zaterdag 11 juli 2020
The Zionist Lobby
Imperial Blind Spots and a Question for Obama
Imperial Blind Spots and a Question for Obamaby PAUL STREETFacebook
The biggest of the many moral blind-spots that mar the politics of the Democratic Party is American imperialism.
Biden Helped Lead the Charge into Iraq
Look at the Inauthentic Opposition Party’s presumptive presidential nominee.
Biden recently chided Donald Trump in not-so veiled terms for failing to overthrow the democratically elected socialist Maduro government of Venezuela? How imperialist was that?
Go back seventeen years. Joe Biden did not just briefly go along with and get “fooled” by George W. Bush’s case for undertaking the monumentally criminal, racist, mass-murderous, and petro-imperialist invasion of Iraq in 2003. Biden helped champion that epic imperial transgression as a veteran Democratic leader in the U.S. Senate. This was consistent with his strong support for Bill Clinton’s lethal economic sanctions (responsible for the death of at least half a million Iraqi children) and missile strikes on Iraq, for Clinton’s criminal bombing of Serbia, and (later) for (of course) his future boss Barack Obama’s many targeted drone assassinations and disastrous attack on Libya.
Why does this not cancel his candidacy? Because of the giant blind spot that Democrats have on the U.S. imperialism past and present.
Tammy Duckworth was Not “Defending America” or “Democracy”
It is, yes, absurd and offensive for Fatherland News’ star white-nationalist commentator Tucker Carlson to say that U.S. Senator and wounded “Iraq War” veteran Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) “hates America” because she thinks it merits discussion that George Washington was a slaveowner should be heard. George Washington (known to the Iroquois as “Town Destroyer”) was a big-time slaveowner. Anyone who doubts that that makes his national glorification morally problematic is a stinking racist bastard like Tucker Carlson.
But here’s something else that is absurd: Democratic politicos and their media allies leaping to Duckworth defense by claiming that she was injured while “defending democracy” and America. That is Orwellian nonsense: the U.S. invasion, occupation, torture, and damn-near murder of Iraq was a brazenly imperial action. Iraq posed no threat – zero – to the United States in March of 2003.
Look at the drama that Democrats and their many media allies have created over the claim that “Russia paid the Taliban bounties for killing our soldiers in Afghanistan.” The claim is highly dubious, to say the least: even the so-called U.S. intelligence community cannot say for certain that the “bounty program” existed. But what if it did? Who is Uncle Sam to be getting riled up over Russians and Afghans killing American occupation troops half-way across the world just below Russia’s southern border? The U.S. equipped and trained Islamo-fundamentalist extremists like Osama bin-Laden to murder masses Afghanis and Russians in Afghanistan during the late 1970s and 1980s.
What would Washington be doing if Chinese and/or Russian troops were strutting around “on patrol” in northern Mexico? Paying bounties to Mexican drug gangs for every Russian and/or Chinese soldier killed there? No: The Pentagon would be launching missiles and sending in combat troops in the name of the Monroe Doctrine.
And why does anyone think the Taliban needs money from Moscow to want to kill imperial troops occupying their country from the other side of the world?
This is the kind of total absurdity that arises from the doctrinally imposed blind spot that plagues the Democratic Party and its backers.
The Audacity of Orwellian Deletion
With rare marginalized exceptions like Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel, Democratic presidential candidates never acknowledge the giant world-historical historical reality that is U.S. imperialism. Take the deeply conservative Barack Obama, whose center-right record has been ironically burnished by the neofascist president (Donald Trump) he helped birth. Released just as he prepared to announce his presidential candidacy in late 2006, Barack Obama’s widely read 2006 book The Audacity of Hope praised the militant racist Woodrow Wilson for seeing that “it was in America’s interest to encourage the self-determination of all peoples [emphasis added] and provide the world a legal framework that could help avoid future conflicts” (p. 283).
Too bad the Wilson administration’s extreme racism found expression in the brutal U.S. invasions of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. As Noam Chomsky noted, “Wilson’s troops murdered, destroyed, reinstituted virtual slavery and demolished the constitutional system in Haiti.” These actions followed in accord with Wilson Secretary of State Robert Lansing’s belief that “the African race are devoid of any capacity for political organization” and possessed “an inherent tendency to revert to savagery and to cast aside the shackles of civilization which are irksome to their physical nature.”
Obama’s Audacity audaciously honored U.S. Cold War foreign policymakers for combining “Wilsonian idealism” with “humility regarding America’s ability to control events around the world” (p. 284). Obama justified lovely examples of that “humility” like the U.S. overthrow of democratically elected governments in Iran (1953) and Guatemala (1954) and the sponsorship of mass-murderous dictatorships in Indonesia, Latin America (Brail, Chile, Paraguay, etc.) and across the world by recycling the doctrinal myth that the U.S. was protecting the world against an “expansionist” and “totalitarian” Soviet Union (p. 284).
In a further act of Orwellian audacity, Obama’s Audacity claimed that “the biggest casualty” of the “Vietnam War” was “the bond of trust between the American people and their government and between American themselves” – not the 3 to 5 million Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians slaughtered by the “U.S. crucifixion of Southeast Asia” (Chomsky’s excellent phrase at the time). For Obama, the massive and racist imperial onslaught inflicted on peasant nations by the world’s greatest military-industrial power was a “mistake,” not a crime. (He even blamed this “mistake” for helping generate the supposed “radical excesses” of 1960s protests!)
Consistent with it right-wing take on the so-called Vietnam War,Obama’s Audacity of Hope also failed to accurately identify the George W. Bush administration’s Biden-backed invasion of Iraq as a monumental crime. In Obama’s myopic eyes, Bush and Biden’s (and Hillary Clinton’s) invasion was a strategic blunder – a “dumb” and “botched” (p.308)war but not a criminal one, It was carried out with “the best of [democratic] intentions” (pp. 290-309). It was a mistaken effort “to impose democracy with the barrel of a gun” (p.317).
Obama’s blood-soaked imperial presidency was richly congruent with the whitewashing of U.S. foreign relations history in The Audacity of Hope – and in various speeches candidate Obama gave to elite foreign policy groups. Survivors of the Obama years in Honduras (where Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary aided and abetted a vicious right wing coup), Venezuela, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, northern Africa, Palestine and Yemen (among other locations) can tell you a thing or to about it.
And so it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut used to say.
Pentagon-Budgetary Cancel Culture
The Democratic Party’s blind spot on imperialism informs and reinforces its giant matching and disastrous blind spot on the Pentagon budget, which accounts for nearly 40 percent of global military spending and up eats more well more than half of federal discretionary spending. The nation’s vast military outlay cancels out remotely proper domestic social spending while funneling massive taxpayer-funded subsidies to high-tech “defense” (war and empire) companies like Raytheon, Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, and Martin Marietta. Captive to the nation’s giant military-industrial-complex and to corporate and imperial power more broadly even as the nation descends into a runaway pandemic and a Second Great Depression, the Democratic Party has no substantive social policy counter to the extreme right-wing party in presidential, U.S.-Senatorial, Supreme Court, and majority state government power. The Democrats can only pretend to function as a serious popular opposition.
As the Republicans have gone full-on white nationalist and apocalyptic under the command of the Orange Fascist Death Machine (OFDM) called Donald Trump, the dismal, dollar-drenched Democrats spent three years ostensibly trying to the nail the OFDM not for its worst crimes – racist-nativist-sexist neofascism, reckless war-mongering, bacteriological terrorism, and (last not least) eco-cide – but for being corruptly out of step with U.S.-imperial foreign policy vis-à-vis Russia and Eastern Europe. As the liberal Russian dissident Masha Gessen tried to warn Democrats early on, the “Russia Conspiracy Trap” proved a great political gift to the OFDM, which has been accurately described by Chomsky as “the most dangerous criminal in human history.”
Hey Obama: Is it the Apocalypse Yet?
Speaking of fascism, apocalypse, Trump, and Obama, here’s what Obama said privately to the “lying neoliberal warmonger” Hillary Clinton’s Weimar-like vice-presidential candidate Tim Kaine during the 2016 presidential campaign: “Tim, remember…you’ve got to keep a fascist out of the White House.” Obama 44, no fool, had an accurate read on his successor, but his assessment was for private and elite consumption only. Here is what Obama said to the American people the day after Trump was elected:
“Now, everybody is sad when their side loses an election. But the day after, we have to remember that we’re actually all on one team. This is an intramural scrimmage. We’re not Democrats first. We’re not Republicans first. We are Americans first. We’re patriots first. We all want what’s best for this country. That’s what I heard in Mr. Trump’s remarks last night. That’s what I heard when I spoke to him directly.”
And here’s what Obama has just said to younger staff in the Oval office before giving us all the good news about how the next president wanted what was “best for this country”: “This is not the apocalypse.”
When The New Yorker’s editor David Remnick asked Obama about that consoling remark two days later, Obama said “I don’t believe in the apocalyptic – until the apocalypse comes. I think nothing is the end of the world until the end of the world.”
Here we are three years and eight months later. The U.S. is heading to a world-leading 200,000 or more COVID-19 deaths (“America[ns] First”!) by September while the OFDM encourages millions of Amerikaners to disregard and even resist basic public health recommendations. The OFDM has just falsely claimed that the coronavirus is “harmless in 99% of cases.” It has threatened to cut federal funding for school districts who determine that it is unsafe to resume in-person classes next fall. It has pulled the U.S. out of the World Health Organization amidst the global pandemic. Meanwhile, the tangerine-tinted mad-dog killer is taking his fascistic conduct to new heights, embracing “white power” and calling Black Lives Matter a “hate”-slogan while all-too quietly doing everything he can to destroy what’s left of livable ecology.
All of this and more raises an interesting question: Hey Obama, is it the apocalypse yet? Are we there yet?
It probably doesn’t feel like it on a $12 million mansion on Martha’s Vineyard, but it sure does down here on the mean streets of Chicago, where Obama falsely claimed to be from many years ago.
1. The description of the Democrats as the “Inauthentic Opposition” belongs to the late Princeton political scientist Sheldon Wolin. In his 2008 book Democracy Incorporated: Corporate-Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism, published just half a year before Obama was elected, the Princeton philosopher Sheldon Wolin laid out the nature of what was to come. “Should Democrats somehow be elected,” Wolin prophesied, they would do nothing to “alter significantly the direction of society” or “substantially revers[e] the drift rightwards. … The timidity of a Democratic Party mesmerized by centrist precepts,” Wolin wrote, “points to the crucial fact that for the poor, minorities, the working class and anti-corporatists there is no opposition party working on their behalf.” The corporatist Democrats would work to “marginalize any possible threat to the corporate allies of the Republicans.” It was a prophetic observation. A nominal Democrat was elected president along with Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress in 2008. What followed under Obama (as under his Democratic presidential predecessor Bill Clinton)– was the standard “elite” corporate and financial manipulation of campaign populism and identity politics in service to the reigning big-money bankrollers and their global empire. For similar predictions issued around the time, see my 2008 book Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (New York: Rooutledge, 2008). For an early “told-you-so” catalogue of Obama’s White House service to each of what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, called “the triple evils that are interrelated: – racism, poverty/class inequality/capitalism, and militarism/imperialism – see Paul Street, The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power(New York: Routledge, 2010).
Paul Street’s next book is The Passive Resistance: Obama, Trump, and Politics of Appeasement. It will be released later this summer by CounterPunch Books.
Judgement Day for Ghislaine Maxwell
That Ghislaine Maxwell is finally in custody is certainly satisfying for all of us who believed her completely complicit in the horrible crimes against young girls committed by her associate Jeffrey Epstein. The internet is already alive with speculation regarding how long she will last in prison given the alleged death by suicide that eliminated Epstein in a Manhattan maximum security prison back in August 2019. Before jumping to too many conclusions, however, there are a number of additional developments in her case that should be considered.
First of all, Maxwell’s arrest was not fortuitous. She clearly made some efforts to hide the bulk of her multi-million-dollar fortune, but she has been visible for those who knew where to look. She moved about freely, though keeping a low profile, and made“intentional efforts to avoid detection including moving locations at least twice, switching her primary phone number (which she registered under the name ‘G Max’) and email address, and ordering packages for delivery with a different person listed on the shipping label.”
The 18-page prosecutorial indictment stated that “The Government has identified more than 15 different bank accounts held by or associated with the defendant from 2016 to the present, and during that same period, the total balances of those accounts have ranged from a total of hundreds of thousands of dollars to more than $20 million.” Maxwell was charged with recruiting and “grooming” young women for Epstein to abuse, which could carry as much as a 35 year prison sentence.
As the 58-year old Maxwell, who has British citizenship as well as that of the United States, France and Israel, was considered to be a considerable flight risk she was not allowed bail after her arrest.
During the time while Maxwell was moving about freely, the FBI apparently did not even attempt to interview her. She spent a good deal of time with her lawyers and was reportedly seen having coffee in Los Angeles, shopping near her apartment in Paris, visiting Britain and also staying under protection in Israel. She was born in France and her father, the Israeli spy Robert, is presumed to have had citizenship in the Jewish state, which would have been transferrable to her. Both France and Israel are extremely difficult to deal with when it comes to extradition, so she presumably could have stayed in either country and would have avoided prosecution in the United States. One might also recall that Epstein had a genuine Austrian passport in a false name, a probable indicator of his intelligence agency ties. It is quite possible that Ghislaine also has some form of false identification.
When she was arrested, Ghislaine was living in a luxurious country house on 156 acres in a rural part of New Hampshire. She had bought the property in December for $1.07 million through a limited liability company that does not bear her name which was set up by one of her lawyers. Clearly the police knew exactly where she could be found. The house is a two-hour drive from the Canadian border, which might have been an intended refuge if she felt that the forces of law and order were moving in, but it begs the question as to why she would want to return to the U.S. at all. I rather suspect that she and her lawyers had actually been in touch with the authorities and some kind of plea bargain has been under consideration.
Why now? The timing would seem to relate to other developments. Only last week Federal judge Loretta Preska ruled that the documents relating to Epstein and Maxwell in the possession of litigant victim Virginia Giuffre had to be destroyed. Information about Epstein and Maxwell, extracted from a 2015 civil suit filed against Epstein by Giuffre, appear to have contained the names of individuals with whom Epstein had conducted business, both those he recorded in flagrante as well as his other clients and even his victims.
Preska ruled that Giuffre’s lawyers had obtained the documents improperly and ordered that all the materials in the files “shall be destroyed.” She also demanded proof that the material had been destroyed. The whereabouts of Epstein’s secret tapings is not definitely known, but the FBI did seize all of the papers and other data at the Manhattan mansion after he was arrested. Some believe, however, that Ghislaine has some of the tapes, presumably hidden or in the custody of her lawyers.
The loss of the Giuffre files will seriously damage the criminal case being made by the government against Maxwell as well as the lawsuit being pursued by the victims against the Epstein estate. Ghislaine has been charged with procuring young girls and “grooming” them for sex with Epstein and his prominent clients, all of which she has denied. The upcoming trial could easily end relatively quickly with a toothless admission of guilt by Maxwell and a plea-bargained minimum prison sentence. All documents relating to the case, including any recordings, would be sealed, which would inter alia protect other perceived government equities, namely the prominent individuals and the spy agencies that might have been involved either as victims or perpetrators.
There is every indication that the Justice Department aided and abetted by the media is seeking to bury certain aspects of the Epstein case. A recent documentary on Netflix “Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich” carefully avoids any discussion of the likely Israeli espionage aspect of Epstein’s activities. Ghislaine’s father, who introduced Jeffrey to his daughter, was a prominent Mossad spy who received a state funeral in Israel after his mysterious death in 1991 which was attended by the prime minister as well as by all the former and serving heads of that country’s intelligence services.
Additional confirmation of the Israeli connection comes from a recent book by former Israeli intelligence officer Ari Ben-Menashe, who claims that Epstein and partner in crime Ghislaine Maxwell were engaged in blackmailing prominent politicians on behalf of Israel’s foreign intelligence service Mossad. According to Ben-Menashe, the two had been working directly for the Israeli government since the 1980’s and their operation, which was funded by Mossad and also by prominent American Jews, was a classic “honey-trap” which used underage girls as bait to attract well-known politicians from around the world. The politicians would be photographed and video recorded when they were in bed with the girls. Prince Andrew and both Bill Clinton and Donald Trump were visitors to the Epstein New York City mansion where the recordings were made, while Clinton was a regular traveler on the “Lolita Express” airplane that Epstein used to transport his “friends” to his estate in Florida and his private Caribbean Island, referred to by locals as the “Pedophile Island.”
Concerning Maxwell and Epstein, no one in the Justice Department appears to want to ask one simple question that would provide significant clarity if it were to be answered honestly. Conclusive evidence that Jeffrey Epstein was an Israeli or even American intelligence agent might well be derived from the former U.S. Attorney in Miami Alexander Acosta’s comments when being later cleared by the Trump transition team. He was asked “Is the Epstein case going to cause a problem [for confirmation hearings]?” … “Acosta testified that he’d had just one meeting on the Epstein case. He’d cut the non-prosecution deal with one of Epstein’s attorneys because he had ‘been told’ to back off, that Epstein was above his pay grade. ‘I was told Epstein belonged to intelligence and to leave it alone.’”
Why is no one in the various government investigative agencies or the mainstream media interested in what Acosta meant, even though it would be easy enough to ask him? Who told him to back off? And how did they explain it? The simple answer just might be that Epstein was in fact an Israeli spy preying on prominent figures and anything having to do with the Jewish state, no matter how malodorous, is a political hotwire and off limits to Democrats and Republicans alike. If all of that is true, we the public will not be seeing anything like a “show trial” of Ghislaine Maxwell that reveals all and names names. She will quietly disappear into the legal system and before too long she will be out and around again, taking her secrets with her.
How the CIA Made Afghanistan Safe for the Opium Trade
“I Could Live With That”: How the CIA Made Afghanistan Safe for the Opium Trade
“I decided I could live with that.”
– Stansfield Turner, Jimmy Carter’s CIA director, on the extreme level of civilian casualties in the CIA’s covert war in Afghanistan.
The first indelible image of the war in Afghanistan for many Americans was probably that of CBS anchorman Dan Rather, wrapped in the voluminous drapery of a mujahedin fighter, looking like a healthy relative of Lawrence of Arabia (albeit with hair that seemed freshly blow-dried, as some viewers were quick to point out). From his secret mountainside “somewhere in the Hindu Kush,” Rather unloaded on his audience a barrowload of nonsense about the conflict. The Soviets, Rather confided portentously, had put a bounty on his head “of many thousands of dollars.” He went on, “It was the best compliment they could have given me. And having a price put on my head was a small price to pay for the truths we told about Afghanistan.”
Every one of these observations turned out to be entirely false. Rather described the government of Hafizullah Amin as a “Moscow-installed puppet regime in Kabul.” But Amin had closer ties to the CIA than he did to the KGB. Rather called the mujahedin the “Afghan freedom fighters … who were engaged in a deeply patriotic fight to the death for home and hearth.” The mujahedin were scarcely fighting for freedom, in any sense Rather would have been comfortable with, but instead to impose one of the most repressive brands of Islamic fundamentalism known to the world, barbarous, ignorant and notably cruel to women.
It was a “fact,” Rather announced, that the Soviets had used chemical weapons against Afghan villagers. This was a claim promoted by the Reagan administration, which charged that the extraordinarily precise number of 3,042 Afghans had been killed by this yellow chemical rain, a substance that had won glorious propaganda victories in its manifestation in Laos a few years earlier, when the yellow rain turned out to be bee feces heavily loaded with pollen. As Frank Brodhead put it in the London Guardian, “Its composition: one part bee feces, plus many parts State Department disinformation mixed with media gullibility.”
Rather claimed that the mujahedin were severely underequipped, doing their best with Kalashnikov rifles taken from dead Soviet soldiers. In fact the mujahedin were extremely well-equipped, being the recipients of CIA-furnished weapons in the most ” “expensive covert war the Agency had ever mounted. They did carry Soviet weapons, but they came courtesy of the CIA. Rather also showed news footage that he claimed was of Soviet bombers strafing defenseless Afghan villages. This footage was staged, with the “Soviet bomber” actually a Pakistani air force plane on a training mission over northwest Pakistan.
CBS claimed to have discovered in Soviet-bombed areas stuffed animals filled with Soviet explosives, designed to blow Afghan children to bits. These booby-trapped toys had in fact been manufactured by the mujahedin for the exclusive purpose of gulling CBS News, as an entertaining article in the New York Post later made clear.
Rather made his heroically filmed way to Yunas Khalis, described as the leader of the Afghan warriors. In tones of awe he normally reserves for hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, Rather recalls in his book, The Camera Never Blinks Twice, “Belief in ‘right’ makes ‘might’ may have been fading in other parts of the world. In Afghanistan it was alive and well, and beating the Soviets.” Khalis was a ruthless butcher, with his troops fondly boasting of their slaughter of 700 prisoners of war. He spent most of his time fighting, but the wars were not primarily with the Soviets. Instead, Khalis battled other Afghan rebel groups, the object of the conflicts being control of poppy fields and the roads and trails from them to his seven heroin labs near his headquarters in the town of Ribat al Ali. Sixty percent of Afghanistan’s opium crop was cultivated in the Helmand Valley, with an irrigation infrastructure underwritten by USAID.
In his dispatches from the front Rather did mention the local opium trade, but in a remarkably disingenuous fashion. “Afghans,” he said, “had turned Darra into a boom town, selling their home-grown opium for the best available weapons, then going back into Afghanistan to fight.”
Now Darra is a town in northwest Pakistan where the CIA had set up a factory to manufacture Soviet-style weapons that it was giving away to all Afghan comers. The weapons factory was run under contract to Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI). Much of the opium trucked into Darra from Afghanistan by the mujahedin was sold to the Pakistani governor of the northwest territory, Lieutenant General Fazle Huq. From this opium the heroin was refined in labs in Darra, placed on Pakistani army trucks and transported to Karachi, then shipped to Europe and the United States.
Rather belittled the Carter administration’s reaction to the Soviet-backed coup in 1979, charging that Carter’s response had been tepid and slow in coming. In fact, President Carter had reacted with a range of moves that should have been the envy of the Reagan hawks who, a couple of years later, were belaboring him for being a Cold War wimp. Not only did Carter withdraw the United States from the 1980 Olympics, he slashed grain sales to the Soviet Union, to the great distress of Midwestern farmers; put the SALT II treaty hold; pledged to increase the US defense budget by 5 percent a year until the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan; and unveiled the Carter doctrine of containment in southern Asia, which CIA historian John Ranelagh says led Carter to approve “more secret CIA operations than Reagan later did.”
Carter later confessed in his memoirs that he was more shaken by the invasion of Afghanistan than any other event of his presidency, including the Iranian revolution. Carter was convinced by the CIA that it could be the start of a push by the Soviets toward the Persian Gulf, a scenario that led the president to seriously consider the use of tactical nuclear weapons.
Three weeks after Soviet tanks rolled into Kabul, Carter’s secretary of defense, Harold Brown, was in Beijing, arranging for a weapons transfer from the Chinese to the CIA-backed Afghani troops mustered in Pakistan. The Chinese, who were generously compensated for the deal, agreed and even consented to send military advisers. Brown worked out a similar arrangement with Egypt to buy $15 million worth of weapons. “The US contacted me,” Anwar Sadat recalled shortly before his assassination. “They told me, ‘Please open your stores for us so that we can give the Afghans the armaments they need to fight.’ And I gave them the armaments. The transport of arms to the Afghans started from Cairo on US planes.”
But few in the Carter administration believed the rebels had any chance of toppling the Soviets. Under most scenarios, the war seemed destined to be a slaughter, with civilians and the rebels paying a heavy price. The objective of the Carter doctrine was more cynical. It was to bleed the Soviets, hoping to entrap them in a Vietnam-style quagmire. The high level of civilian casualties didn’t faze the architects of covert American intervention. “I decided I could live with that,” recalled Carter’s CIA director Stansfield Turner.
Prior to the Soviet invasion, Afghanistan barely registered as a topic of interest for the national press, surfacing in only a handful of annual newspaper stories. In December 1973, when détente was near its zenith, the Wall Street Journal ran a rare front-page story on the country, titled “Do the Russians Covet Afghanistan? If so, It’s Hard to Figure Why.” Reporter Peter Kann, later to become the Journal’s chairman and publisher, wrote that “great power strategists tend to think of Afghanistan as a kind of fulcrum upon which the world balance of power tips. But from close up, Afghanistan tends to look less like a fulcrum or a domino or a steppingstone than like a vast expanse of desert waste with a few fly-ridden bazaars, a fair number of feuding tribes and a lot of miserably poor people.”
After the Soviet Union invaded, this wasteland swiftly acquired the status of a precious geopolitical prize. A Journal editorial following the Soviet takeover said Afghanistan was “more serious than a mere stepping-stone” and, in response, called for stationing of US troops in the Middle East, increased military outlays, expanded covert operations and reinstatement of draft registration. Drew Middleton, then a New York Times Defense Department correspondent, filed a tremulous post-invasion analysis in January 1980: “The conventional wisdom in the Pentagon,” he wrote, “is that in purely military terms, the Russians are in a far better position vis-à-vis the United States than Hitler was against Britain and France in 1939.”
The Pentagon and CIA agitprop machine went into high gear: on January 3, 1980, George Wilson of the Washington Post reported that military leaders hoped the invasion would “help cure the Vietnam “never again’ hangover of the American public.” Newsweek said the “Soviet thrust” represented “a severe threat” to US interests: “Control of Afghanistan would put the Russians within 350 miles of the Arabian Sea, the oil lifeline of the West and Japan. Soviet warplanes based in Afghanistan could cut the lifeline at will.” The New York Times endorsed Carter’s call for increased military spending and supported the Cruise and Trident missile programs, “faster research on the MX or some other mobile land missile,” and the creation of a rapid deployment force for Third World intervention, calling the latter an “investment in diplomacy.”
In sum, Afghanistan proved to be a glorious campaign for both the CIA and Defense Department, a dazzling offensive in which waves of credulous and compliant journalists were dispatched to promulgate the ludicrous proposition that the United States was under military threat. By the time Reagan assumed office, he and his CIA director William Casey saw support for their own stepped-up Afghan plan from an unlikely source, the Democrat-controlled Congress, which was pushing to double spending on the war. “It was a windfall [for the Reagan administration],” a congressional staffer told the Washington Post. “They’d faced so much opposition to covert action in Central America and here comes the Congress helping and throwing money at them, putting money their way and they say, ‘Who are we to say no?’ ”
As the CIA increased its backing of the mujahedin (the CIA budget for Afghanistan finally reached $3.2 billion, the most expensive secret operation in its history) a White House member of the president’s Strategic Council on Drug Abuse, David Musto, informed the administration that the decision to arm the mujahedin would misfire: “I told the Council that we were going into Afghanistan to support the opium growers in their rebellion against the Soviets. Shouldn’t we try to avoid what we’d done in Laos? Shouldn’t we try to pay the growers if they will eradicate their opium production? There was silence.”
After issuing this warning, Musto and a colleague on the council, Joyce Lowinson, continued to question US policy, but found their queries blocked by the CIA and the State Department. Frustrated, they then turned to the New York Times op-ed page and wrote, on May 22, 1980: “We worry about the growing of opium in Afghanistan or Pakistan by rebel tribesmen who apparently are the chief adversaries of the Soviet troops in Afghanistan. Are we erring in befriending these tribes as we did in Laos when Air America (chartered by the Central Intelligence Agency) helped transport crude opium from certain tribal areas?” But Musto and Lowinson met with silence once again, not only from the administration but from the press. It was heresy to question covert intervention in Afghanistan.
Later in 1980, Hoag Levins, a writer for Philadelphia Magazine,interviewed a man he identified as a “high level” law enforcement official in the Carter administration’s Justice Department and quoted him thus: “You have the administration tiptoeing around this like it’s a land mine. The issue of opium and heroin in Afghanistan is explosive … In the State of the Union speech, the president mentioned drug abuse but he was very careful to avoid mentioning Afghanistan, even though Afghanistan is where things are really happening right now … Why aren’t we taking a more critical look at the arms we are now shipping into gangs of drug runners who are obviously going to use them to increase the efficiency of their drug-smuggling operation?”
The DEA was well aware that the mujahedin rebels were deeply involved in the opium trade. The drug agency’s reports in 1980 showed that Afghan rebel incursions from their Pakistan bases into Soviet-held positions were “determined in part by opium planting and harvest seasons.” The numbers were stark and forbidding. Afghan opium production tripled between 1979 and 1982. There was evidence that by 1981 the Afghan heroin producers had captured 60 percent of the heroin market in Western Europe and the United States (these are UN and DEA figures).
In 1971, during the height of the CIA’s involvement in Laos, there were about 500,000 heroin addicts in the United States. By the mid- to late 1970s this total had fallen to 200,000. But in 1981 with the new flood of Afghan heroin and consequent low prices, the heroin addict population rose to 450,000. In New York City in 1979 alone (the year that the flow of arms to the mujahedin began), heroin-related drug deaths increased by 77 percent. The only publicly acknowledged US casualties on the Afghan battlefields were some Black Muslims who journeyed to the Hindu Kush from the United States to fight on the Prophet’s behalf. But the drug casualties inside the US from the secret CIA war, particularly in the inner cities, numbered in the thousands, plus untold social blight and suffering.
Since the seventeenth century opium poppies have been grown in the so-called Golden Crescent, where the highlands of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran all converge. For nearly four centuries this was an internal market. By the 1950s very little opium was produced in either Afghanistan or Pakistan, with perhaps 2,500 acres in these two countries under cultivation. The fertile growing fields of Afghanistan’s Helmand Valley, by the 1980s under intensive opium poppy cultivation, were covered with vineyards, wheat fields and cotton plantations.
In Iran, the situation was markedly different in the early 1950s. The country, dominated by British and US oil companies and intelligence agencies, was producing 600 tons of opium a year and had 1.3 million opium addicts, second only to China where, at the same moment, the western opium imperialists still held sway. Then, in 1953, Mohammed Mossadegh, Iran’s nationalist equivalent of China’s Sun Yat-sen, won elections and immediately moved to suppress the opium trade. Within a few weeks, US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles was calling Mossadegh a madman, and Dulles’s brother Allen, head of the CIA, dispatched Kermit Roosevelt to organize a coup against him. In August 1953 Mossadegh was overthrown, the Shah was installed by the CIA, and the oil and opium fields of Iran were once again in friendly hands. Production continued unabated until the assumption of power in 1979 of the Ayatollah Khomeini, at which point Iran had a very serious opium problem in terms of the addiction of its own population. Unlike the mujahedin chieftains, the Ayatollah was a strict constructionist of Islamic law on the matter of intoxicants: addicts and dealers faced the death penalty. Opium production in Iran dropped drastically.
In Afghanistan in the 1950s and 1960s, the relatively sparse opium trade was controlled by the royal family, headed by King Mohammed Zahir, The large feudal estates all had their opium fields, primarily to feed domestic consumption of the drug. In April 1978 a populist coup overthrew the regime of Mohammed Daoud, who had formed an alliance with the Shah of Iran. The Shah had shoveled money in Daoud’s direction – $2 billion on one report – and the Iranian secret police, the Savak, were imported to train Daoud’s internal security force. The new Afghan government was led by Noor Mohammed Taraki. The Taraki administration moved toward land reform, hence an attack on the opium-growing feudal estates. Taraki went to the UN, where he requested and received loans for crop substitution for the poppy fields.
Taraki also pressed hard against opium production in the border areas held by fundamentalists, since the latter were using opium revenues to finance attacks on the Afghan central government, which they regarded as an unwholesome incarnation of modernity that allowed women to go to school and outlawed arranged marriages and the bride price.
By the spring of 1979 the character of Dan Rather’s heroes, the mujahedin, was also beginning to emerge. The Washington Post reported that the mujahedin liked to “torture their victims by first cutting off their noses, ears and genitals, then removing one slice of skin after another.” Over that year the mujahedin evinced particular animosity toward westerners, killing six West Germans and a Canadian tourist and severely beating a US military attaché. It’s also ironic that in that year the mujahedin were getting money not only from the CIA but from Libya’s Moammar Qaddaffi, who sent $250,000 in their direction.
In the summer of 1979, over six months before the Soviets moved in, the US State Department produced a memorandum making clear how it saw the stakes, no matter how modern-minded Taraki might be, or how feudal the mujahedin: “The United States’ larger interest … would be served by the demise of the Taraki-Amin regime, despite whatever setbacks this might mean for future social and economic reforms in Afghanistan.” The report continued, “The overthrow of the DRA [Democratic Republic of Afghanistan] would show the rest of the world, particularly the Third World, that the Soviets’ view of the socialist course of history as being inevitable is not accurate.”
Hard pressed by conservative forces in Afghanistan, Taraki appealed to the Soviets for help, which they declined to furnish on the grounds that this was exactly what their mutual enemies were waiting for.
In September 1979 Taraki was killed in a coup organized by Afghan military officers. Hafizullah Amin was installed as president. He had impeccable western credentials, having been to Columbia University in New York and the University of Wisconsin. Amin had served as the president of the Afghan Students Association, which had been funded by the Asia Foundation, a CIA pass-through group, or front. After the coup Amin began meeting regularly with US Embassy officials at a time when the US was arming Islamic rebels in Pakistan. Fearing a fundamentalist, US-backed regime pressing against its own border, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in force on December 27, 1979.
Then began the Carter-initiated CIA buildup that so worried White House drug expert David Musto. In a replication of what happened following the CIA-backed coup in Iran, the feudal estates were soon back in opium production and the crop-substitution program ended.
Because Pakistan had a nuclear program, the US had a foreign aid ban on the country. This was soon lifted it as the waging of a proxy war in Afghanistan became prime policy. In fairly short order, without any discernible slowdown in its nuclear program, Pakistan became the third largest recipient of US aid worldwide, right behind Israel and Egypt. Arms poured into Karachi from the US and were shipped up to Peshawar by the National Logistics Cell, a military unit controlled by Pakistan’s secret police, the ISI. From Peshawar those guns that weren’t simply sold to any and all customers (the Iranians got 16 Stinger missiles, one of which was used against a US helicopter in the Gulf) were divvied out by the ISI to the Afghan factions.
Though the US press, Dan Rather to the fore, portrayed the mujahedin as a unified force of freedom fighters, the fact (unsurprising to anyone with an inkling of Afghan history) was that the mujahedin consisted of at least seven warring factions, all battling for territory and control of the opium trade. The ISI gave the bulk of the arms – at one count 60 percent – to a particularly fanatical fundamentalist and woman-hater Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who made his public debut at the University of Kabul by killing a leftist student. In 1972 Hekmatyar fled to Pakistan, where he became an agent of the ISI. He urged his followers to throw acid in the faces of women not wearing the veil, kidnapped rival leaders, and built up his CIA-furnished arsenal against the day the Soviets would leave and the war for the mastery of Afghanistan would truly break out.
Using his weapons to get control of the opium fields, Hekmatyar and his men would urge the peasants, at gun point, to increase production. They would collect the raw opium and bring it back to Hekmatyar’s six heroin factories in the town of Koh-i-Soltan
One of Hekmatyar’s chief rivals in the mujahedin, Mullah Nassim, controlled the opium poppy fields in the Helmand Valley, producing 260 tons of opium a year. His brother, Mohammed Rasul, defended this agricultural enterprise by stating, “We must grow and sell opium to fight our holy war against the Russian nonbelievers.” Despite this well-calculated pronouncement, they spent almost all their time fighting their fellow-believers, using the weapons sent them by the CIA to try to win the advantage in these internecine struggles. In 1989 Hekmatyar launched an assault against Nassim, attempting to take control of the Helmand Valley. Nassim fought him off, but a few months later Hekmatyar successfully engineered Nassim’s assassination when he was holding the post of deputy defense minister in the provisional post-Soviet Afghan government. Hekmatyar now controlled opium growing in the Helmand Valley.
American DEA agents were fully apprised of the drug running of the mujahedin in concert with Pakistani intelligence and military leaders. In 1983 the DEA’s congressional liaison, David Melocik, told a congressional committee, “You can say the rebels make their money off the sale of opium. There’s no doubt about it. These rebels keep their cause going through the sale of opium.” But talk about “the cause” depending on drug sales was nonsense at that particular moment. The CIA was paying for everything regardless. The opium revenues were ending up in offshore accounts in the Habib Bank, one of Pakistan’s largest, and in the accounts of BCCI, founded by Agha Hasan Abedi, who began his banking career at Habib. The CIA was simultaneously using BCCI for its own secret transactions.
The DEA had evidence of over forty heroin syndicates operating in Pakistan in the mid-1980s during the Afghan war, and there was evidence of more than 200 heroin labs operating in northwest Pakistan. Even though Islamabad houses one of the largest DEA offices in Asia, no action was ever taken by the DEA agents against any of these operations. An Interpol officer told the journalist Lawrence Lifschultz, “It is very strange that the Americans, with the size of their resources, and political power they possess in Pakistan, have failed to break a single case. The explanation cannot be found in a lack of adequate police work. They have had some excellent men working in Pakistan.” But working in the same offices as those DEA agents were five CIA officers who, so one of the DEA agents later told the Washington Post, ordered them to pull back their operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan for the duration of the war.
Those DEA agents were well aware of the drug-tainted profile of a firm the CIA was using to funnel cash to the mujahedin, namely Shakarchi Trading Company. This Lebanese-owned company had been the subject of a long-running DEA investigation into money laundering. One of Shakarchi’s chief clients was Yasir Musullulu, who had once been nabbed attempting to deliver an 8.5-ton shipment of Afghan opium to members of the Gambino crime syndicate in New York City. A DEA memo noted that Shakarchi mingled “the currency of heroin, morphine base, and hashish traffickers with that of jewelers buying gold on the black market and Middle Eastern arms traffickers.”
In May 1984 Vice President George Bush journeyed to Pakistan to confer with General Zia al Huq and other ranking members of the Pakistani regime. At the time, Bush was the head of President Reagan’s National Narcotics Border Interdiction System. In this latter function, one of Bush’s first moves was to expand the role of the CIA in drug operations. He gave the Agency primary responsibility in the use of, and control over, drug informants. The operational head of this task force was retired Admiral Daniel J. Murphy.
Murphy pushed for access to intelligence on drug syndicates but complained that the CIA was forever dragging its feet. “I didn’t win,” he said later to the New York Times. “I didn’t get as much effective participation from the CIA as I wanted.” Another member of the task force put it more bluntly, “The CIA could be of value, but you need a change of values and attitude. I don’t know of a single thing they’ve ever given us that was useful.”
Bush certainly knew well that Pakistan had become the source for most of the high-grade heroin entering Western Europe and the United States and that the generals with whom he was consorting were deeply involved in the drug trade. But the vice president, who proclaimed later that “I will never bargain with drug dealers on US or foreign soil,” used his journey to Pakistan to praise the Zia regime for its unflinching support for the War on Drugs. (Amid such rhetorical excursions he did find time, it has to be said, to extract from Zia a contract to buy $40 million worth of gas turbines made by the General Electric Co.)
Predictably, through the 1980s the Reagan and Bush administrations went to great lengths to pin the blame for the upswing in Pakistani heroin production on the Soviet generals in Kabul. “The regime maintains an absolute indifference to any measures to control poppy,” Reagan’s attorney general Edwin Meese declared during a visit to Islamabad in March 1986. “We strongly believe that there is actually encouragement, at least tacitly, over growing opium poppy.”
Meese knew better. His own Justice Department had been tracking the import of drugs from Pakistan since at least 1982 and was well aware that the trade was controlled by Afghan rebels and the Pakistani military. A few months after Meese’s speech in Pakistan, the US Customs Office nabbed a Pakistani man named Abdul Wali as he tried to unload more than a ton of hash and a smaller amount of heroin into the United
States at Port Newark, New Jersey. The Justice Department informed the press that Wali headed a 50,000-member organization in northwest Pakistan – but Deputy Attorney General Claudia Flynn refused to reveal the group’s identity. Another federal official told the Associated Press that Wali was a top leader of the mujahedin.
It was also known to US officials that people on intimate terms with President Zia were making fortunes in the opium trade. The word “fortune” here is no exaggeration, since one such Zia associate had $3 billion in his BCCI accounts. In 1983, a year before George Bush’s visit to Pakistan, one of President Zia’s doctors, a Japanese herbalist named Hisayoshi Maruyama was arrested in Amsterdam packing 17.5 kilos of high-grade heroin manufactured in Pakistan out of Afghan opium. At the time of his arrest he was disguised as a boy scout.
Interrogated by DEA agents after his arrest, Maruyama said that he was just a courier for Mirza Iqbal Baig, a man whom Pakistani customs agents described as “the most active dope dealer in the country.” Baig was on close terms with the Zia family and other ranking officials in the government. He had twice been a target of the DEA, whose agents were told not to pursue investigations of him because of his ties to the Zia government. A top Pakistani lawyer, Said Sani Ahmed, told the BBC that this was standard procedure in Pakistan: “We may have evidence against a particular individual, but still our law-enforcing agencies cannot lay hands on such people, because they are forbidden to act by their superiors. The real culprits have enough money and resources. Frankly, they are enjoying some sort of immunity.”
Baig was one of the tycoons of the Pakistani city of Lahore, owning cinemas, shopping centers, factories and a textile mill. He wasn’t indicted on drug charges until 1992, after the fall of the Zia regime, when a US federal court in Brooklyn indicted him for heroin trafficking. The US finally exerted enough pressure on Pakistan to have him arrested in 1993; as of the spring of 1998 he was in prison in Pakistan.
One of Baig’s partners (as described in Newsweek) in his drug business was Haji Ayub Afridi, a close ally of President Zia, who had served in the Pakistani General Assembly. Afridi lives thirty-five miles outside Peshawar in a large compound sealed off by 20-foot-high walls topped with concertina-wire and with defenses including an anti-aircraft battery and a private army of tribesmen. Afridi was said to be in charge of purchasing raw opium from the Afghan drug lords, while Baig looked after logistics and shipping to Europe and the United States. In 1993 Afridi was alleged to have put out a contract on the life of a DEA agent working in Pakistan.
Another case close to the Zia government involved the arrest on drug charges of Hamid Hasnain, the vice president of Pakistan’s largest financial house, the Habib Bank. Hasnain’s arrest became the centerpiece of a scandal known as the “Pakistani League affair.” The drug ring was investigated by a dogged Norwegian investigator named Olyvind Olsen. On December 13, 1983 Norwegian police seized 3.5 kilos of heroin at Oslo airport in the luggage of a Pakistani named Raza Qureishi. In exchange for a reduced sentence Qureishi agreed to name his suppliers to Olsen, the narcotics investigator. Shortly after his interview with Qureishi, Olsen flew to Islamabad to ferret out the other members of the heroin syndicate. For more than a year Olsen pressured Pakistan’s Federal Investigate Agency (FIA) to arrest the three men Qureishi had fingered: Tahir Butt, Munawaar Hussain, and Hasnain. All were associates of Baig and Zia. It wasn’t until Olsen threatened to publicly condemn the FIA’s conduct that the Agency took any action: finally, on October 25, 1985 the FIA arrested the three men. When the Pakistani agents picked up Hasnain they were assailed with a barrage of threats. Hasnain spoke of “dire consequences” and claimed to be “like a son” to President Zia. Inside Hasnain’s suitcase FIA agents discovered records of the ample bank accounts of President Zia plus those of Zia’s wife and daughter.
Immediately after learning of Hasnain’s arrest, Zia’s wife, who was in Egypt at the time, telephoned the head of the FIA. The president’s wife imperiously demanded the release of her family’s “personal banker.” It turned out that Hasnain not only attended to the secret financial affairs of the presidential family, but also of the senior Pakistani generals, who were skimming money off the arms imports from the CIA and making millions from the opium traffic. A few days after his wife’s call, President Zia himself was on the phone to the FIA, demanding that the investigators explain the circumstances surrounding Hasnain’s arrest. Zia soon arranged for Hasnain to be released on bail pending trial. When Qureishi, the courier, took the stand to testify against Hasnain, the banker and his co-defendant hurled death threats against the witness in open court, prompting a protest from the Norwegian investigator, who threatened to withdraw from the proceedings.
Eventually the judge in the case clamped down, revoking Hasnain’s bail and handing him a stiff prison term after his conviction. But Hasnain was just a relatively small fish who went to prison while guilty generals went free. “He’s been made a scapegoat,” Munir Bhatti told journalist Lawrence Lifschultz, “The CIA spoiled the case. The evidence was distorted. There was no justification in letting off the actual culprits who include senior personalities in this country. There was evidence in this case identifying such people.”
Such were the men to whom the CIA was paying $3.2 billion a year to run the Afghan war, and no person better epitomizes this relationship than Lieutenant General Fazle Huq, who oversaw military operations in northwest Pakistan for General Zia, including the arming of the mujahedin who were using the region as a staging area for their raids. It was Huq who ensured that his ally Hekmatyar received the bulk of the CIA arms shipments, and it was also Huq who oversaw and protected the operations of the 200 heroin labs within his jurisdiction. Huq had been identified in 1982 by Interpol as a key player in the Afghan-Pakistani opium trade. The Pakistani opposition leaders referred to Huq as Pakistani’s Noriega. He had been protected from drug investigations by Zia and the CIA and later boasted that with these connections he could get away “with blue murder.”
Like other narco-generals in the Zia regime, Huq was also on close terms with Agha Hassan Abedi, the head of the BCCI. Abedi, Huq and Zia would dine together nearly every month, and conferred several times with Reagan’s CIA director William Casey. Huq had a BCCI account worth $3 million. After Zia was assassinated in 1988 by a bomb planted (probably by senior military officers) in his presidential plane, Huq lost some of his official protection, and he was soon arrested for ordering the murder of a Shi’ite cleric.
After Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was deposed, her replacement Ishaq Khan swiftly released Huq from prison. In 1991 Huq was shot to death, probably in revenge for the cleric’s death. The opium general was given a state funeral, where he was eulogized by Ishaq Khan as “a great soldier and competent administrator who played a commendable role in Pakistan’s national progress.”
Benazir Bhutto had swept to power in 1988 amid fierce vows to clean up Pakistan’s drug-sodden corruption, but it wasn’t long “before her own regime became the focus of serious charges. In 1989 the US Drug Enforcement Agency came across information that Benazir’s husband, Asif Ali Zardari, may have been financing large shipments of heroin from Pakistan to Great Britain and the United States. The DEA assigned one of its agents, a man named John Banks, to work undercover in Pakistan. Banks was a former British mercenary who had worked undercover for Scotland Yard in big international drug cases.
While in Pakistan, Banks claims he posed as a member of the Mafia and that he had met with Bhutto and her husband at their home in Sind. Banks further claims that he traveled with Zadari to Islamabad, where he secretly recorded five hours of conversation between Zadari, a Pakistani air force general and a Pakistani banker. The men discussed the logistics of transporting heroin to the US and to Britain: “We talked about how they were going to ship the drugs to America in a metal cutter,” Banks said in 1996. “They told me that the United Kingdom was another area where they had shipped heroin and hashish on a regular basis.” The British Customs Office had also been monitoring Zadari for dope running: “We received intelligence from about three or four sources, about his alleged involvement as a financier,” a retired British customs officer told the Financial Times. “This was all reported to British intelligence.” The customs official says his government failed to act on this report. Similarly, Banks asserts that the CIA halted the DEA’s investigation of Zardari. All this emerged when Bhutto’s government fell for the second time, in 1996, on charges of corruption lodged primarily against Zardari, who is now in prison for his role in the murder of his brother-in-law Murtaza. Zardari also stands accused of embezzling more than $1 billion in government funds.”
In 1991 Nawz Sharif says that while he served as prime minister he was approached by two Pakistani generals – Aslam Beg, chief of staff for the army, and Asad Durrani, head of the ISI – with a plan to fund dozens of covert operations through the sale of heroin. “General Durrani told me, ‘We have a blueprint ready for your approval,’ Sharif explained to Washington Post reporter John Ward Anderson in 1994. “I was totally flabbergasted. Both Beg and Durrani insisted that Pakistan’s name would not be cited at any place because the whole operation would be carried out by trustworthy third parties. Durrani then went on to list a series of covert military operations in desperate need of money.” Sharif said that he rejected the plan, but believes it was put in place when Bhutto resumed power.
The impact of the Afghan war on Pakistan’s addiction rates was even more drastic than the surge in heroin addiction in the US and Europe. Before the CIA program began, there were fewer than 5,000 heroin addicts in Pakistan. By 1996, according to the United Nations, there were more than 1.6 million. The Pakistani representative to the UN Commission on Narcotics, Raoolf Ali Khan, said in 1993 that “there is no branch of government where drug corruption doesn’t pervade.” As an example he pointed to the fact that Pakistan spends only $1.8 million a year on anti-drug efforts, with an allotment of $1,000 to purchase gasoline for its seven trucks.
By 1994 the value of the heroin trade in Pakistan was twice the amount of the government’s budget. A Western diplomat told the Washington Post in that year that “when you get to the stage where narco-traffickers have more money than the government it’s going to take remarkable efforts and remarkable people to turn it around.” The magnitude of commitment required is illustrated by two episodes. In 1991 the largest drug bust in world history occurred on the road
from Peshawar to Karachi. Pakistani customs officers seized 3.5 tons of heroin and 44 tons of hashish. Several days later half the hashish and heroin had vanished along with the witnesses. The suspects, four men with ties to Pakistani intelligence, had “mysteriously escaped,” to use the words of a Pakistani customs officer. In 1993 Pakistani border guards seized 8 tons of hashish and 1.7 tons of heroin. When the case was turned over to the Pakistani narcotics control board, the entire staff went on vacation to avoid being involved in the investigation. No one was disciplined or otherwise inconvenienced and the narco-traffickers got off scot free. Even the CIA was eventually forced to admit in a 1994 report to Congress that heroin had become the “life blood of the Pakistani economy and political system.”
In February 1989 Mikhail Gorbachev pulled the Soviet troops out of Afghanistan, and asked the US to agree to an embargo on the provision of weapons to any of the Afghan mujahedin factions, who were preparing for another phase of internecine war for control of the country. President Bush refused, thus ensuring a period of continued misery and horror for most Afghans. The war had already turned half the population into refugees, and seen 3 million wounded and more than a million killed. The proclivities of the mujahedin at this point are illustrated by a couple of anecdotes. The Kabul correspondent of the Far Eastern Economic Review reported in 1989 the mujahedin’s treatment of Soviet prisoners: “One group was killed, skinned and hung up in a butcher’s shop. One captive found himself the center of attraction in a game of buzkashi, that rough-and-tumble form of Afghan polo in which a headless goat is usually the ball. The captive was used instead. Alive. He was literally torn to pieces.” The CIA also had evidence that its freedom fighters had doped up more than 200 Soviet soldiers with heroin and locked them in animal cages where, the Washington Post reported in 1990, they led “lives of indescribable horror.”
In September 1996 the Taliban, fundamentalists nurtured originally in Pakistan as creatures of both the ISI and the CIA, seized power in Kabul, whereupon Mullah Omar, their leader, announced that all laws inconsistent with the Muslim Sharia would be changed. Women would be forced to assume the chador and remain at home, with total segregation of the sexes and women kept out of hospitals, schools and public bathrooms. The CIA continued to support these medieval fanatics who, according to Emma Bonino, the European Union’s commissioner for humanitarian affairs, were committing “gender genocide.”
One law at odds with the Sharia that the Taliban had no apparent interest in changing was the prophet’s injunction against intoxicants. In fact, the Taliban urged its Afghan farmers to increase their production of opium. One of the Taliban leaders, the “drug czar” Abdul Rashid, noted, “If we try to stop this [opium farming] the people will be against us.” By the end 1996, according to the UN, Afghan opium production had reached 2,000 metric tons. There were an estimated 200,000 families in Afghanistan working in the opium trade. The Taliban were in control of the 96 percent of all Afghan land in opium cultivation and imposed a tax on opium production and a road toll on trucks carrying the crop.
In 1997 an Afghan opium farmer gave an ironic reply to Jimmy Carter’s brooding on whether to use nuclear weapons as part of a response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Amhud Gul told a reporter from the Washington Post, “We are cultivating this [that is, opium] and exporting this as an atom bomb.” CIA intervention had worked its magic once again. By 1994, Afghanistan, according to the UN drug control program had surpassed Burma as the world’s number one supplier of raw opium.
Note: This story was more than two years in the making. I started reporting it in 1995 for the premier issue of a Portland-based magazine called Serpent’s Tooth: Reporting the Drug War, which was meant to be a cross between Ramparts and Paul Krassner’s The Realist, with plenty of sex ads to pay the bills. In fact, Krassner also wrote a scathingly funny piece for that issue, some ribald tale involving three of his favorite subjects: Bill Clinton, LSD and the virtues of masturbation. Alas, a few weeks before the magazine was ready to go to press, the trust-fund publisher pulled the plug on the entire venture after getting into a brawl with the editorial collective. In my experience, any time there’s an “editorial collective” in charge, the publication is destined for a ventilator, especially when cocaine is involved. So, after spending more than a year working on my big piece on the Afghan war and the opium trade, it was orphaned. Portions of the story later appeared in CounterPunch, the Anderson Valley Advertiser and the Twin Cities weekly, City Pages. And a version of it ended up as a chapter in our book Whiteout: the CIA, Drugs and the Press.
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