Monday November 29, 2021

Drug factor and Afghan problem

October 01, 2017

Terrorists strike in Pakistan. Islamabad accuses Afghan security apparatus (NDS) having a hand in it. Suicide bomber (s) attack some government installation in Kabul or near about bordering Pakistan, Kabul points its finger towards Pakistan and accuses ISI of using its proxies for destabilising its so-called elected government that have so far failed—like previous--to establish its writ beyond the Presidential Palace in Kabul.

Blame game is a regular mantra. Blowing hot and cold is a best past time among officials. Exchange of visits follows, talks are held. Some time they are bilateral, often trilateral. Disrupted dialogue gets resumed with reassurances that both the countries would not allow each other’s territories for mischief by miscreants—whoever.

Since the UNGA speech of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, there is a freak of hope for sincere effort to restore harmony backed by semblance of trust. Once again Pakistan has been invited by Afghan president to reopen dialogue with Kabul to move forward together towards ushering in conditions for regional peace. Pakistan did not hesitate in responding.

Its Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) think-tank categorically said, “nobody wants peace in Afghanistan more than Pakistan”. He promised Pakistan will take action against any terrorist sanctuaries on its soil if Afghanistan provides evidence about those areas where Kabul alleges Pakistan hosts so-called sanctuaries. Earlier Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa too had met with Afghan Ambassador Dr Omar Zakhilwal. It seemed that there is some light at the two ends of the tunnel. Lack of confidence needs to be replaced by mutual trust.

However, bilaterally, trilaterally and regionally—none of the players have paid any attention to the crux of the Afghan problem that is not political but holds key to peace. It is not question of who should be in the government. It relates to the fact that Afghanistan has become a narco state, especially after the US-led coalition landed in the country under the UN mandate (UNSCR 1373 refers).

Once a country becomes a narco state it is very difficult to bring stability there unless a well coordinated campaign is launched and all neighbors are taken on board. Columbia is an example which is struggling for stability for over 40 years despite massive American financial and technical support.

Drug money is feeding into war economy in Afghanistan and it is benefiting everyone who matters. As such one can understand the lack of overall will in the current dispensation to work for real peace in Afghanistan when the war economy has become the life line for major stakeholders-- be they elected representatives or warlords.

CIA during its various international overt and covert operations in the sixties, seventies and eighties has been documented to have been involved in it to generate local funding for self-financing its clandestine adventures. And perhaps that has come to be a standard procedure for intelligence agencies to fund their operations indigenously without being a burden on national budgets.

One is sure that in Pakistan too Afghan drug lords have their partners doing their bit for the unhindered success of the illicit trade that got going in a big way during Gen Zia’s decade long lethal rule. Those who know vouch for dictator’s support to the illicit trade. Indeed, there must be something in it that from a few hundred opium addicts, domestic consumption of heroin in Pakistan has increased to several thousand percent over the years.

Regretfully, President Trump has conveniently ignored the drug trade as a major factor contributing to the instability in Afghanistan for it raises many questions into the dubious conduct of the coalition during the past 16 years. Of course, Americans cannot escape the blame of looking the other way when the Afghan warlords and government functionaries have been minting money through the drug trade.

UNODC reports of previous years bear testimony that Afghanistan produces approximately 90% of the world opium and its refined form, heroine, fetches 40-50 billion dollars in the European market annually. Roughly 10-15% of this money is pocketed by the Afghan "stakeholders" including government officials, armed forces and warlords. Taliban receive around four to five billion dollars annually as their share in the drug proceeds. Hence everyone is happy and would continue the war, especially when there is an easy scapegoat--- Pakistan.

Interestingly, when Afghans are asked to do something about drug business their pet answer is that they lack resources. Former President Karzai's favourite refrain was that "Afghanistan is in the ICU; how can you expect it to walk and talk?" However, while making the ICU argument he conveniently or deliberately ignored that this "ICU patient" had no problems in making billions of dollars drug deals and its Nouveau riche were buying properties all over the world. In Pakistan alone, they have real estate, construction and transport business worth billions.

Secondly, President Trump out of his naivety or under influence from his frustrated generals has given precedence to India over Pakistan. By doing so he would be shooting into his feet at the expense of annoying loyal friend like Pakistan. From the very beginning it has played a questionable role in Afghanistan. Pakistan believes that under the façade of development it has indulged in sabotage activities by paying more money to once Pakistan friendly TTP and even Afghan Taliban, in connivance with the Afghan intelligence agency, NDS.

President Trump should make no mistake that Pakistan can tolerate his idiosyncratic behaviour for being naive but will not allow its neighbouring adversary to do sabotage activities by using the Afghan soil. Islamabad needs to draw this redline to the US and its partners including the Indian lobby in uncertain terms.

Thirdly, President Ashraf Ghani be asked as to what serious steps he has taken for the intra-Afghan dialogue. How often he has been outside Kabul during his presidency? How his presidency is different from Karzai's who earned the dubious title of "Mayor of Kabul"?

 Trump’s recent diatribe against Pakistan is a manifestation of the failure of American policies in Afghanistan. Despite heavy presence of American and Nato troops, they have neither succeeded in stabilising Afghanistan nor converted a red tag army into a professional force that could fight Taliban. Each passing year more Afghan land is being captured by Taliban—is not Pakistan’s doing. He must not expect Pakistan to fight his war.

--The author is former High Commissioner of Pakistan to the UK and a veteran journalist