Afghanistan is often referred to as the “Heartland” in world history, the center of the “Great Game,” a colossal struggle between the British and Russian empires up until World War I. A mere glance at the map easily shows its importance, as a trade route with borders on or near China, Pakistan, India, the old Soviet republics (the ‘stans’), and leading to the Indian Ocean south and north to Russia herself. By 1979 The Soviet Union dominated the region. US power had been in decline for decades. So the decision by US planners (while Jimmy Carter happened to be president) to lure the Soviets into an Afghan trap is perhaps a pivot point in the survival of the US military empire, the only thing that has allowed survival of the US as an economic power.
So pity the poor schmucks who happen to live there. Making a living in arid soil is difficult, but tribes had perfected techniques over the eons, moving cattle and sheep from low to high pasture, and growing trees that tapped and preserved deep moisture in the soils. The US/Soviet proxy war of the 1980’s destroyed that economy. After the US succeeded, much to the delight of Zbigniew Brzezinski, both countries abandoned the region, leaving it to flail in the wind. (Zbig, easily diagnosed as a classic sociopath, delights in destruction but is short on know-how about regional development and human resources.) Without regard to anything else, the decision in 1979 to lure the Soviets into the trap devastated a fragile economy, and the lone surviving cash crop that Afghans could use for survival became opium.
In the wake of that war, both Afghanistan and Pakistan were essentially narco-states, with Afghanistan having none of the formal structure of government to gain formal recognition as a state in the world system. Its devastated economy left it as nothing more than a battleground for various drug and war lords. It was into that failed system that Pakistani intelligence, known as ISI (fostered and deeply infiltrated by the CIA), promoted the Taliban. While demonized in the US propaganda system, the Taliban were nothing more than the survivors and inheritors of a tragedy. However, to gain acceptance on the world stage, the regime cracked down on opium production, so that by 2001 the harvests had dwindled to nearly scratch.
The US had long wished for military dominance of the region, wanting to put bases on the southern perimeter of the new Russian Federations in the ‘stans. The false flag attack by the US on itself on 9/11 was used as justification for a bombing attack on Afghanistan, centered around Kabul. (Prior to 9/11, the Taliban had been warned that their territory was needed for a gas pipeline from the Caspian Basin, and were told that they would be given either a carpet of gold or be buried under a carpet of bombs.) The Taliban, which had lost most of its internal support due to its repressive policy on opium production, easily collapsed, and Afghanistan was again a battleground among competing factions for geopolitical maneuvering.
2013, the twelfth year after the US bombing attack and occupation of Afghanistan, saw the country produce a record crop of opium, historically significant. Observers wonder about this remarkable resurgence in production despite the presence of US troops. I don’t wonder about that at all. In the post-war era, drugs and the CIA and the US military have gone hand-in-hand around the world, from the Golden Triangle of Thailand, Laos and Burma, to the fields of Colombia and Mexico, to Afghanistan. Wherever there is US presence, there is a surge in drug production and trafficking.
The cash flow from opium and coca fields is an important component in many wars and armed insurgencies. The CIA usually allies itself with the cartels that produce the drugs as a matter of necessity, something that ought to be cause for wonder (why are we always allied with the bad guys?). But CIA itself is not in the drug business. It is simply that arm of capitalism that fosters war and overthrow of governments that Wall Street and London do not like. Alliance with the drug business is a necessity to achieve their end. As we saw with the Taliban, even as that regime was working diligently to end opium production in Afghanistan, CIA was working to undo the Taliban. Drugs were not an issue.
So what have we learned?
- The great powers do not care about regional people or economies.
- The great powers do not care about drugs or the devastation of lives and economies they render.
- While we know where the opium and coca fields are, the path of the crops to the labs to convert them to heroin and cocaine are shrouded in mystery.
- The money that derives from those labs are an even greater mystery. I would bet that no one on Wall Street or in London has a clue where it goes.*
Let’s be frank. A large part of the problem with opium and coca is prohibition, which increases the value of the crops and spawns criminal networks. Eradication of fields in one place merely moves them to another. Even as the US wages a two-faced battle on drugs (one to eradicate, one to foster their growth), the drug business is built on demand. The only viable option for curtailment of growth, distribution and cash flow is by lessening demand, i.e. … treatment. The problem will never go away, and a certain percentage of the population will always be drawn to addiction. We can only minimize that.
What we probably should not do is to support drug dealers, war lords, cartels, banks, and narco-states like Pakistan and Colombia to advance capitalism. That’s actually kind of cynical, ya know?
*This is sarcasm. I always forget to tell people when I do that, leading to confusion.