August 8, 2004


Terrorism's Harvest: How al-Qaeda is tapping into the opium trade to finance violence and destabilize Afghanistan (TIM MCGIRK, Aug. 02, 2004, TIME)

U.S. forces on the trail of Osama bin Laden and the leaders of the Taliban in late 2001 didn't worry much about elderly, pious-looking men like Haji Juma Khan. A towering tribesman from the Baluchistan desert near Pakistan, Khan was picked up that December near Kandahar and taken into U.S. custody. Though known to U.S. and Afghan officials as a drug trafficker, he seemed an insignificant catch. "At the time, the Americans were only interested in catching bin Laden and [Taliban leader] Mullah Omar," says a European counterterrorism expert in Kabul. "Juma Khan walked."

That decision has come back to haunt the U.S. and its allies in Afghanistan. Western intelligence agencies believe Khan has become the kingpin of a heroin-trafficking enterprise that is a principal source of funding for the Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists. A Western law-enforcement official in Kabul who is tracking Khan says agents in Pakistan and Afghanistan, after a tip-off in May, turned up evidence that Khan is employing a fleet of cargo ships to move Afghan heroin out of the Pakistani port of Karachi. The official says at least three vessels on return trips from the Middle East took arms like plastic explosives and antitank mines, which were secretly unloaded in Karachi and shipped overland to al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters. Khan is now a marked man. "He's obviously very tightly tied to the Taliban," says Robert Charles, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement. Mirwais Yasini, head of the Afghan government's Counter-Narcotics Directorate, says, "There are central linkages among Khan, Mullah Omar and bin Laden."

The emergence of Khan's network reflects the challenges the U.S. still faces in Afghanistan as the U.S. struggles to hunt al-Qaeda's leaders, disarm Afghanistan's warlords and shore up President Hamid Karzai against a revived Taliban-led insurgency. The renewed trade in opium has worsened all those problems. The World Bank calculates that more than half of Afghanistan's economy is tied up in drugs. The combined incomes of farmers and in-country traffickers reached $2.23 billion last year — up from $1.3 billion in 2002. Heroin trafficking has long been the main source of funds for local warlords' private armies, which thwart Karzai's attempts to expand his authority beyond Kabul. But the drug trade is becoming even more dangerous: U.S. and British counterterrorism experts say al-Qaeda and its Taliban allies are increasingly financing operations with opium sales. Antidrug officials in Afghanistan have no hard figures on how much al-Qaeda and the Taliban are earning from drugs, but conservative estimates run to tens of millions of dollars.

Remember how hysterical the libertarian crowd got when the Administration said drug users were supporting terror? Time to boycott TIME?

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 8, 2004 11:54 AM

Back to Basics.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at August 8, 2004 1:36 PM

The point was never that drug users didn't support terror, (although it remains true that most of the terror supported by US drug users is narco-terror in South America), but that running commercials aimed at convincing burnouts to kick drugs for patriotism was laughably naive.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at August 8, 2004 2:42 PM


That is an argument that users are so transgressive of simple decency that society should pursue them with unlimited fury.

Posted by: oj at August 8, 2004 3:01 PM


Pursue them with fury, yes; unlimited, no.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at August 8, 2004 6:01 PM

In this day of equivocation, fury needs to be unlimited, or not at all.

Posted by: jim hamlen at August 8, 2004 7:42 PM

Particularly when the suggestion is that they're perfectly willing to fund terror.

Posted by: oj at August 8, 2004 8:00 PM

Well, if we legalized drugs, the whole terror funding thing would disappear in an instant.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at August 8, 2004 8:39 PM

Yes, but why bother fighting terror if we're going to degrade our own society so dramatically?

Posted by: oj at August 8, 2004 8:53 PM

OJ, was our society degraded 100 years ago, when you could buy heroin, opium, and cocaine at the drugstore? Was society improved during Prohibition?

Posted by: PapayaSF at August 8, 2004 9:19 PM

Well, I for one am not convinced that legal, cheap, and easily available narcotics would cause people to use LESS of them, or that such a system would NOT create more addicts than exist now. Plus with government involvement, you could definitely say for revenue purposes the government would have an interest in keeping people hooked, as you can arguably say with cigarette taxes.

My stand on the drug issue (as with many things) can be stated thus: Is drug addiction on the whole a benefit to society? If it is not (and I see little evidence that it is), then the governement should not make it easier to get narcotics.

Posted by: John Barrett Jr. at August 8, 2004 11:22 PM


Yes and yes. Prohibition reduced all of the pathologies--physical and societal--associated with alcohol. It was still a mistake because alcohol is too ingrained in the culture to be done away with easily and it has both social and physical usefulness. Prohibition was a noble experiment that worked reasonably well but we're well rid of.

Posted by: oj at August 8, 2004 11:50 PM

OJ: Prohibition certainly didn't reduce the social pathology of organized crime. Quite the contrary.

John: You must balance your question against another: Is the illegality of drugs a benefit to society? It seems inarguable that many of the costs of drugs are actually costs of the illegality of drugs. Junkies who can get a day's fix for a few dollars don't need to mug, rob, or burgle to get money for drugs. We no longer have giant criminal enterprises funded on illegal alcohol, like we did in the '20s. Etc.

Posted by: PapayaSF at August 9, 2004 12:25 AM


No, it reduced alcohol consumption and things like abuse of women and children by drunken men.

Posted by: oj at August 9, 2004 12:44 AM


Good point--the question is net cost. I don't know what the answer is, but reflexive prohibition without examining the costs thereof doesn't seem to be it.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at August 9, 2004 7:14 AM


What do you mean "net cost"? You couldn't possibly calculate such a figure for an issue like drug or alcohol use. Prohibition definitely reduces consumption and the pathologies that go with the excesses. It was abandoned because the majority decided they wanted alcohol as part of the culture, not because the net costs were too high. Organized crime has had no difficulty since in making bundles out of alcohol-related activities.

Posted by: Peter B at August 9, 2004 8:31 AM

In fact the spree of violent bank robberies that Hollywood has mythologized began immediately after Prohibition ended. Better to have them smuggling whiskey.

Posted by: oj at August 9, 2004 8:52 AM

To correct Michael, weren't those ads somewhat offbase because they linked American drug use to Afghani poppy production when the bulk of those drugs end up in Europe?

I used to be for legalisation until I figured it would probably mean a vast increase in the number of addicts which would probably more than offset any expected reduction in crime.

Posted by: M Ali Choudhury at August 9, 2004 1:42 PM

Not all users are addicts.

Trying to scare addicts is a waste of time, whether the scare is of terror or anything else. Being a junkie is its own punishment.

For non-addict users, the position is complex. More akin to Orrin's conception of alcohol's place in society, although I wouldn't rate Prohibition as either noble or even slightly effective.

Alcohol does more damage to society in 2004 than drugs. If you don't believe me -- and I know most of you won't -- just go to your local district court on sentencing day and listen to the stories.

The first thing we need to do is to close down all the free, government-sponsored addiction programs. Let the users know that they gotta get the monkeys off their own backs.

There must be a reason why most people did not start using crack when it was cheaper than cigarettes.

What was it?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at August 9, 2004 2:23 PM

Drugs obviously have nothing like the socially accepted, evenb ritual, place in society that alcohol does.

People didn't try crack because it was illegal.

Posted by: oj at August 9, 2004 3:14 PM

What makes you think they didn't try it?

I said 'use.' Big difference.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at August 9, 2004 10:27 PM

Ask your friends how many tried crack.

Posted by: oj at August 9, 2004 10:45 PM

I already know. Practically all of them, except my best friend, whose wife was a cokehead, which made him wary.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at August 10, 2004 3:17 AM

Wow, tropical peoples really are decadent.

Posted by: oj at August 10, 2004 9:08 AM

The stuff was as common as peanuts at the ballpark and cheaper than the peanuts at Yankee Stadium.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at August 11, 2004 4:10 PM

And about .2% of the American population ever tried it.

Posted by: oj at August 11, 2004 4:17 PM