The Afghan Drug Industry — a Threat to Russia and an Instrument of Geopolitical Gains
Strategic Culture Foundation
The «Drug Production in Afghanistan: A Challenge for the International Community» international forum convened in Moscow on June 9-10, 2010. Russian President D. Medvedev attended the event. These days the drug business not only erodes societies and generates enormous illicit revenues, but routinely serves as an instrument in geopolitical games.
Reports on the current configuration of the Afghan drug industry are contradictory. For example, it is unclear which of Afghanistan’s 27 provinces can still be regarded as «drug-free». It is widely held that drug cultivation in the country is limited to the Kandahār and Helmand provinces in the southern part of Afghanistan, but according to alternative accounts poppy fields also exist on the southern bank of the Panj River.
Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime Antonio Maria Costa described the situation in the Afghan drug business as a total storm combining narcotics and criminal activity with insurgency which for years used to stay localized in the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan and now is spilling onto Central Asia. He warned that, unless drastic measures are taken, a large part of Eurasia with its vast energy reserves would be lost and the epicenter of instability would shift from Afghanistan to Central Asia (the recent developments in Kyrgyzstan highlighted the tendency). Nevertheless, the UN official de facto expressed support for the the new US approach which rejects the eradication of drug crops in Afghanistan as a strategy, and A. Costa’s suggestion to adopt the policy of downward pressure on opium prices sounded like an invitation to flood the world with heroine (1).
NATO is widely criticized for refusing to eradicate poppy crops with the help of defoliants. Tentatively, the Western coalition is worried that eradication would antagonize Afghan farmers. The US Administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan R. Holbrooke declared that NATO forces in Afghanistan would not resort to eradication, a position Russian drug control agency chief V.P. Ivanov criticized as a major mistake. Russian experts opine that, as anti-drug campaigns in Columbia and the Golden Triangle have shown, the use of defoliation is more efficient than mechanical eradication (2).
What are the prospects for serious cooperation between Russia and the Western coalition in Afghanistan? Russia has opened to NATO an air conduit the alliance uses to supply the operation in Afghanistan, and Russian private companies have taken a role in the Afghan domestic transit. Russia’s death toll over the past decade marked with the wide-scale narcotics aggression is estimated at 250,000-300,000. Will Washington and Brussels be receptive to Russia’s proposal to establish a joint Collective Security Treaty Organization – NATO command in Khorugh, the capital of Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Province from which a notorious drug trafficking route runs north? Will the West accept that the functioning of the airlift via Russia and defoliation-based eradication, at least in the Afghan provinces where most of the poppy cultivation is taking place, are interlocking themes? (3) How long is Moscow going to get from NATO nothing but expressions of appreciation in return for its cooperativeness?
Quite a few of the statements made by the Western coalition’s representatives (4) at the forum left a sense of total confusion. At the moment the official plan is to delegate responsibility for the anti-narcotics efforts to the Afghan administration, while Western officials admitted freely on the conference sidelines that the Afghan government is in fact completely defunct.
Due to Afghanistan’s strategic location, the military presence in the country enables the US and NATO to exert pressure simultaneously on Russia, China, the key oil exporters (Iran, the Saudi Arabia, Iraq), and the Asian nuclear powers (India and Pakistan). NATO military bases in Afghanistan can be readily employed in a campaign against Iran (5). At the same time Iran – a country bordering Russia in the Caucasian region — has been quite successful in the struggle against the narcotics expansion and can be regarded as Russia’s natural ally in countering the evil (6).
No settlement in Afghanistan is possible as long as the international occupation of the country continues. The settlement would take the institution of adequate border control and various other measures that Afghanistan’s neighbors as countries not interested in preserving its current status of a regional powder keg should take. Otherwise, there will be more talk that the US imports Uranium ore from the Paktika province, the US Air Force is involved in drug trafficking, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization only creates favorable conditions for the drug business by building bridges and roads in the northern part of Afghanistan.
On June 9, 2010 Russian President D. Medvedev signed Russia’s Anti-Narcotics Strategy Till 2020 (7). The document sets the goals of forming security belts around Afghanistan to prevent the supply of opiates from the country and of coordinating internationally the entire range of anti-narcotics activities. Russia needs an immediate breakthrough in the international cooperation in drug enforcement to ensure progress in countering the Afghan narcotics threat.
(1) On the Evolution of the Drug Situation in Afghanistan. Materials of the «Drug Production in Afghanistan: A Challenge for the International Community» international forum, Moscow, June 9-10, 2010.
(2) In: Drug Production as a Threat to Peace and International Security. Talk delivered by Director of Russia’s Federal Service for the Control of Narcotics V.P. Ivanov at the the Nixon Center (Washington), September 24, 2009
(3) The approach was suggested by Parliamentarian S. Bagdsarov and a number of other forum participants.
(4) A French Brigade General subordinate to coalition forces commander Gen. Gen. S. McChrystal said bluntly that destroying the drug business was not a part of the Western coalition’s mandate in Afghanistan. The story of the deaths of 15 Afghans during an alleged anti-narcotics raid was — in line with the Western PR tradition — sold as a case of the coalition’s forces taking risks to protect Russia and its interests.
(5) On the Evolution of the Drug Situation in Afghanistan. Materials of the «Drug Production in Afghanistan: A Challenge for the International Community» international forum, Moscow, June 9-10, 2010.
(6) The initiatives to be mentioned in the context are the building of a fence along the Afghan border, which is a rather costly effort, and the creation of specialized clinics for the treatment of drug addicts in the framework of a partnership between the state and the private sector.
(7) Russian President’s Decree, June 9, 2010.