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Politex, I am looking for information about Osama bin Laden and the illegal drug trade in Afghanistan. Is he financed by this trade? I know he gets most of his financing from his inheritance and investments and from terrorists from the Arab world, but I have never read that he actually is a "drug lord". In fact, I read somewhere along the way that he absolutely banned drugs from his organization and was anti- drug. Can you help me find any information about this? --Shirley, 10/8/01

Shirley, in a recent speech, Tony Blair told the British people that the al-Qaida network and the Taliban regime is presently being funded by selling drugs, and that's one reason the British want to remove Bin Laden and his gang. Interestingly, Bush has never used the sales of Afghan drugs in New York and other U.S. cities as a reason for attacking the Taliban, al-Qaida, and Bin Laden. I recently observed on CNN how a Taliban member dealt with the subject of drugs. He said drug use is forbidden by his faith, but it's ok to sell drugs to non-believers. As you will read below, this past September reporter Peter Hamill wrote that Afghan drugs are being sold in American cities. This past August the U.S. State Department announced aid of $1.5 million to support Afghan farmers who, supposedly, have stopped growing poppies (below). However, according to a U.N. report three months previous to that (below), the Taliban had enough drugs warehoused to continue their business and needed to stop growing poppies for a while to keep the prices up. Also, a BBC report in late April noted that poppies don't grow well during the drought the country is in, and farmers have switched to a more hardy wheat crop. At any rate, the idea of less drugs coming out of Afghanistan would appear to be news to Britain and Tony Blair (below). --Politex, 10/8/01

"We act also because the al-Qaida network and the Taliban regime are funded in large part on the drugs trade. Ninety per cent of all heroin sold in Britain originates from Afghanistan. Stopping that trade is, again, directly in our interests." --Prime Minister Blair in an address to the British people on the ongoing attacks on Afghanistan, 10/7/01

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"A 1997 report from the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor called the opium poppy the "mainstay" of the Taliban economy, accounting for perhaps $100 million in annual revenues for Afghan growers and traffickers. Indeed, with virtually no infrastructure to support manufacturing and little in the way of licit international trade, it is perhaps the only basis of the Taliban's economy apart from the military aid from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan." --DPF.

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In Afghanistan "there is only one lucrative export (other than terrorism): heroin. Afghanistan is now the world's largest producer of opium, having surpassed Burma in the past few years. It is estimated — by the CIA, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. State Department — that in 1999 it produced 1,670 metric tons of opium, up 23% from 1998. Some 51,500 hectares are under cultivation. An intricate shipping network has existed since the time of the 1979-89 war with the Soviet Union, with raw opium base moving into Pakistan for refinement into heroin (and increasingly being refined in Afghanistan itself), and then on to Turkey, Canada and the streets of American cities, including New York." --Pet Hamill, 9?18/01

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"As for the implementation of any eradication policy, the international non-recognition of the Taliban government is of primary importance. The methods of action against opium production in Afghanistan are largely compromised as long as the country does not have international recognition. Even the United Nations Drug Control Programme cannot legally conduct any formal agreement with the Taliban government as long as the latter is not internationally recognized. Indeed, Mullah Omar offered again in 1998 to eradicate poppy cultivation in exchange for the recognition by the United Nations of its government as the legitimate one of Afghanistan. His offer could be taken seriously by the international community that opposes Taliban’s policies and actions. To engage in poppy eradication, Afghanistan must have international recognition and aid that are in turn impeded by Taliban political policies and actions deemed unacceptable by the international community. But the dilemma for the Taliban, who need both regional and international assistance, is that they cannot reasonably give up their mass support by forcing the peasantry of this predominantly agricultural country to engage in opium eradication, one of the only means of economic survival. The internal support of the population for opium cultivation or eradication is directly dependent on the contributions of the international assistance. Alone and without support, whether internal or external, the Taliban government cannot afford to engage in the eradication of opium, the country's main cash crop." --P-A Chouvy, 1999.

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"UN Report Casts Doubt On Taliban Anti-Opium Efforts... The United Nations on May 25, 2001 issued an expert panel report on enforcing sanctions against the Taliban in Afghanistan. According to a news briefing from the Office of the Secretary-General ( "Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary-General"), the five member Committee of Experts, chaired by Ambassador Haile Menkerios of Eritrea, "said it considered it essential to look into the illicit drugs trade by the Taliban, and while noting that the Taliban had banned opium production, it also pointed to a sizeable stock of opium and heroin. The report says, 'If Taliban officials were sincere in stopping the production of opium and heroin, then one would expect them to order the destruction of all stocks existing in areas under their control.'" --CSDP.

"The Times of India reported on May 27, 2001 ( "UN Report Slams Taliban For Drugs, Pakistan For Terrorism") that the Committee of Experts "recommended setting up a new UN sanctions monitoring office based in Vienna which would employ specialists in illegal arms trafficking, drugs, money laundering and counter-terrorism." The Times story notes that 'The five-member panel has questioned the sincerity of the Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar in banning cultivation of poppy last July. It says the Taliban was stockpiling drugs and it has halted production only to keep opium and heroin prices from plummeting.'" --CSDP.

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"Following is the text of a statement by Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Christina Rocca in Islamabad August 2 about $1.5 million in U.S. assistance to help sustain a ban on poppy cultivation in Afghanistan in areas under Taliban control:

"The Taliban appear to have effectively enforced a ban on poppy cultivation in the areas under its control. The area under cultivation has been reduced dramatically. We welcome the Taliban's enforcement of the ban, and hope it will be sustained.

"It is important for the international community to assist the farmers who have felt the impact of the poppy ban. These farmers have few options as Afghanistan is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis brought about by over 20 years of conflict and drought.

"To respond to the poppy ban, I would like to announce a $1.5 million U.S. pledge to the United Nations Drug Control Program's Short Term Assistance Project to sustain the ban on poppy cultivation in Nangarhar province in Afghanistan. U.S. funding for this project will focus on short-term assistance to enhance household food security and to mitigate the hardships of the most vulnerable groups of small landholders mid the landless in Nangarhar. Small landholders will be provided with improved seeds and fertilizers. Food-for-work schemes will be implemented for the landless and sharecroppers. We will continue to look for additional assistance for farmers affected by the poppy ban." --U.S. Department Of State, August 2, 2001

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"We act also because the al-Qaida network and the Taliban regime are funded in large part on the drugs trade. Ninety per cent of all heroin sold in Britain originates from Afghanistan. Stopping that trade is, again, directly in our interests." --Prime Minister Blair in an address to the British people on the ongoing attacks on Afghanistan, 10/7/01

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Chasing the heroin dragon

By SUSAN TAYLOR MARTIN
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 13, 2001

PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- "Twice in the past 18 years, Mir Khawaja has tried to kick his heroin habit so he can support his wife and four daughters. But the temptations are too great and the heroin too cheap. Even after the price doubled in the mid '90s, Khawaja could still get his daily fix for just 50 rupees, or about 80 cents. That's because most of Pakistan's heroin comes from a close and steady source -- neighboring Afghanistan, the world's biggest producer of opium poppies. Drug smuggling is rampant and "you can't stop it," says Sher Naeem, who heads a drug treatment center not far from a railroad embankment where hollowed-eyed addicts congregate. "Our border is a large border, and people move easily between here and there." As many as 5-million of Pakistan's 140-million people are hooked on heroin.

"According to the United Nations, Afghanistan accounts for almost 75 percent of the world's illicit opium production. About half of the Afghan heroin stays home or goes to nearby countries, while most of the rest is smuggled into Europe and North America. The Taliban, the conservative Muslim rulers of Afghanistan, have condemned drug trafficking as a sin against Islam. Last year, the Taliban supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, announced a ban on opium growing, and a few poppy fields were plowed under as the cameras rolled. But there is evidence of renewed production by Afghan farmers, who can make far more money raising poppies than they can cucumbers or cabbages. And the Taliban is thought to be stock-piling a large amount of opium, with the intent of releasing it as needed to get money for weapons and military operations. "Their highly publicized ban on new poppy production appears in reality to be a coldly calculated ploy to control the world market price for their opium and heroin," said U.S. Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., chairman of a House committee on drug policy.

"The threat of a new wave of heroin rolling out of Afghanistan has caused alarm in Western Europe -- especially Britain, which already has a large addiction problem. But those in the business of treating Pakistan's addicts are worried, too, for this impoverished nation has far fewer resources than the West. "We're in a hospital with 900 beds and we only have 12 beds for detoxification," sighs Naeem, whose small center is on the grounds of a huge but run-down facility built decades ago by the British. As many as 5-million of Pakistan's 140-million people are hooked on heroin, one of the world's highest addiction rates. (By comparison, the United States has twice as many citizens but about 250,000 addicts.) A disproportionate number of Pakistan's addicts gravitate to Peshawar, whose proximity to the Afghan border makes heroin especially cheap and easy to get.

"In the early '90s, while a civil war threw Afghanistan into near-anarchy, an addict could buy a gram of heroin -- considered a day's supply here -- for just 25 rupees, or 40 cents. When the Taliban came to power in 1996 and began to limit production, the supplies dried up somewhat and the price eventually went to about 100 rupees. At the same time, the purity went down. "The quality is not very good; it's mixed with chemicals and other substances," says Abida Nazir, a clinical psychologist at the drug treatment center. "Our patients tell us they don't get as much pleasure as in the past." Today, the price in Peshawar remains about 100 rupees while closer to the border a gram can be had for just 50. That's enough of a savings that many addicts, even in their wasted states, take a bus into the semi-autonomous tribal areas where they can buy the stuff cheaper.

"So poor are most addicts in Pakistan that they can't even afford syringes. Instead, they inhale the drug in a method they call "chasing the dragon." Addicts take the silver foil from cigarette packages and burn off the white paper backing. They spread the heroin on top of the foil square and hold a match underneath, heating the drug until it turns into a dark goo, which they inhale through a small straw. Many of the addicts in Peshawar gather day and night near a railroad overpass painted with a large sign for Coca-Cola and the slogan "Keep your city clean." Although Pakistan has strong penalties for drug trafficking, law enforcement pays almost no attention to low-level dealers and users. "You see them lying by the roadside," says Naeem, the center's director. "The police don't do a thing."

"Only about 1 percent of Pakistan's addicts are female. The fear of disgracing the family in this conservative Muslim society is so great that most women never even try the "soft drugs," marijuana and hashish, although they too are abundant. Among males, however, heroin addiction cuts across all strata. Many men from well-off families begin experimenting in college and get hooked because of the easy availability. Most of those get treatment in private clinics here and abroad. Naeem's government-run center is for addicts who are much poorer but still receive some support from their families. The center used to supply meals to patients as they went through the 12-day detoxification and counseling program, but money for that dried up six years ago. Now, relatives must agree to furnish a patient's daily meals before he will be admitted...."more

-- Susan Martin can be reached at susan@sptimes.com.

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