Former US official accuses Afghan government of stymying anti-opium efforts
Thomas Schweich charges that President Karzai is protecting drug traffickers within his power base, and says the US Defense Department and some NATO allies have also resisted antiopium efforts.
A former high-ranking US State Department official has accused Afghanistan's government of undercutting anti-opium efforts in the country for its own political gain, in an article for Sunday's New York Times Magazine that was released early online.Skip to next paragraph
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In the article, "Is Afghanistan a Narco-State?", former State Department antinarcotics official Thomas Schweich wrote that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been stymying US anti-opium efforts in southern Afghanistan, as many of his political supporters are amassing wealth through the drug trade.
A lot of intelligence – much of it unclassified and possible to discuss here – indicated that senior Afghan officials were deeply involved in the narcotics trade. Narco-traffickers were buying off hundreds of police chiefs, judges and other officials. Narco-corruption went to the top of the Afghan government. The attorney general, Abdul Jabbar Sabit, a fiery Pashtun who had begun a self-described "jihad against corruption," told me and other American officials that he had a list of more than 20 senior Afghan officials who were deeply corrupt — some tied to the narcotics trade. He added that President Karzai — also a Pashtun — had directed him, for political reasons, not to prosecute any of these people. (On July 16 of this year, Karzai dismissed Sabit after Sabit announced his candidacy for president. Karzai's office said Sabit's candidacy violated laws against political activity by officials. Sabit told a press conference that Karzai "has never been able to tolerate rivals.") ...
Back in January 2007, Karzai appointed a convicted heroin dealer, Izzatulla Wasifi, to head his anticorruption commission. Karzai also appointed several corrupt local police chiefs. There were numerous diplomatic reports that his brother Ahmed Wali, who was running half of Kandahar, was involved in the drug trade. (Said T. Jawad, Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States, said Karzai has "taken the step of issuing a decree asking the government to be vigilant of any business dealing involving his family, and requesting that any suspicions be fully investigated.") Some governors of Helmand and other provinces – Pashtuns who had advocated aerial eradication – changed their positions after the "palace" spoke to them. Karzai was lining up his Pashtun allies for re-election, and the drug war was going to have to wait. "Maybe we taught him too much about politics," Rice said to me after I briefed her on these developments.
Afghanistan is one of the world's leading opium producers, the drug trade accounting for 30 percent of its gross domestic product, according to Bloomberg. Bloomberg adds that "Afghanistan's 2007 opium harvest rose 38 percent to a record 8,200 metric tons from 6,100 tons a year earlier, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Land cultivated to grow the drug increased by 17 percent to 193,000 hectares (476,700 acres) and cultivation in 2008 will be 'broadly similar,' it said."