Afghanistan and Heroin

New York Sun
BY Rachel Ehrenfeld
January 3, 2005

The liberation of Afghanistan may have ended one evil, but unless it is stopped, it is creating a bigger evil – an 800% increase in heroin production, which not only funds the Islamist terrorists, but also kills and destroys the lives of hundred of thousands around the world. In 2005, America can help stop this scourge. Afghanistan no longer serves as Al Qaeda’s home base. Yet, it remains the source of no lesser an evil – the biggest heroin supply in the world. Since its liberation, Afghanistan’s heroin production has risen to 5,000 tons from 640 tons, an increase of almost 800%, worth at least $7 billion. Afghanistan now supplies 87% of the world’s heroin market and at least 90% of the heroin abused in Europe.

Unlike Al Qaeda, whose worst attacks killed more than 3,000 Americans, heroin kills millions of people all over the free world every year and destroys the lives of many others. Yet the world seems either unable or unwilling to put an end to this scourge. Why? After all, the poppy fields are visible to everybody and the locations of the heroin labs in Afghanistan and Pakistan are well known, as are the drug lords and the smuggling routes. It’s the money.

President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan explained it recently himself, saying that heroin, which provides 60% of the Afghan gross domestic product, proves to the world that his country is “not a nation of beggars.” Yet he recognizes that this trade poses even greater dangers than terrorism, and he called on his countrymen to “do jihad” against narcotics “as we did jihad against the Russian invasion.”

Needless to say, despite his good intentions, Mr. Karzai cannot fight it alone, nor should he. The huge increase in heroin production occurred under the watchful eyes of the coalition forces in Afghanistan. They claim that they do not wish to destabilize Mr. Karzai’s government by cutting off the primary source of revenue to the warlords. However, those revenues are also helping to fund the resurrection of the Taliban and Al Qaeda renegades, who, according to Rep. Mark Steven Kirk of Illinois, reaped at least $28 million from the heroin trade last year. This money is used not only to strengthen their forces in the region but also to buy protection for Osama bin Laden.

Yet the American government decided that the best way to fight the growing heroin trade in Afghanistan is by forming a committee – a Pakistani-Afghan-American committee at that – which met earlier this month in Kabul and issued a statement “expressing its satisfaction over cooperation between the three countries in the war on drugs.” Considering the tremendous increase in heroin production over just this past year, one can only wonder what it was they were congratulating themselves on.

By now, the evidence that drugs are a major financial lifeline for terrorism is overwhelming. However, neither the American government nor its allies consider it a priority to aggressively target this source of funding.

A relatively simple way to eradicate these drugs already exists in the form of mycoherbicides. According to David Sands, a scientist who spent years researching these naturally occurring plant-pathogenic fungi as a means of targeting either coca bushes or poppy plants, “mycoherbicides do not need to be genetically engineered. They can be taken directly from nature…if the pathogen is effective in controlling the target[ed] weed…a battery of six tests to verify the safety of the mycoherbicide from the point of toxicity and probable environmental impact…would cost $40,000 for each fungal strain.” However, instead of developing this method of eradication in America, the Department of Agriculture handed over $10 million to the Department of State, which in turn asked the United Nations Office of Drug Control and Crime Prevention to develop mycoherbicides that could be used on coca, but not on the poppy plant. But if the U.N.’s track record on making this world a better place is of any indication, we should not hold our breath for the development of this relatively simple means of ridding the world of the illegal drug scourge, which would cut off the major financial lifeline to the terrorists.

Using mycoherbicides while subsidizing the Afghan economy until other crops and industries can replace the illegal heroin trade that leaves most Afghans poor seems a better way for America to succeed in the war on terrorism and in spreading democracy and the market economy. With no heroin to fund terrorism and subvert the economies and political systems of new and old democracies alike, the American agenda could make a huge step forward.

Ms. Ehrenfeld is director of the American Center for Democracy, the author of “Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed — And How to Stop It,” and a

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