Heraldscotland, August 15, 2010

Afghanistan’s deadly drugs trade must be tackled now

As we report today, the British Government continues to do business with many of the Afghan warlords who are involved in the transnational racketeering

Three weeks after the attack on America’s Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, Tony Blair used his keynote Labour Party Conference speech to lay the groundwork for the forthcoming allied invasion of Afghanistan.

Among his targets was the Taliban-controlled Afghan drugs trade which, he said, was not only funding the terrorists’ campaign, it was also the source of 90% of the heroin on British streets. “The arms the Taliban are buying today are paid for by the lives of young British people buying their drugs on British streets,” he added. “This is another part of their regime we should seek to destroy.”

Nine years on, the armed conflict continues in Afghanistan, yet the deadly harvest remains unchecked in the country’s poppy fields. Indeed as we report today, Afghanistan now supplies 98% of the heroin that blights the streets of Scotland.

Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said Sunday Afghan drug trafficking should be classified as a threat to international peace and security.
Speaking to defense officials and analysts at an annual Asia security summit in Singapore, Sergei Ivanov, Russia's Deputy Prime Minister, said the Taliban and other extremists groups that control most of Afghanistan are supported by the illegal drug trade.
VOA, Jun. 6, 2010

Not only has the “war on terror” failed to stem the flow of drugs from Afghanistan to Britain, it has actually made things worse. Up to 70% of the Taliban’s funding now comes from the heroin industry and the terrorist group – which needed just $500,000 to fund its notorious World Trade Centre attack – now earns $300 million each year from the very industry Tony Blair pledged to destroy. This income is financing the powerful arsenal of weaponry that is killing and injuring British soldiers and Afghan civilians.

As the casualties mount in Afghanistan, the heroin trade continues to exact a terrible toll on the streets of Scotland. With an estimated 55,000 problem drug users in this country, the scale of human misery – in terms of deaths, ravaged lives, fractured families and crime – is immense. On this evidence, the ill-named “war on drugs” has proved as useless as the “war on terror” at reducing the supply of heroin.

Drugs specialists at the University of Glasgow have established that the police manage to seize just 1% of the heroin that enters Scotland. Meanwhile, earnest education campaigns and attempts to crack down on street dealers and users have had little impact. Yet as our reports today and next week will make clear, the heroin problem is so severe and the impact on communities so acute, that it cannot be allowed to fester. Britain desperately needs an effective strategy for dealing with the menace of illegal drugs. And it will need to be far more ambitious and honest than any anti-drugs programme to date.

As a matter of urgency, the UK’s Government and drug enforcement agencies must turn their attention to combating the supply of narcotics by stemming the flow of heroin from Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan, that will mean looking at the social and economic factors that make illegal poppy production so attractive to local farmers. Real alternatives need to be offered to those same farmers and promises of subsidies and other investments kept.

It will mean examining the real “axis of evil” that exists within Afghanistan’s terrorist and criminal underworlds. As we report today, the British Government continues to do business with many of the Afghan warlords who are involved in the transnational racketeering. Fresh impetus too must be made to flush out the corruption at the highest level of the Afghan establishment that allows the heroin trade to flourish.

Combating these powerful economic and criminal forces will not be easy. But we cannot allow our troops to continue dying in Afghanistan while this drugs factory flourishes, killing addicts – men, women and children – in the back streets of Kabul, and exporting its murderous harvest to wreak havoc in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee.

As yet more Scottish troops prepare to deploy in Afghanistan, here at home their friends, neighbours and perhaps even their children are at risk from a trade that has its roots in the country in which they will soon be fighting.

The terrible irony is that same industry is funding the Taliban forces against which those soldiers’ lives will shortly be pitted: funding the roadside bombs that are, right now, being laid by insurgents.

After nine years of conflict and human casualties, that is a monumental scandal. It is time for answers from our Government. Why have they failed utterly to stem the tide of human misery that flows from Afghanistan to the streets of Scotland? And what are they going to do to tackle this menace?

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