Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Drug Mafioso Heads Afghan Anti-Narcotics Ministry

Afghan President Hamid Karzai nominated, and the Afghan Parliament overwhelmingly approved, the appointment of Zarar Ahmad Moqbel as Minister of Counter Narcotics this past January.  Moqbel is "associated with the drug mafia," according to U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry in a secret cable to Washington released Dec. 2 by Wikileaks.org, the whistleblower website.  Eikenberry wrote about Moqbel:
He is perhaps the worst of the candidates. Former Deputy Interior Minister and MP Helaludin Helal claimed to us January 11 that Moqbel was supported by the drug mafia, to include Karzai’s younger half-brother Ahmed Wali Karzai and Arif Khan Noorzai.
Moqbel received the highest number of votes of any of the cabinet nominees.  The 249 members of the Afghan Parliament, known as the Wolesi Jirga, saw the vote as an opportunity to solicit "donations" -- typically, in the form of envelopes containing cash -- to their upcoming re-election campaigns.  Druglord Moqbel, according to Eikenberry's sources, set a record for such donations, paying Jirga members from about $8,000 to $15,000 (in U.S. dollars) each.  Source.

Moqbel replaced  General Khodaidad, whom Eikenberry described in an earlier cable as "a very good partner for U.S. counternarcotics efforts."  Source.

Moqbel had previously headed the Afghan Interior Ministry, a "byword for corruption and incompetence," according to a British security official quoted in the London paper, The Guardian.  Source.  The Interior Ministry's "culture of corruption and incompetence" aroused an international uproar two years ago, forcing President Karzai to sack Moqbel.  Now Moqbel is back, heading the counter-narcotics effort in a country where opium and its derivative, heroin, is the No. 1 export, accounting for more than half of the country's GNP, according to United Nations figures.  Source.  Afghanistan is the source of about 90 per cent of the world's heroin supply.

Two weeks after Moqbel's appointment to the Counter Narcotics post, deputy-level U.S. diplomatic and military officials in Kabul met to consider "possible courses of action" that they may use "against criminal and corrupt Afghan officials in an effort to change their behavior."  The group, titled the "Nexus-Corruption Leadership Board," adopted a set of recommendations including:
(1) no public meetings with the official (and no photos), and no high-profile public visits from CODELs and other dignitaries; (2) no giving or receiving of gifts; and (3) restrictions on opportunities for corrupt officials to participate in U.S.-funded training, travel, and speaking engagements. 
These recommendations, according to Ambassador Eikenberry in a confidential cable released by Wikileaks, are aimed to "end tacit American support for corrupt Afghan officials" and to attempt to change their behavior.  Source.  Among the highly placed Afghan officials "believed to be corrupt," the cable names Colonel Abdul Razziz, who controls a major border  crossing with Pakistan, President Karzai's half-brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, and Asadulla Sherzad, the chief of police.  Eikenberry adds that more direct measures, such as firing the corrupt officials or putting them in jail,  are not on the agenda "due to lack of capacity and lack of political will."

The Afghan Major Crimes Task Force, which has jurisdiction over corruption cases, has only four vetted prosecutors and only a small number of investigators, Eikenberry complained in another cable published by Wikileaks.  Source.  Its limited capacity is a "major challenge to successful prosecution."  It has no influence in the provinces.  Source.  Aside from the narcotics traffic, Afghan officials are busy "embezzling public funds, stealing humanitarian assistance, and misappropriating government property," forming "a graphic picture of criminal enterprise masquerading as public administration."  Source.

Responsibility for protecting the opium traffic lies at the top, with President Karzai, according to General Dan McNeill, then commander of the international force supporting the Afghan government.  McNeill told visiting director of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy John Walters in March 2007 that
the missing ingredient in the counter-narcotics effort was Karzai. Despite some public statements, he had failed to take a real stand. Karzai needed to keep his support base happy, and as a result, he placated many of those involved in the drug business, especially in the west and south of the country. However, by not taking the issue on, Karzai was tacitly signaling his OK for poppy production.

Source.  McNeill added that prosecution of high-level officials in the drug trade was useless under the circumstances.
To Walters’ question on going after high value targets, McNeill said it was necessary to prosecute a few to keep faith with the general public. But he was skeptical it would have any real effect on the trafficking networks, as those arrested would simply be replaced by others.
Source.  Efforts to eradicate poppy cultivation frequently became only another opportunity for corruption.  Asadullah Khalid, the governor of Kandahar province, used members of the police force to do the eradication work, allowing him to pocket the funds allocated to hire local labor for the job.  And, according to Major General Ton Van Loon, the Dutch commander in the province, Asadullah "has been careful to eradicate only those fields not controlled by powerful people in the Province." Source.

The total acreage devoted to poppy growing in 2010 remained unchanged from 2009, according to a September 2010 United Nations report.  Source.  Eradication in 2010  was at the lowest level since recording began in 2005.  But the amount harvested dropped by 48 per cent, due to a late-season fungal blight.  The drop in quantity led to a spike in prices, and observers predicted that the high opium price, combined with a drop in the price of wheat, an alternative crop, would attract many more farmers to grow opium in this coming year.

1 comment:

Miriam Cotton said...

Well, interesting thing about Afghanistan - the Taliban had virtually eradicated the opium trade there. Within, I believe, as as little as 18 months of the US invasion, the trade was soaring again and is now out of control. There used to be an article in the New York Times archive which reported a French Minister for the Interior (if I recollect properly) who appealed in 2003/4 for some attention to be paid to these facts - but I can't find it at all now. Anyway, after the invasions, drugs flooded the world's drug markets from that point onwards - noticeable increases in drug abuse in Europe for sure - and a vast amount of money is being made by more than just the Afghan war lords or other native people. Google drugs/Afghnaistan it's clear to see the problem is now a colossal global problem. Suggest for background reading Counterpunch's Alexander Cockburn's 'Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs and The Press'. Thought-provoking.