust evidence” to the contrary.

Eradication or destruction, even if it is wide spread and not selective as it is now, will never stop this cultivation. Think of about two and a half million or so opiate users in Afghanistan and the coutnries around it. Till they are around opium will continue to be grown somewhere or the other. Show of force like in this last picture is only --- show.