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The Afghan War: Spreading Democracy (and Heroin)

Leaked documents reveal US and Afghan government collusion with major traffickers. Documents made public by WikiLeaks' latest file drop show that Afghan President Hamid Karzai pulled strings several times throughout early 2009 to free numerous drug traffickers with whom he had political or economic ties. The documents also show that US officials have held multiple high-level meetings with a man widely viewed as one of the country's major heroin dealers.

Leaked documents reveal US and Afghan government collusion with major traffickers.

Documents made public by WikiLeaks’ latest file drop show that Afghan President Hamid Karzai pulled strings several times throughout early 2009 to free numerous drug traffickers with whom he had political or economic ties.

The documents also show that US officials have held multiple high-level meetings with a man widely viewed as one of the country’s major heroin dealers.

That man is Ahmed Wali Karzai: He’s the half-brother of President Karzai and has been investigated by numerous major newspapers for drug allegations.

Referred to in many US documents as “AWK,” Ahmed Wali Karzai, has long been on the radar of government officials and journalists for his off-the-books dealings with local warlords, traffickers, Taliban members and Afghanistan government officials.

Now, previously secret US Embassy documents, made public by WikiLeaks, further these claims. The documents also show that the US has continued to consult with AWK on major infrastructure projects, security contracts and economic plans.

One of the leaked documents is a report from a November 2009 meeting between AWK and the US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry. In this document, Eikenberry describes Karzai as being, “… widely understood to be corrupt and a narcotics trafficker.” Nevertheless, he cautions that working with Karzai is a political necessity.

In this meeting, Karzai calls for private “jihadi” mercenaries operating within the region to fall under his control; he also calls for major development projects to be initiated with his oversight. Eikenberry responds, “… given AWK’s reputation for shady dealings, his recommendations for large, costly infrastructure projects should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism.”

He also notes that Karzai, “… is understood to have a stake in private security contracting …” and “… both he and the governor have tried to exert control over how contracts are awarded in the province … all of which could be a significant conflict of interest in the province.”

In another document, made public by WikiLeaks, there is a report from a February 2010 meeting with AWK in which, then-Deputy Ambassador to Afghanistan Francis Ricciardone says that Karzai, “… appears not to understand the level of our knowledge of his activities and that the coalition views many of his activities as malign.”

This new information linking the Karzai’s with the heroin trade supplements previous reports on AWK’s operations in Kandahar. It also further emphasizes the realities of the “dirty war” in Afghanistan.

In 2008, The New York Times released reports that Ahmed Wali Karzai was extensively linked to the heroin trade. An investigative report, in late 2009, declared that Karzai was, “… a suspected player in the country’s booming illegal opium trade.”(1)

The report also announced (citing, “current and former American officials”) that Karzai, “… gets regular payments from the Central Intelligence Agency and has for much of the past eight years.”(2)

According to The New York Times, the Bush White House said it, “… believes that Ahmed Wali Karzai is involved in drug trafficking,” and, “Neither the Drug Enforcement Administration, which conducts counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan, nor the fledgling Afghan anti-drug agency, has pursued investigations into the accusations against the president’s brother.” (3)

The Times article also extensively quotes a jailed, high-level Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) informant, named Hajji Aman Kheri. “It’s no secret about Wali Karzai and drugs,” he told them. “A lot of people in the Afghan government are involved in drug trafficking.”(4)

Other examples of such immunity were recently made public by WikiLeaks as well.

In April 2009, President Karzai pardoned five border policemen who were caught smuggling 124 kilograms of heroin in their patrol vehicles. They were sentenced to terms of 16 to 18 years each, only to be pardoned by President Karzai shortly after, “on the grounds that they were distantly related to two individuals who had been martyred during the civil war.”

Rumors in the US Embassy are that Karzai is also planning on pardoning several other men caught smuggling heroin. One man was a high-ranking police chief and nephew of a member of Parliament, who was caught ordering his men to smuggle heroin. Another man was a “priority DEA target.”

The same document says that Karzai tampered with the case of a narcotics trafficker whose father is a wealthy businessman and Karzai supporter. “Without any constitutional authority,” the embassy cable says, “Karzai ordered the police to conduct a second investigation which resulted in the conclusion that the defendant had been framed.”

These documents come after controversy arose last year when former Afghan Defense Minister and current First Vice President Muhammad Fahim was selected as Karzai’s running mate. CIA reports sent to the White House in 2002 suggested that Fahim was involved in narcotics trafficking and, though the White House avoided public criticism, they privately directed American military trainers to work with Fahim’s subordinates only, but not with Fahim himself.

President Karzai’s other brothers have also made headlines this year for their secret dealings. Abdul Qayum Karzai mediated secret talks with the Taliban in Saudi Arabia. Mahmood Karzai has come under a federal investigation for tax evasion, racketeering and extortion.

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Now, documents leaked to the Guardian tell of Fahim’s predecessor, former Afghan Vice-President Ahmed Zia Massoud, arriving in Dubai with 52 million dollars in cash and not needing to explain it. The reports outline the extent to which money has been smuggled out of Afghanistan by corrupt officials, and that Afghan officials have consistently lied about these “capital flights.”

Another major figure under suspicion for selling drugs happens to be one of the main men charged with stopping them. Former Counter-Narcotics Deputy Minister Muhhamad Daud Daud, who came out of the Mujahideen under Ahmad Shah Massoud and became one of Afghanistan’s biggest military commanders, is also in the mix.

While publicly assisting the US in counternarcotics policy, Daud Daud profits from the industry. According to The Guardian UK, “several western officials” allege that Daud Daud, “… has historical and family links to smuggling.”(5)

A 2009 investigation by the Canadian Globe and Mail, found evidence that Daud Daud was deeply involved in the heroin industry. This investigation tells of a man named Sayyed Jan. In the story, he was stopped by members of the Counternarcotics Police of Afghanistan, with 183 kilograms of pure heroin in his car.(6)

“The drug dealer was carrying a signed letter of protection from General Mohammed Daud Daud,” the report says.(7)

“That document, along with other papers and interviews with well-placed sources, show that General Daud has safeguarded shipments of illegal opiates even as he commands thousands of officers sworn to fight the trade,” the investigation concludes.(8)

According to the family members of the arrested trafficker, Jan paid General Daud Daud $50,000 to allow him to make a single trafficking run. Jan was later bribed out of prison and is believed to be once again leading his trafficking operation.

This is a glimpse of how one smuggles heroin out of Afghanistan: Pay off the officials who are supposed to be stopping you. It’s an open-secret in the world capital of heroin.

“As of mid-February 2007,” an internal military file from April 2007 states, “Afghan government officials working with eradication forces [are] accepting bribes from local farmers.”(9)

This report describes farmers paying between $750 and $1,000 per acre for protection from corrupt officials. This amount of money is not something the average farmer can afford to pay, thus, one can assume that these pay-offs are made by large landowners.(10)

The document concludes that the police chief and “other provincial officials” are involved; and that Helmand provincial Governor Wafa was fully aware of the situation.(11)

In July 2010, The Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, issued a report stating, “… most experts we spoke with agree that corruption at all levels of government enables narcotics trafficking.”(12)

The report goes on to describe that members of the Afghan government have historically, “… rendered many aspects of the counternarcotics program useless, including using the eradication program as a means of extorting and by robbing alternative livelihood programs of resources intended for the Afghan farmer.”(13)

It also cites research which found, “… there is a growing belief in the south (of Afghanistan) that those working for the government are more actively involved in the trade in narcotics that the Taliban.”(14)

This study found that the vast majority of farmers understand the central government to be highly involved in the narcotics industry.

This information is even more alarming when laid next the UN’s own statistics on the Afghan heroin trade.

As of 2009, the Taliban’s share of opium-profits is estimated at 125 million dollars only. This means that the other 2 billion, 875 million dollars must go to either corrupt government officials or other warlords/drug networks.(15)

The US is in the middle of a drug war, backing men whom they know to be warlords and heroin traffickers in exchange for their political cooperation against groups like the Taliban, Hezb-e-Islami and the Haqqani Network, which oppose the current Afghan government and the US presence that keeps it afloat.

The US used this strategy in the 1980s as well, when it backed the Afghan Mujahideen rebels to combat Russia’s bloody occupation. Its support for some of the most undemocratic and notorious warlords in the Mujahideen resulted in a decade of civil war that led to the Taliban’s rise to power.

And, as it did in the 1980s, when covert US government funding supported the anti-Soviet insurgency, the US is working with some of the most undemocratic and notorious warlords in the country.

The blowback from such alliances today will probably be similar.

1. Dexter Filkins, Mark Mazzetti and James Risen, “Brother of Afghan Leader Said to Be Paid by CIA,” New York Times, October 27, 2009.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. Declan Walsh, “Afghan province to provide one-third of world’s heroin,” Guardian UK, June 14, 2006.
6. Graeme Smith, “Afghan officials in drug trade cut deals across enemy lines,” The Global and Mail, March 21, 2009.
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid.
9. WikiLeaks, “Afghan Eradication Officials Accepted Bribes in Helmand Province.”
10. Ibid.11. Ibid.
12. Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, 111th Congress second session, “US Counternarcotics Strategy in Afghanistan,” July 2010. 13. Ibid.
14. Ibid.
15. UN Office on Drugs and Crime, “Addiction, Crime and Insurgency, The Transnational Threat of Afghan Opium,” October 2009.

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