Afghan military tied to drug trade
A lieutenant's arrest is the first strong evidence of links that may contribute to the Taliban's return.
(Page 2 of 2)
Here in Konar Province, an area that has seen a large increase in opium cultivation over the past year, local officials say it is clear that Afghanistan's armed factions are deeply involved in the drug trade.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Lieutenant Dost, for example, had all the trappings of a modern Afghan druglord. His companions were a driver and two armed men in official Afghan military fatigues. His vehicle was a late-model Toyota Land Cruiser with tinted windows, the sort of car that policemen usually wave through checkpoints with a smile.
But the Konar police decided to check Dost's car, and discovered four bales of opium wrapped in plastic.
"This is a danger for me," says newly appointed Konar Gov. Sayed Fazl Akbar.
"If they come to know that this man is an obstacle," he says, referring to himself, "it is easy for them to kill one man and get rid of the problem."
Leafing through pictures of Dost and his staff in custody, and of the drugs found inside the truck, Governor Akbar says he released Dost on Aug. 6. Akbar says he turned Dost over to the custody of his commander, Hazrat Ali, the military chief for the First Corps of Eastern Afghanistan, which includes Konar, Nooristan, Nangrahar, and Laghman provinces.
"By law, this was a case for military discipline," says Akbar.
But in Jalalabad, Dost has not been seen. Mr. Ali says that he never received Dost into custody, and in any case Dost is not one of his officers.
"I am the military commander responsible for four provinces, and there are people in Army uniforms saying 'we are his guy,' but they aren't. They are just getting the power of my name," says Ali, whose men swept into Jalalabad days after the Taliban fled and maintain a heavily armed presence in the city.
And the commander says he's adamant about using the full force of law against those who grow and traffic opium poppies.
"Personally, I hate poppies. They are against Islam, and according to my abilities, I will stop poppies in my area," says Ali, noting that poppy cultivation has dropped significantly in Nangrahar province. "But I can tell you that senior government people are involved in this trade."
But farmers in the province charge that Ali's own men are directly involved in the drug business.
"Hazrat Ali's men gave us money in advance for opium," says Jalal Khan, an old farmer in Batikot village. "It is all because of him [Hazrat Ali] that we are living a peaceful and prosperous life."
Another farmer in Nangrahar Province says, "Once, Hazrat Ali's men came to the villagers and told us 'the Americans are really furious [about] the increasing poppy crop, so destroy some of it on the roadside to make Americans feel happy.'"
A few days after, this farmer says, Ali's men told the villagers, "We are not your enemy. We want to see you prosperous so continue your business [of poppy cultivation]."
• Owais Tohid contributed to this report.