Terrorism, drugs-for-arms and money laundering, intrinsically linked, still pose considerable threats to global peace and security besides destabilizing political and financial stability of many nation states. These menaces started in the wake of ghastly incident of known as 9/11 in New York. Since then, these have been on rise and the entire world is captive in the hands of organised terrorist networks engaged in organised crimes as well of support them. After the exit of US-NATO forces from Afghanistan, a new wave of terrorism leading to destabilisation in South Asian Region is expected. It is an established fact that terrorist networks also engage or support the groups involved in organised crime like drug trade, human trafficking, arms, kidnapping for ransom etc. Pakistan is one of the worst victims of terrorism with frequent and perpetual attacks on armed forces and civilians.
The Prime Minister, Imran Khan, in a recent interview with an American TV, widely publicised in local media, said categorically that “no bases will be provided to the United State (US) and Pakistan’s land will not be allowed to be used for any overt or covert operations against the Taliban or Daesh also known as Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). After the announcement of American President Joe Biden of complete withdrawal from Afghanistan before 20th anniversary of 9/11, Taliban/Daesh have started capturing capitals of provinces. They can dislodge US-backed government in Kabul and regain control after withdrawal of US and its allied forces. For Pakistan this is the real challenge to face. The real motives behind this New Great Game were explained in Hidden agenda & “deal” with Taliban—I, Business Recorder, September 11, 2020 and Hidden agenda & “deal” with Taliban—II, Business Recorder, September 13, 2020.
The militants and fundamentalists established nexus with criminal networks involved in drug and arms in the aftermath of 9/11. The drone attacks and military actions against innocent civilians rather than uprooting the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and Daesh—enjoying networking with many criminal groups having hubs in Afghanistan and Pakistan—shows the real agenda of US and its allies.
From where they get funds and sophisticated arms from is no more a secret. Drug-trade, domestic and foreign funding money from other organised crimes etc. The important question and challenge is how to cut their financial life lines that remains intact for last 20 years.
The 2021 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR, Vol. II), annual report by the US Department of State to Congress, mentions: “Pakistan’s geographic location and porous borders with Afghanistan, Iran, and China make it vulnerable to narcotics and contraband smuggling”. The drug trade in the post-Taliban Afghanistan was institutionalized. Opium was being processed into morphine and heroin inside Afghanistan in the presence of US-NATO forces. Controlled democracy in Afghanistan has been playing in the hands of more sophisticated naro-enriched commanders. Even the neighbours of Afghanistan were making profits from the windfall. The criminal gangs, according to International Narcotics Drug Control Board, made $50 billion from trafficking opiates alone from 2001-2020. Tajikistan became the worst affected by the drug plague, thanks to a combination of history, poverty and geography.
In the late 1990s, drug trade was believed to be a source of finance for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a terrorist group which had bases in Afghanistan and Tajikistan. After the war in Afghanistan, the IMU lost most of its influence, but the drug trade continues, with organized criminals taking the place of political or religious activists. Geography also contributes to Pakistan and Tajikistan drugs problem. Both countries have long borders with Afghanistan. These are difficult to guard. Pakistan’s move to fence the entire border with Afghanistan to counter terrorism and drug trade and smuggling has been opposed both by US. Why and what is their interest? Badakhshan, an important poppy-growing area, is close to the border with Tajikistan and there is no fencing till today. From there, most narcotics move to Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Three of Afghanistan’s five big drug-producing provinces—Helmand, Uruzgan, and Kandahar—are controlled by Taliban/Daesh. The nightmare of new Colombia (a place where drug lords capture and wreck governments and the economy alike) has a reality of Afghanistan. The successive Afghan governments have made no progress against poppy-growing, except declaring it illegal and establishing a new agency, the Counter-Narcotics Department (CND). Its goal was 100% elimination by 2013, whereas in reality production has increased during the last more than seven years.
The continuing instability in Afghanistan and threat of capturing of Kabul by Taliban/Daesh now poses new threat for Pakistan and the entire region. The spectre of the Daishisation and Talibanisation of the whole region is an imminent threat after withdrawal of US/allies.
Poverty, lack of political freedom, ignorance about Islam that have been exploited by ruthless terrorists and supported by hidden hands and money from the drug trade make up an explosive cocktail.
While most of the region’s economies have still not fully recovered, rather worsened in the wake of Covid-19 endemic, the political instability and row between Pakistan and Afghanistan again resurfaced over demand to hand over Abdullah Orakzai, which was declined by Kabul. He was nabbed by Afghan security forces in April 2021 in the southern Taliban heartland of Kandahar. “It is consistent contention of Pakistan that Daesh/ISIS is behind a dozen attacks in Pakistan and the group operating from Afghanistan. There are counter allegations from Kabul alleging their support in Pakistan by local terrorist groups”, says a report of Turkish media (https://www.aa.com.tr/en/asia-pacific/who-is-de-facto-leader-of-daesh-isis-in-afghanistan/1824335).
Central Asia has become a main transit route for opium and heroin from Afghanistan to the streets of Europe. About a quarter of all heroin coming out of Afghanistan passes through the region. Traditionally, Afghan opium was trafficked through Pakistan and Iran. Both countries remain important export routes for years, but a northern alternative via Central Asia developed rapidly because Pakistan and Iran made extraordinary efforts to crack down on the drug traffickers.
America could have played a useful role by acknowledging and supporting the efforts of Pakistan and Iran and by cracking down on (rather than supporting) warlords and commanders. However, the American stance has been diametrically opposite. It has been levelling baseless allegations against Pakistan and Iran. It unveils the hidden agenda of US in Afghanistan and elsewhere to promote drug trade, religious fundamentalism, especially Hindutva, and mass acceptance of its policies of fascism for its known geopolitical interests in the region and economic benefits for containment of China.
(The authors, Advocates and legal historian, specialises in studying narco-terrorism and its impact on geo-political and geo-economic spheres. They are author and editor of Pakistan: From Hash to Heroin and its sequel Pakistan: From Drug-trap to Debt-trap)
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021